Mean Season

Page 6 of 10

"I saw coach Kush one day and he told me, 'Why don't you get a job at the Boys Ranch, and save some of the money that you've made?'"

Moore started in 1991 as a work specialist -- a job that requires no counseling or social-services training, but involves working with the residents on manual-labor projects.

He joined the coaching staff when the Boys Ranch launched its football program three years later. He began this season as a tough, Kushian taskmaster, but quickly found that the harder he pushed, the less he got out of his players. By mid-September, Moore had adopted a lighthearted approach, good-naturedly teasing players when they dropped a pass or missed a block, and mumbling, "Man, that's F Troop, Bad News Bears out there," when he walked off the field.

Unlike other coaches on the staff, Moore thinks the major difference between this year's Boys Ranch team and past editions is not a shortage of talent and experience, but a lack of hunger. He suggests that the street-tough gang kids commonly found at the Boys Ranch before Contreraz's death were simply grittier than the current bunch of players.

"Right now, we've got practically all kids from Indiana," he says. "We never had this many kids from Indiana. Most of these kids from Indiana would probably have been on intramural sports here. Before, we had kids that might not have had a lot of athletic ability, but they were aggressive kids and you could teach them how to play.

"Those kids were hungrier to learn. These kids here, for some of them, it's just about putting on a Spartan uniform, so they can write home that they played football. There's not a lot of intensity out there. As soon as you try to correct a kid, show him what he's doing wrong, he thinks you're trying to get on him."

Before the season, Alvin Moore looked at the Spartans' schedule and put a question mark next to any game he thought was a possible win for the Boys Ranch. One of those question marks was next to the Spartans' September 17 home opener against Globe. Moore had no idea how strong the Globe Tigers would be this year. They've emerged as one of the state's 3A powerhouses, and they manhandle the Spartans from the opening kickoff, on the way to a 52-0 win.

It doesn't help matters that the contest feels more like a home game for Globe. They've brought a band and cheerleaders, and their crowd is much bigger and noisier than the Spartans'. The only semblance of a fan base for the Boys Ranch is a sullen group of about 40 kids from Project Challenge, another program for juvenile offenders, whom Montague invited to the game. They leave early in the third quarter.

Aware that the Spartans have no passing attack, Globe puts all 11 defensive players at the line of scrimmage, all but daring Walker to throw the ball. With few options, the Spartans stubbornly cling to their running game, and fullback William Naydol is repeatedly dumped in his own backfield.

In the locker room at halftime, Reichenberger goes to his chalkboard and tells his offense: "To be honest, we can't run up the middle, because we're outnumbered. We have to try to hook them and run outside. Hold the blocks a little bit."

After Reichenberger finishes his low-key pep talk, Pat Taylor addresses the defense. Taylor, a 35-year-old Montana native who played for Arizona State before going to the Green Bay Packers in 1988, is by far the most intimidating figure on the Spartans' coaching staff.

A blond, steel-jawed ex-linebacker, Taylor can send tremors through the locker room simply by staring down a player. At halftime against Globe, his voice reaches frightening decibel levels: "It's 28-0! Do you want it to be 56-0?"

"No, sir," the players respond.

"Start competing," he says. "Get a little fire in your belly! Are you gonna go out there with that waggy-dog look on your face?"

When the score balloons to 42-0 in the third quarter, Taylor pulls his exhausted players aside and tells them, "You've got to decide whether you want to suck it up, or you want an embarrassment. I don't mind getting beat, as long as you go at full speed. You're not going at full speed!"

Taylor is at his most sadistic in practice. During one-on-one "pride drills," in which two players jump up from a flat position on the grass and try to outmuscle each other, Taylor spurs them by challenging their manhood: "Look, two marshmallows about to get married. Poof!" Later, he asks the team, "Who wants to take on Woodard? He's an easy win; a bowlegged cowboy."

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Gilbert Garcia
Contact: Gilbert Garcia