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  • In an excerpt from his new novel Stick a Fork in Me, Dan Jenkins tells the story of Pete Wallace, a former football coach and athletic director who finds himself in the crazy world of big-time college sports.
By Dan Jenkins
December 22, 2016

The following is excerpted from STICK A FORK IN ME by Dan Jenkins. Copyright © 2016 by Dan Jenkins. Used by permission of Tyrus Books. All rights reserved.

The cast of thousands Coach Tag called his football staff included his three top recruiters—Chick Overstock, Hog Elliott, and Marv Booker. They were also the best storytellers on the subject of what goes on in the stressful world of blue-chip recruiting wars.

Their personal experiences in trying to sign the most-wanted athletes made for a day of entertainment when some of us relaxed in the coach’s conference room to smoke a cigar, have a beer, and speak freely.

Stick a Fork in Me: A Novel

by Dan Jenkins

An no-holds-barred tour of the world of big-time college sports through the eyes of former football coach and athletic director Pete Wallace.

Chick Overstock, our offensive coordinator, came to us from the University of Houston, a place where they’d been throwing the football for about 3,000 years. He modernized our attack. Coach Tag had always fancied a passing attack but not like a rainstorm.

Chick turned us into a Hell from Above, Fire from the Sky, Bomber Group Strike Force, and that’s why Chick did everything he could to recruit Cody Cahill, a most-wanted quarterback in East Texas.

Apart from being a fantastic all-around athlete, Cody Cahill had a rifle for an arm and could put the ball on the numbers of a receiver fifty yards down the field. But that wasn’t all. Cody could outrun a pack of wild dogs and knock down an elephant if that’s what it took to get him to the end zone.

The trouble was, every major college knew about Cody Cahill and was throwing steak dinners, bimbos, and savings accounts at him. But Coach Overstock kept after him, believing he had an edge in that his offense suited Cody’s talents better than any other team and would best prepare him for the NFL.

Chick arranged to see Cody in private to find out what would sway him toward Western Ohio. They met for lunch at Bo and Donna’s Bait & Sandwich Shop near a small man-made fishing lake in the woods of East Texas.

When Chick steered the conversation around to what it would take to bring Cody on board, the kid hemmed and hawed and eventually said he did have a yearning for a bright blue Mustang Shelby GT350.

A week later Chick met Cody again at Bo and Donna’s and presented him with the bright blue Mustang. In return, Cody signed a piece of paper pledging to attend Western Ohio, and promised to sign and fax the national letter of intent to Chick on February 2, which was signing day. Chick, in a state of ecstasy, was driven away by the driver in the SUV he’d hired to follow him.

Chick Overstock spent the next several days feeling like he’d gotten away with stealing the Crown Jewels. He felt like it up until signing day, when Cody’s letter of intent never arrived, and he couldn’t reach Cody on the phone.

A day later he found out why. He picked up a copy of USA Today and saw Cody’s big grin in a photo and read that he’d chosen the school where he could play football best and seek a degree in . . . Astrophysics?

Alabama.

After devoting a day to punching holes in the walls of his office, Chick hopped on a plane to Dallas, rented a car and drove 120 miles an hour to Cody’s home in Gusher, Texas. He invited Cody out in the front yard for a talk.

“Astro fucking physics?” Chick said, trying to control his temper.

Cody said, “I’m sorry, Coach. They told me to say that. They made a real good pitch at the last minute. They were awfully persuasive.

Chick said, “I can imagine. Well, there’s nothing left for me to do but pick up the keys to the car.”

Cody said, “That car’s mine, man. I love that car.” Chick said, “Are you joking?”

Cody said, “You gave me that car. I’m keepin’ it.”

Chick said, “My ass, you are! That goddamn car cost us $65,000! You gimme those keys or you’re gonna find yourself in big trouble.”

“Really?” Cody Cahill grinned. “Who you gonna tell?”

Linwood Coffey weighed 238, stood six four, and had played fullback at Cedar Grove High in a suburb of Indianapolis. Hog Elliott, our linebacker coach, thought Linwood would make a wrecking ball of a linebacker. His future in the pros would be on defense. He could start as a freshman at linebacker for any team in the country. Linwood was a man.

Each time Hog visited Linwood he would treat him to lunch at Linwood’s favorite restaurant, Fat Boy Subs, where Linwood ate the Yard Long which came with so many cold cuts and cheese slices it would make Lunch Meat Duncan run away from home.

Hog said he could tell the kid how to play defense real quick. It was simple.

Hog told Linwood to stare at him, read his lips, and he said clearly, “On defense, Linwood, when they snap the ball, hit somebody.”

When it came down to negotiations, Linwood wanted two trucks. One for himself and one for his parents. He wanted a house for his parents along with a job for his daddy, but it would have to be a job where his daddy didn’t have to say “Yes, sir,” to nobody—his daddy was “all done with that shit.”

Hog told Linwood that he could arrange the apartment for him, but he wasn’t sure what he could work out for the parents.

“Apartment don’t do it for me,” Linwood said. “I’ll be needin’ a house with a big yard.”

Hog said, “A big yard for what?”

Linwood said, “My five dogs and my wife and her two lard-ass kids.”

Hog Elliott said trying to sign Linwood was the first time he’d run into that many deal-breakers with one recruit. Hog suggested that Linwood skip college and football altogether and apply for a job with Bekins Moving & Storage.

Baylor took him.

Every recruiter agreed that if there was ever a defensive end with “can’t-miss” stamped on his forehead, it was Dowdy Basham at B.H. Brady High School ten miles northwest of Shreveport, Louisiana. Dowdy was a black kid, a giant mobile hulk.

Marv Booker, our defensive line coach, couldn’t guess Dowdy’s exact measurements but it looked to him like Shaq O’Neal had decided to take up football in a second life. Dowdy lived with his folks in a cabin on property owned by a rich man in Shreveport.

The rich man only used the main house five times a year to entertain business associates and free-spirited ladies.

The first two times Marv Booker tried to make contact with Dowdy Basham and do his pitch, he was forced to find a parking place in a cluster of rent cars belonging to recruiters from Alabama, LSU, Georgia, Texas, Ohio State, Florida State, Texas A&M, and Notre Dame.

Marv never saw Dowdy on his first three visits. He’d try to wait out the high rollers, but would become exhausted and hungry and give up.

To Marv’s surprise, he showed up alone one day and was invited into the cabin by Dowdy’s parents. Dowdy was off doing something somewhere—might even have gone to school—but he should return soon.

By way of hospitality, Dowdy’s mama offered Marv a big comfortable leather chair in the living room while she and Dowdy’s daddy sat on a sofa watching soaps on a large TV that a nice fellow from Ohio State gave them.

Marv kept his patience for two hours waiting for Dowdy to return. The only thing he had to occupy his time was trying to keep a brown and white dog of unknown breed from chewing on his shoes and socks.

When Dowdy eventually came in the house, Marv made up his mind not to offer him a scholarship even before he stood up to introduce himself. That’s because Dowdy Basham glared at him and said: “You’re in my chair, honk-ass.”

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