Lattes And 'Friday Night Lights'


If someone had of told me 18 years ago that late on a Friday evening, I'd be sitting in a chic, upscale bookstore sipping yuppie-like lattes with Mark Velasco, I'd have said that person needs to be in a straitjacket, locked in a padded cell.

It was more likely that we'd be returning from a day of firewood cutting, in a weight room spotting another one of his 350-pound bench presses or both of us cheering on the Sun Devil football team.


Mark Velasco takes a moment of rest on the sidelines at the 1987 North vs. South all-star game.

But there we were Friday night --ark, myself and our wives, Bree and Kay -- relaxing in a Flagstaff Barnes and Noble bookstore slurping steaming-hot lattes from Starbucks.

This Mark was certainly different than the one I coached 18 years ago. He was the rough-and-tumble two-way player who anchored the Bruise Brother offensive and defensive lines. Mark was the enforcer on the 1986 team that played for the state championship.

His motor was always running which made him a tough player for opposing offenses to block and a rock-solid pulling guard for running back Ty Chilson.

Mark was admired for his physical and mental toughness. In a construction accident a week before the season opened, he cut off a finger.

If memory serves me, Mark never missed a single second of practice or a game due to the injury.

At the conclusion of the ‘86-'87 year, Mark -- who was known for his strong work ethic --mpressed opposing coaches enough to earn him all-region, all-state and Arizona Coaches Association All-Star honors.

He, along with teammates Matt Rambo, Ty Goodman and Chilson, played on the South team in the summer all-star game in Prescott.

As usual, Mark was his intimidating self, dishing out bruising, jaw-popping hits on the North stars.

In the classroom, Mark admits he was a handful for teachers.

It was obvious, he had a fire burning inside him that some didn't understand. When his antics reached a pinnacle, he was usually sent for "time out" to my classroom.

Off the field, Mark was well respected by everyone but he and his friends were known to test their limits.

After graduation from Payson High School, Mark played football at Phoenix College, transferred to Northern Arizona University and then to Arizona State where he picked up a degree in engineering.

Now the owner of his own engineering company, Mark married the former Bree Hanson of Payson and has two sons.

He also coaches a youth football team and is a reserve police officer for the Department of Public Safety.

His ascent to the top of his profession, his remarkable family and contributions to the community, make Mark one of Payson's true success stories.

All of us who knew him as a teenager are indeed proud and delighted by his accomplishments.

But sipping lattes at a bookstore late on a Friday night? Na, not Mighty Mark. He wouldn't be seen there.

Friday Night Lights

We were reunited in Flagstaff at Mark's invitation to see the movie "Friday Night Lights." After dining at a nearby restaurant, the four of settled in to watch the movie , which is based on a book of the same name about Texas high school football by H. G. Bissinger.

All four of us had read the book and were eager to see the movie.

It chronicled the 1988 season of the Permian High Panthers of Odessa, Texas. In the town, football is more of a religion and a passion than a sport.

The story paints a vivid portrait of the team and a town that shuts down for every game which 25,000 people attend. In the state championship game, Permian plays a Dallas high school, before more than 30,000 fans in the Houston Astrodome.

The high expectations placed on the coach and players by the townspeople are obviously unattainable and certainly unrealistic.

But the hopes and dreams of ordinary, but over-involved, residents come alive every Friday night.

In the town, which is located in the Texas flatlands, there are no pro or college sports teams. Fans throw their support behind the high school team. The movie, like the book, details the intense pressure to win.

For the players, every play of the game represents the opportunity to make their mark in small-town society. Some want to use the sport as a ticket out of town.

The movie, like the book, is thought-provoking, but does accurately capture the essence of small-town Texas football.

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