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Sunday, August 28, 2011

Game Day in Canadian, TX

Pre-Game with Canadian, TX Coach Chris Koetting. The players listened. End of 1st Quarter. Canadian 35, Amarillo River Road 0

Chris Koetting jumped into his pickup truck, threw the transmission into reverse and began to wheel his age-worn white Chevy from his reserved parking spot behind the high school gymnasium. Koetting is the head football coach of one of the most decorated small school programs in the football crazed state of Texas. His Canadian High School Wildcats, would in less than seven hours open their 2011 season ranked as the top Class 1 team in the state.  This will be his second year as head coach.  

Koetting’s parking spot is still marked with the name of the man he succeeded, Kyle Lynch. “We need to get that changed, or maybe I am still an interim coach” chuckled Koetting.  Kyle Lynch had a hugely successful run as head football coach of the Panhandle school. Lynch is considered a hero by many in the community, including Koetting, for resurrecting what had been a long suffering program. Lynch’s Wildcat teams won state titles in 2007 and 2008, narrowly missing a third consecutive championship by dropping the title game in 2009, by a mere five points.

After the 2009 season, Lynch made the move up into the district’s vacant Superintendent position. One of his first moves from his new office was to promote Koetting, his long-time offensive coordinator, to the head football coaching slot.

Going back to the tardiness in having the name in the parking lot changed, Koetting, who is known for his self-deprecating -aw shucks- sense of humor and dry as West Texas wit, suggested, “Maybe they are waiting to see how I do this year.” Not likely. Koetting has not only adequately filled Lynch’s parking spot, but also his huge coaching shoes. Last Fall, Koetting’s initial Wildcat team finished the season with a 13-1 mark, falling in the state semifinals, in a game he says eight months later, “we should of won.”  Koetting, by his first year performance, had shown the people of Canadian that they still have the right man for the job of leading their number 1 community treasure, their Wildcat football team.

At noon, on the day of the season opener, Koetting was on his way to a Lions Club luncheon/meeting, where he along with his three senior captains would address the local civic club. The low key head coach is right at home and comfortable in his element as he shared with the audience this pre-game reality check: “You know, with the first game (which was seven hours away) you just never know what is going to happen. Last year we also opened against River Road. We take the kickoff, get too cute with it, fumble the darn ball backwards and fall on it at about our own 6 inch line. I mean that sucker was about as close to the goal line as you can get. Then we jump offside on the first play from scrimmage and we get a half the distance to the goal penalty, about 3 inches. That may be the shortest penalty in the history of football. I remember thinking, ‘this is not the way I planned on starting my head coaching career’,” he related, while laughing along with his audience. It is doubtful anyone has ever accused the coach of taking himself too serious.

If Chris Koetting is nervous with the opening game looming, he does not show it. Dressed in blue jeans and a polo shirt with the Canadian Wildcat emblem embroidered on to his left pocket, the 44 year old nondescript pickup driving Koetting could have easily been mistaken for just another sun drenched rancher in town for lunch. Instead, he shoulders an enormous burden; he is the man responsible for the collective dreams of a small town.

It is game day in Canadian, Texas. You can smell it and you can feel it. From the appearance of the crowd jammed into the high school gymnasium on this Friday, for a 3:00 pep rally, the whole town of 2,000 is here. The community of Canadian, with an itchy trigger finger, is cocked and loaded, ready for some high school football. All that is needed now is an opponent to play the role of sacrificial lamb. In a few hours, the River Road Wildcats would arrive from Amarillo in two purple and white painted Blue Bird school buses, and nicely fill the bill.

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