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Finding strength in setback: James, EU and walking away

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Finding strength in  setback: James, EU  and walking away

T.J. Brown points towards the heavens after scoring one of three fourth-quarter touchdowns Friday night in EU's 41-35 loss to Beyer.

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin

POSTED September 13, 2009 1:08 a.m.
Throughout my life, in times of struggle, I’ve turned to my mother in search of solace.

“Brandon,” she often offers, “God never puts more on your plate than you can handle.”

I never understood exactly what that meant, and I certainly didn’t believe it, because time and time again, I’ve felt overwhelmed by the challenges I have faced.

It wasn’t until I found myself travelling away from Dino Cunial Field Friday night following East Union’s 41-35 loss to Beyer that I finally figured out what my mom has been trying to tell me all these years.

In America, and in sports, there are winners, and there are losers. In order for a team to succeed, it means that another must fail.

We have a saying in this country that nice guys finish last. Unfortunately, often times, that is exactly the case.

At the end of East Union’s 0-9 season a year ago, the rumors started swirling that Lancers head coach Mike James could soon be shown the door.

I didn’t tell James Friday night that after Sept. 25, I will be walking away from the Bulletin. I wanted him to be the first to know, but I didn’t tell him, because the moment wasn’t about me.

After meeting T.J. Brown at midfield for the first time and finding out what a humble and articulate young man he is, EU freshman head coach Eddie Koeller led me into James’ office.

The game lasted over three hours, and 11 p.m. was rapidly approaching. On deadline, I didn’t have much time to talk and I had to cut the conversation short. But as I sat in a chair he offered, surrounded by an emotionally drained group of assistant coaches, I felt a sense of urgency in James’ voice.

“Brandon, it’s pretty obvious to anyone that saw the game, that we’re a different team,” he said. “Anyone that wakes up tomorrow is going to see the headline, and they’re going to say, ‘It’s the same old team.’ But the thing that I was proud of was our kids and our coaching staff never gave up.

“When you try to turn a program around, and you’re struggling, it always seems that there’s something else that always comes up. I cannot believe that, being down seven points, and expecting a run right up the middle, and calling for (the correct defense), that (Kyle Crawford) would pop it for a (46-yard) touchdown.

“It’s not that we’re looking for better athletes, or better kids, we’re looking for some four-leaf clovers, because we need some luck.”
And therein lies the “nice guy” theory.

James’ staff had called the right play, but on some nights, the luck doesn’t swing your way.

It’s not to say that Dennis Johnson didn’t look every bit the part of an all-Valley Oak League quarterback, or that Ricky Inderbitzin, Teejay Gordon, Dylan Meneses, Brown and crew comprise one of the best groups of skill-position players East Union has boasted in an awfully long time.

But sometimes, even when you call the right play, and even when two defensive backs get their hands on the ball, the leather finds the waiting arms of an opposing receiver who has nothing but earth between himself and a game-winning touchdown.

“Coach James, he takes a lot of stuff from a lot of different people,” Inderbitzin said. “But nothing changes him. I’ve learned a lot from him and I don’t think he’s a bad coach. I never want him to leave, because he’s like my other dad.

“All of the other coaches, they’re unbelievable. They teach us so many things, and they just want us to get better. Of course they want us to win, but they want us to learn more, because that’s what life is about.”

It breaks my heart that in a few days, I will walk away from this job, and these people, that I love.

But it doesn’t surprise me that Mike James, his coaching staff, and his players finally made me realize what my mom has been trying to get me to understand all these years.

There are winners, and there are losers, and often times, nice guys finish last.

Although I wish East Union never had to lose another football game, simply because James and his staff deserve that type of luck, I know that when the next loss comes, it will be because men of great character can handle it.
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