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Foley football’s past and present

A meeting of Lions

Foley High School legend Ken Stabler and current quarterback Roosevelt Byrd meet for the first time

By Derek Belt
Mobile Press-Register
Oct. 3, 2006

FOLEY, ALA. — On this afternoon, it wasn’t about records or numbers. It was about Foley High School’s past and present—two No. 12s, meeting for the first time on their own home turf.

It was about camaraderie and togetherness. It was about football, then and now.

Current Foley quarterback Roosevelt Byrd and Ken “Snake” Stabler, who held that position from 1961 to 1963, tossed a few spirals back and forth on the freshly chalked field at Ivan Jones Stadium, then talked football in the very same locker room that Stabler once used. Continue reading “Foley football’s past and present”

Please clean the Qwest Field roof

I lived in West Seattle for several years and took Highway 99 to and from the office. Every day, the site of the Seahawks’ brand new stadium was both impressive and revolting.

The marshmallow white roof had turned a sick shade of gray due to the dust and grime kicked up by the Port of Seattle and neighboring freeways. So I started a public Facebook group called “Please Clean the Qwest Field Roof.”

Less than a year later, the Seahawks had painted the roof blue like they should have done all along. This is our story. You’re welcome, Seattle. Continue reading “Please clean the Qwest Field roof”

A whole new ball game: Husky Stadium reopens

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Nation’s first profile of Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones

The future

Foley’s Julio Jones already cream of 2008 recruiting crop

By Derek Belt
Mobile Press-Register
Sept. 5, 2006

FOLEY, ALA. — When Foley’s Julio Jones steps onto the football field, try not to look away. You don’t want to miss something special.

Whether it’s awe-inspired fans in the stands, baffled defensive coordinators trying desperately to rein in the Lions’ talented wide receiver, or a growing number of college scouts and recruiting analysts, it seems all eyes are on the 6-foot-4, 205-pound junior these days.

“He’s a playmaker. He makes things happen,” said Foley quarterback Roosevelt Byrd, who last week hooked up with Jones 10 times for 143 yards and a touchdown in Foley’s 36-14 drubbing of Murphy in a battle of top-10 teams.

Following a stellar sophomore season in which he caught 51 passes for 805 yards and eight scores—and an offseason in which he stole the show at virtually every camp, clinic and 7-on-7 tournament he attended—Jones is being hailed as one of 2008’s top college prospects in the country.

Bryan Matthews of AuburnSports.com wrote, “While there’s still debate over who the top football prospect in the state of Alabama is for ’07, the early discussion over the state’s top recruit for 2008 begins and ends with Foley wide receiver Julio Jones.” Continue reading “Nation’s first profile of Atlanta Falcons star Julio Jones”

Bob Rondeau is ‘The Voice of the Huskies’

Air force

Play-by-play man Bob Rondeau has seen the highs and lows of UW sports and is not afraid to tell it like it is

By Derek Belt
Columns Magazine
December 2003

SEATTLE — In October of 2000, the football game between Washington and Stanford was put on hold late in the third quarter while paramedics attended to downed Husky safety Curtis Williams.

Silence crept over Stanford Stadium following the helmet-to-helmet collision that 18 months later would claim the life of the 22-year-old senior. And though time itself seemed to stop, the radio broadcast did not.

Bob Rondeau was just as dumbfounded as everyone else as he kept a watchful eye on the action from the press box high above the field. With no television coverage that day, he was well aware listeners were glued to the radio, thirsting for every last drop of drama and detail.

And as the veteran broadcaster watched the tragedy unfold through a pair of binoculars, there was only one thing he could do—just keep talking.

The game eventually resumed and, despite a fallen teammate in the hospital, the Huskies pulled out an improbable 31-28 victory on Marques Tuiasosopo’s last-second touchdown pass. It was an amazing comeback for the UW and an unforgettable experience for its play-by-play announcer.

“When I got to the end of the game, I was ready to cry,” says Rondeau. “It was emotionally the most memorable game I’ve ever been involved with.” Continue reading “Bob Rondeau is ‘The Voice of the Huskies’”

The Huard brothers are Huskies for life

Deep purple

From Puyallup to the pros and back, Damon and Brock Huard bleed purple and gold as they blaze a bright trail as alums.

By Derek Belt
Columns Magazine
June 2016

SEATTLE — Los Angeles can look awfully good to a kid from the Pacific Northwest. Just thinking about the bright lights and endless summers can warm you up on a chilly, damp afternoon in Puyallup.

That was the case for 18-year-old Brock Huard in the winter of 1994. The nation’s top high school quarterback prospect and younger brother of then-UW signal caller Damon Huard, Brock had just returned home from a recruiting visit to UCLA. And he loved it there.

“I was seriously considering” joining the Bruins, he recalls. But the Huskies won out and Brock succeeded his older brother as Washington’s starting quarterback in 1996 after Damon graduated and went to the National Football League. Brock, too, would end up in the professional ranks, leaving as UW’s all-time leading passer after erasing several of Damon’s single-season and career passing records.

Damon, himself a star prospect out of Puyallup High School, didn’t waver in making his college decision back in 1991. “There was no doubt,” he says today. “I had always dreamed of being a Husky. To stay in my own backyard, it was a dream come true for a young guy.”

Things weren’t as clear-cut for Brock, the Gatorade National Player of the Year. There was just too much to like about the beautiful Southern California sunshine. Ultimately, he decided on the UW because staying home meant staying in the Northwest—for good.

“Damon and my dad both said if you want to lay down roots here, if you want to be part of this community, you could go win the Heisman Trophy at UCLA but you’re not coming back here. You’re just not going to have that kind of connection to the community. You’re going to be a UCLA guy in a purple-and-gold town. There was some real wisdom in that,” says Brock, now 39. Continue reading “The Huard brothers are Huskies for life”

Can a camo Alabama hat get you a date?

A view from the top

Hat experiment opens eyes about intensity of Iron Bowl rivalry

By DEREK BELT
Mobile Press-Register
Aug. 19, 2007

MOBILE, ALA. — Hey Auburn fans, want to know how the other side lives? What about the Alabama people out there—ever wonder what it’s like to rock the orange and blue?

If so, then I’ve got a story for you.

I recently spent a couple of months submerged in undercover work so dangerous I often feared for my safety. It was investigative journalism at its very best. Newspaper reporting not for the faint of heart.

The premise: Would people treat me differently if I sported an Alabama hat or an Auburn hat?

In a word: absolutely. Continue reading “Can a camo Alabama hat get you a date?”

Football isn’t what matters most to Jake Locker

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Local company wins turf war for big game

Super Bowl sod

By Derek Belt
Mobile Press-Register
Feb. 3, 2007

ELBERTA, ALA. – When the NFL’s turf-management team first inspected the Georgia-grown sod that was to blanket the field at Miami’s Dolphin Stadium on Super Bowl Sunday, south Baldwin grass grower Eddie Woerner made sure his cell phone was fully charged.

The call he anticipated came later that day. A change was being made. It was January 18—less than three weeks before the big game.

“Eddie,” the NFL official said, “can you start Monday morning?” Woerner shot back: “Sir, we’ll be finished by Sunday morning.”

By daybreak that Friday, a roll of Woerner’s best turf—developed by Elberta-based Southern Turf Nurseries and grown at two of its four worldwide locations, which include farms in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Chile—was being laid every three minutes.

By noon, the field was done and ready for painting, and by mid-afternoon that Saturday everything was in place. Continue reading “Local company wins turf war for big game”

Girls make impact on local football teams

By DEREK BELT
Mobile Press-Register
Oct. 5, 2005

ELBERTA, ALA. – First-year Elberta Middle School football coach Adam Crandall saw nothing out of the ordinary the first time he glanced over the Raiders’ roster.

Nothing but the names of 44 boys planning to get down and dirty on the football field in the coming months. Anthony, Andrew, Justin and Josh all sounded like heavy-hitters to him, and he could already envision Steven, Sean, Ryan and Wesley making great plays to win the big game.

Then he saw it.

A name not usually associated with football.

Abby, he thought, is a very interesting name for a boy.

“They asked me in my interview what I thought about girls playing football,” said Crandall. “I told them I didn’t have any problems with it. They never said they had a girl playing, though. I just saw the roster and there she was.”

Abby Brock is not your typical seventh-grader, and Brittne Wheatley isn’t your typical eighth-grader. Why? Because both played football—a sport made for and dominated exclusively by men—and they both played it well. Continue reading “Girls make impact on local football teams”

Why UW quarterback Cody Pickett doesn’t like talking to the media

Cody calls his own shots

By Derek Belt
UW Daily
Nov. 21, 2003

SEATTLE — Cody Pickett knew exactly what Sports Illustrated wanted when the call came. Surprisingly, he wasn’t that interested in giving it to them.

Pickett isn’t, and probably never will be, a media darling like most of the guys in his position. So there was a good chance the UW senior would be just fine without any of the attention. But this was sports journalism’s top dog on the phone—and they wanted to talk.

Still, he hesitated.

In Pickett’s eyes, football isn’t about who can run the fastest or rack up the most yards, it’s about winning. And winning can only be done as a team, which is why he was reluctant to grant Sports Illustrated its feature on the cowboy from Caldwell, Idaho. Continue reading “Why UW quarterback Cody Pickett doesn’t like talking to the media”

The importance of high school marching bands

By Derek Belt
Mobile Press-Register
Oct. 28, 2006

FOLEY, ALA. — There’s 4:56 left in the second quarter and your team just kept a scoreless game scoreless by turning it over for the third time.

Not into it yet? Strike up the band.

Now there’s just 15 seconds left in a tie game and your team is playing defense deep in its own territory. Stop them here and you’re headed to overtime. Give up a last-second score and it’s all she wrote.

Need an extra boost? Strike up the band.

Whether they’re rocking out to Quiet Riot’s “Bang Your Head” during the halftime show or queuing up the fight song just after a big game, the high school marching band can make a big difference on Friday nights.

Can you imagine what it would be like without the band? They are just as much a part of the Friday night experience as uncomfortable seats, spunky cheerleaders and dill pickles on a stick. Continue reading “The importance of high school marching bands”

What’s hampering a once-proud high school athletics program?

Lean years for the Lions

Foley’s athletic teams have fallen on hard times—what’s the cause, and what’s the cure?

By Derek Belt
Mobile Press-Register
Dec. 26, 2004

FOLEY, ALA. — Michael Ebert stood in the visitor’s dugout at Daphne High School late in a 1999 baseball game, watching intently as his Foley team clung to a fragile one-run lead. It was his second year as the Lions’ baseball coach, and one of his first trips to Daphne’s state-of-the-art diamond facility.

“I was standing there looking around and it just kind of hit me,” said Ebert. “I mean, everything is the best you can buy. They’ve got indoor batting cages, a locker room built into their dugout, names on the back of their jerseys, matching bat bags and state championships everywhere.

“Then I look in their dugout, and the head coach had just won a state championship in Georgia on a team that was ranked in the top 10 in the nation. The assistant coach had won two state championships as a head coach, you had Bernie Carbo in there, who was an ex-professional baseball player, you had another guy who was just the head coach at LeFlore, and you had a kid from the University of Mobile who had just graduated and was helping out.

“I said to myself ‘There’s five guys in that dugout that know more about baseball than I do.’ But it was a 5-4 game and we were winning.”

Unfortunately for the Lions, Daphne stormed back to steal a 6-5 victory that helped steamroll Foley’s chances of making the playoffs later that year. Such is the status quo at Foley High School, where the odds have been stacked sky-high against an athletic program that was once a showcase of stability and success in Southwest Alabama. Continue reading “What’s hampering a once-proud high school athletics program?”

Going to your rival’s game in another state

By Derek Belt
Mobile Press-Register
Sept. 9, 2006

AUBURN, ALA. — This is the story of a Washington Husky all alone in the Heart of Dixie. A tale of two heated rivals sharing Jell-O shots in a foreign land.

I was fortunate enough to attend four Auburn games this year, including the Iron Bowl in Tuscaloosa. Each game was unique in its own crazy way, but one stands out as a game I will never, ever forget.

Auburn-Washington State. Opening day.

This wasn’t much of a contest for most Tiger fans, as Auburn stomped the Cougars 40-14 on ESPN2. For many in attendance, it was merely the beginning of another successful season.

For me, it was one of the best games I’ve ever been to. I’d stack it right up there with Saints-Falcons last year on Monday Night Football and the 2001 Rose Bowl, in which Washington engulfed Drew Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers, 34-24.

What made it so great, you ask? Continue reading “Going to your rival’s game in another state”

Woerner has super time at Super Bowl

By Derek Belt
Mobile Press-Register
Feb. 12, 2007

ELBERTA, ALA. – Eddie Woerner, the south Baldwin grass grower who supplied to sod for Super Bowl XLI in Miami, didn’t even get a ticket to the big game. He went anyway and had the time of his life.

“I’m starting to come back down to earth,” Woerner said with a chuckle.

Three weeks before kickoff, the game’s original turf was deemed too wet for play and Woerner’s Elberta-based Southern Turf Nurseries swooped in to patch things up. Some might say Woerner saved the day, but for whatever reason he was left to fend for himself on Super Bowl Sunday.

Woerner should have been allowed to watch the game from a La-Z-Boy recliner at the 50-year line. He should have been given his own headset and allowed to call plays for the Chicago Bears. He should have at least been let into the stadium so he could enjoy the game from the stands.

But he wasn’t. The man didn’t even score an invite.

Good thing Woerner’s brother Lester had a 16-person skybox already reserved. Take that NFL. Continue reading “Woerner has super time at Super Bowl”

Don James reflects 10 years after leaving UW

Catching up with the Dawgfather

By Derek Belt
UW Daily
Nov. 22, 2002

SEATTLE — Retirement means different things to different people.

It’s been 10 years since legendary football coach Don James left the UW, and the Dawgfather has been sure to enjoy a little bit of everything. The 69-year-old lives in Kirkland with his wife, Carol, and splits his time between his family and traveling around the world, all the while keeping a close eye on Husky football.

“We’ve had a great time the past 10 years,” James said. “We’ve done a lot of cruises, and I’ve spent more time with my grandkids than I did with my own kids.”

The couple, which celebrated its 50th wedding anniversary last summer, has three children and nine grandchildren to deal with. James admits becoming a grandfather has been a remarkable experience—one that changed his life.

“The birth of my grandkids was very special,” he said. “I guess you could say we’re a normal family, and we’ve been blessed with many more highs than lows.” Continue reading “Don James reflects 10 years after leaving UW”

Foley likes having a Byrd in the hand

By Derek Belt
Mobile Press-Register
Sept. 22, 2005

FOLEY, ALA. — The Foley Lions have been reborn, and Roosevelt Byrd is a big reason why.

Just four games into the season, the Lions’ junior quarterback has thrown for 762 yards and 10 touchdowns while leading Foley to its first 4-0 start since 1995. He’s also rushed for 160 yards and five touchdowns, orchestrating the Lions’ new-look, high-powered offense with stunning proficiency.

Not bad for someone who once figured he would end up in jail.

When Byrd was an 8-year-old growing up in the Daphne area, he said his father was shot and killed after trying to buy drugs with counterfeit money. Byrd said his mother was constantly down on her luck and was of little help to her four children. Continue reading “Foley likes having a Byrd in the hand”

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