This fall OKTC is proud to bring you the story of the Brewer Patriots, a high school team from rural North Alabama. OKTC will chronicle the Patriots as they struggle to break free from a reputation as a perennial losing team. We will introduce you to the players, the coaches, and the sights and smells of Friday nights in the hill country the Patriots call home.
Big men have a way about them. It is a purpose in the way they move; an awareness. Devin Crowe is no different. When I ask him to describe himself the first words he utters are“6’4”, 300.” The numbers tumble out of his mouth instinctively, as if he was speaking his name. It is who he is. He is the anchor of the defensive line, the one the coaches call unblockable. He is 16 years old, and he cares very deeply about two things: first, what the little kids in the stands think of him, and second, cardiology.
First, the kids.
“I’ve been around here all my life.” he says, lifting a hand in the direction of the empty stadium bleachers.
He talks about once being the child in the stands, and for a moment it’s easy to forget that he’s still a teenager.
“I play to give a good impression to the younger kids. A lasting impression.”
By all accounts Devin is primed to have a very good season. I have been told he competed well at Nick Saban’s camp earlier in the summer. This is a double-edged sword for the Brewer faithful: The best and the brightest athletes have a way of disappearing from this place, only to resurface in one of the neighboring schools that have winning programs and networks of parents and boosters who can lure the Brewer families away.
But then there is the cardiology thing, and it’s hard to imagine him anywhere else.
A heart attack took the life of Devin’s grandfather several months ago. Devin tells me the story in measured tones, wiping the sweat off his face as he talks.
“Then my Dad had a heart attack.” He says solemnly. “And he’s only 40.”
The next part comes with pause. Devin struggles to find the precise words that will describe the fire in his belly. He is, after all, only 16. The gist is this: he wants to study cardiology in college. He wants to chase down the thing that keeps attacking his family, wrap his arms around it and drive it into the ground.
As Devin and I talk on the practice field his teammates fan around us, trudging back to the locker room. Devin towers over most of them. On some of the boys, the younger ones and the smaller ones, their uniforms hang loose in places. Some of them look slightly out of place in football pads.
That’s the one thing you notice about Devin Crowe. He looks like he was born with shoulder pads on. He seems completely at peace in his gear, as if it was his natural state of being.
Devin shakes my hand and picks his helmet up off the grass. He follows his teammates back to the locker room, head held high against the setting sun.
A month from now this place will be crawling with people. Children will fill the bleachers, some of them with their faces painted red and blue. Some will be wearing miniature Patriots jerseys. And the big kid on the defensive line plays for all of them.