By ELWYN HENDERSON
We received a message a few days ago from Buckeye Head Coach and Athletic Director Alan Metzel about a book that will be released on June 28th detailing the 2014 Gilmer Buckeye Dezign8 State Championship season. Coach Metzel asked us to help promote the book that will without a doubt be a special treasure to Gilmer Buckeye fans. The book was written by Dr. Hunter Taylor, a professor at the University of Mississippi who is also a native East Texan. The book’s title is Draw the Line.
We had the opportunity to visit with Dr. Taylor by phone last Wednesday evening and we wanted to share his thoughts on the book.
We began our conversation by asking him how he got involved in writing a book about the Buckeyes.
“I used to be the head basketball coach at Spring Hill (from 2011-2013), and like a lot of young coaches in the area, Jeff (Traylor) was really good to me. I vividly remember what they were able to do in football at the time, and I was at a point in my career where I was like a sponge in constantly looking for new ideas to add to the program I was trying to build. I even remember at the end of my first year, when we ended up winning district, Jeff was one of those guys that lit a fire under me. If he bragged on you, because it was him, it made you feel like a million bucks. Once the season was over, I followed up and asked if I could spend an afternoon with him. I brought a yellow legal pad with a list full of questions for him, and Jeff was so great about it. He helped me a ton in my own leadership development, just how to handle different issues as a head coach.”
“We just kind of had a friendship after that. Now, Jeff does that for a lot of people. But I still remember listening to advice and thinking, ‘He is so far ahead of everyone else.’ This was also at a time when I thought Gilmer’s success was solely due to him. I thought it was Jeff that was the one doing everything and it was just a miraculous thing by one person.”
“Then I got into college basketball a couple of years later. I was at Baylor and while I was there, I was chipping away at my doctorate; and because I was coaching basketball, compliance would not let me do my dissertation on another high school basketball program, and it was tricky studying other college basketball programs, because they were competitors and people aren’t always going to be transparent with you with that dynamic.”
“My father is an old high school football coach, and I just had great respect for the profession. I know how good high school football coaches are in the state of Texas. My committee allowed me to do my dissertation on six high school programs that were consistently championship-level winners, and also who their head coach was during this time. I already had a relationship with Jeff and Scott Surratt, so I included those two as the East Texas subjects, and then I added Tom Westerberg from his Allen experience, Todd Dodge from Southlake Carroll, Chad Morris from Lake Travis, and Gary Joseph from Katy. But I especially loved learning about everything Gilmer had done. It was just a case study that stood out. And since Jeff was so transparent, I got to learn about the people that were involved in order for them to have so much success. When I was coaching in East Texas, I never knew about these people. I didn’t know who Matt Turner was. You know, he’s not self-promoting. You just never see him unless you’re a Gilmer person. Alan Metzel is another one; Todd (Barr), Keith Tate, Kurt Traylor, Wayne Coleman, you know it goes on and on. I’m learning about all of this and I’m thinking to myself, ‘This is so fascinating,” especially on things like staff retention. How do you keep that many good coaches with you over the course of 15 years when coaching is one of the most transient professions that exists?? Everybody’s trying to leave to be a head coach somewhere else. I was just so fascinated how Jeff created something that yielded buy-in and consistency and continuity and community belief and belief from administration.”
“My wife and I ended up going with another basketball coach to Arkansas State for one year and by that time I had fully defended my dissertation and got my doctorate and we had started a family. One of my old professors at the University of Mississippi asked if I’d be interested in a faculty position. It was such a blessing. While I would be getting out of something that I loved doing (coaching), I knew I would still be helping students, and it would be a better lifestyle for our growing family. I also wanted a chance to write, and literally, as soon as I got there, I started thinking about how to build a research portfolio with different topics, etc.”
“And I knew exactly what I wanted my first project to be on. I wanted to do a deep dive on one team, not just a multiple-subject study, so I went straight to Jeff and asked if he was fine with me doing it on Gilmer. I also wanted to turn it into a story, as opposed to another research study, because I wanted other people to actually read it and say, ‘This is amazing. How in the heck did they pull this off?’ Jeff was just so great about giving me access. He told everyone, ‘Hey, it’s ok. I know him. He’s a good guy with good intentions.’ Everybody was so open after that, which was such a blessing. That’s just so rare – to get full on access and ask challenging questions. As I was doing that I got even more inspired by getting to know people like Matt and Alan and Brian Bowman and Rick Albritton. These are people that have such a humility to them that you want to shout their praises about what they’ve accomplished and how they’ve gone about it. I especially got inspired by that aspect of it, because I think this story offers such a good template of how to work and live. There’s this deep commitment to craft and selflessness and loyalty. These traits are very rare and they are becoming even rarer, but this story shows what can happen when these things are present.”
“The book kind of tells everyone’s backstory and where Jeff and the staff were before they came to Gilmer. So it was so fun to get access to the guys who were at Jacksonville and Marshall back in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I think that’s why it’s such a great story – you finally get a feel for the history of the entire region and you’re using one singular story to kind of guide the reader through all of this rich information. It took me five years to kind of figure out how to tell this story. Maybe that was God’s plan that it needed to go five years. There kept being new elements of the story that added to the miraculousness of it. Who would have thought, except people like you and others here in Gilmer, that Jeff’s career would get to this point? The dude’s always been smarter than everyone else. He’s got a gift, but to also see it come to fruition on a stage where he’s one of the four candidates to be National Coach of the Year. That’s a miracle and so many things have to come in to play, as you know, like timing and who’s going to take a chance on someone, all that stuff. I’m so proud of this book and I hope it honors everyone involved and the community, because I think it’s an incredible story and I’m excited for people to get a chance to read it.”
We also asked Dr. Taylor his thoughts about the special 2014 season that was dedicated to perhaps the best receiver to ever walk on the field as a Gilmer Buckeye.
“I don’t think that idea (to focus on the 2014 season) came about until probably year two. You can overload the reader with information and there’s just got to be a good story that guides your audience. It finally hit me that the 2014 season, in particular, and you just talked about it, there’s so many human emotions in that one season. It, in itself, is a stand-alone story. I decided the way I wanted to tell the overall story was to kind of offer a weave of two stories that would go back and forth. So there’s two stories happening at the same time. There’s one that tells like how the band got together, learning under different coaching trees, and then all coming together, and Jeff’s own path, and how you build it into something that lasts 15 years with the band together.”
“Then the other story that’s weaving through that is the last year, that final year, 2014. It’s the only season where I really got into a couple of the players’ stories and allowed them to come into focus. The three player stories, as you can probably predict, were McLane (Carter), Blake (Lynch) and Kris (Boyd). That was such a blessing for me to be given their trust, based off of their coaches’ trust. I loved getting to learn about the 2014 season from their perspectives. Whether it was how they grieved over Desmond (Pollard), or how they dealt with their own trials and tribulations leading up to their senior year, I thought their perspectives made this story all the more fascinating for the reader.”
“Finally, the coaches, especially, spoke about the significance of honoring Desmond during the 2014 season with a ton of conviction. I hope that I was able to convey their emotions in word. Because hearing them reflect on when that happened (Dez’s death), it was obvious there was a deeper level of commitment that brought the team closer together that season.”
We concluded our visit with Dr. Taylor by asking him when the book would be available and where it could be ordered and what the price would be.
“A pre-order date will be announced soon, but I do know when the release date will be; that’s going to be June 28th. I wanted to start letting people know about the project now though. We’ll have some different ways we’ll be promoting it. We’ll have some social media video teasers and other graphics that will post between now and release date. We also have a website that is live that is going to act as a hub for promotional articles and videos about the book, and there will be additional photos of players/coaches that didn’t make the book. The website is www.huntertaylor.design/draw-the-line. We thought the best time to release it would be June 28th, right after high school and college baseball have winded down and people are starting to crave their new Dave Campbell magazine. The price of the book will be $24.95.”
For Buckeye fans, as a teaser leading into the book, Dr. Taylor said in the first chapter of the book after the introduction, he’s bringing the reader right into Lobo Stadium in Longview in the big game against the Gladewater Bears.
He said, “The coaching staff even let me have the film of the iconic game, so I got to watch it on my computer with no sound. I was on the edge of my seat even in that format, so I can’t imagine what it was like to be there. You can easily make a case that it’s the best game ever played in East Texas.”
As soon as a pre-order date is know the Mirror will let the Army of Buckeyes know so they can reserve a copy and be one of the first to get a copy of the book!