After remarks by Traylor and his players, the Crime Stoppers auctioned off footballs signed by the players and other items to help them in their search for criminal offenders. Before the auction, everyone enjoyed a fried catfish dinner.
In addition to the fish fry, the players had played golf together earlier in the day and had attended a reception at Hadden’s Sandwich Shop the night before.
“It is always great to come back and to see y’all and how you support us,” said Curtis Brown, a sophomore starter for the 2004 state championship team, a starter for the University of Texas and an NFL cornerback coming off his third year with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I would rather talk about the community getting together, walking us off the field when we did not have a parent to join us,” Bryant continued. “I appreciate you all.”
Traylor started the evening by asking his first quarterback, Olan Johnson, to tell why he bought into the program, admitting publicly that he did not feel he was a very good coach in 2000.
“I did not want to let you down,” the tall, lanky assistant coach who is transferring from the staff of Dennis Alexander at Troup to join Traylor this fall. “You were big on character, and I wanted to live up to that.”
Manna Johnson, another of the class of 2000, was known as Peeps because he was so quiet.
“‘I need you to help me out to help the kids to buy into the system,’ you said to me,” Johnson told Traylor. So he bought into the system and tried to help the coach out.
For Clint Quinn, who led the Buckeyes to the first of Gilmer’s nine consecutive district championships, it was a matter of destiny.
“We had won district championships in 1961, ’71, ’81, ’91 and 2001 it was time to win,” Quinn explained.
“We bought into your system because what you preached made sense,” said Derek Moore, now a CPA in Gilmer. “You were preaching integrity and going beyond the job in what you did for us.”
Brandon “Bear” Williams remembered a time when Traylor was so upset with the play that at halftime he could not give a halftime talk. The players sat in silence not knowing what to think.
Michael Tucker of the 2003 team thought of last fall in 2013 when he came by for a visit when Traylor took a break from preparations for the Argyle game to show him through the new field house.
Matt Bryant, 2006, took the lessons to heart and is applying them as a coach, as has Terrance Lovely, 2004, who transferred from Ore City after watching the Buckeyes play on cable television and seeing them play. (Olan Johnson is his cousin.)
During the reminiscences, Traylor admitted that over the years he has changed from trying to see the kid in front of him at the moment to visualizing the potential for four or five years down the road. That was very important for Tay Bowser and Mario Venters.
Bowser came to Gilmer with a torn ACL, injured when he played at Pine Tree. That school would not help him get his knee fixed, and at first Traylor thought Bowser was avoiding the effort. After an encounter with the young man’s godfather, Traylor arranged for surgery.
Bowser repaid the coach with the game-winning touchdown against Jasper in 2004 and went on to get a degree at Mississippi State in three and a half years.
Venters confessed to having an attitude when he was in school, quitting the team at least once every year.
“I was out there to play with my friends,” said Venters. “I had always quit. But I am glad I came back that last year.”
“You made me pass that test I needed to finish high school, and I am glad you did,” he continued.
“It took me seven years to finish college (at Texas State).” He went on to explain. “Passing that test got me over the hump, and I thought of it in college.”
“I use it now with the people I work with as a recreational therapist for the Austin Parks and Recreation Department,” Venters concluded.
“I was a program player, not blessed with talent like some, but we had faith in each other,” said Roderick McKnight of the 2004 team. “We did not believe we could win state until we beat Tatum 63-35.
“Thank you for what you have brought, for the staff you have brought into Gilmer,” McKnight concluded.
Chaz Kuikahi went to Tyler Junior College and finished at Louisiana College. His fondest memories were of the times spent with his friends in practice and of the foundation he received to become a man.
David Snow, who played four years at the University of Texas and now is with the Pittsburgh Steelers, remembered a time he went to McDonald’s and got 12 double cheeseburgers, which he topped with a snow cone. He also remembered playing Mabank in the cold, driving rain at Homer Bryce Stadium in Nacogdoches.
Daniel Jenkins thought of a verse taught the guys by Coach Mike Maddox, now of Grace Community in Tyler…. “When the chips are down, the gig is up…” he started with others joining him.
He pointed out that Traylor instilled that hard work and dedication pay off.
Matt Potter, a senior on the 2007 team, wanted to thank all the coaches who helped mold them into the men they have become. Potter assisted with the basketball team this season while working as a youth minister at the First United Methodist.
For Dakota Hagler, when he felt like quitting, it was a talk with Traylor about not quitting just because something is not going your way that showed him the leadership he needed to stick not only in high school but also in college.
Darrion Pollard remembered the fun times playing or in the pool or the hotel room when playing 7-on-7. Pollard now plays at Rice.
Representing Crime Stoppers at the dinner were Upshur County Deputy Sheriff Rick Woloszyn, Carol Wade, Cynthia Clark, Joyce moon, Marie Williams and Nancy Ballard.
Rev. Richard Laster, pastor at FUMC, blessed the food and greeted the guests at the beginning of the evening.