Ed Pratt Mug _lowres

Ed Pratt

I was 14 years old, about 5 feet tall, and all of 115 pounds soaking wet. I was a middle school ninth grader who wanted to be a cornerback on the football team.

I was a pretty good quarterback on our neighborhood sandlot team, but my height was not an asset for a quarterback on a real football team.

I had decent speed. By all accounts, I was the fastest person in my household, which included by grandmother, dad, mother and sister.

On my first day of practice, I got a uniform with pads that were too large. They made me look imposing, I thought. As I looked around, I noticed that almost everyone else was larger and taller than I was. Then a gigantic man came up and asked if we were ready.

This guy’s head and neck alone could have tackled me with ease. He and the other coaches started asking which positions we wanted to play. I said “cornerback.” Surprisingly, there weren’t many others who wanted that position, and that was fine with me.

But the coaches took one look at me and decided there should be a few more cornerback candidates. One coach asked me, “Don’t you play baseball?” It was another way of asking, "Why is your scrawny butt out here?"

Yes, I played baseball, but I wanted to play football, too.

The large coach separated us by size and said he wanted to see who could run and tackle.

I guess this was supposed to weed out the actors and little people like me. The first runner came charging at me, and I’ll be darned, I tackled him right there. There was one thing about me: I was never afraid.

The large coach looked at me, laughed loudly and tapped me on the shoulder. That was a good sign, I thought. Then, later, he had someone else run, and I slammed all of my 100 pounds and change into the ball carrier. He didn’t go down immediately, but he went down.

The big coach smiled widely, laughed, and slapped my helmet. Again, I felt this was a good sign. Then a couple of minutes later, he lined up another runner, who is my friend to this day. He was fast and came at me like lightning. This time, when the large coach tapped me on the helmet, he was asking, “Are you OK?. Son, are you OK?”

Apparently, I had been knocked unconscious for a few seconds. I was on my back, and everything was blurry. There was no concussion protocol during those days.

The large coach was Larry Metevia. He got me to the sidelines, where he took a towel with ice and put it on my face and head. I was embarrassed. He was caring. His hands covered my head.

As he walked away, I was having none of this sitting on the bench. I ran back to the tackling drill. He was not going to shoo me away, I thought. He didn’t. Instead, he took time to show me the proper way to make tackles. 

Coach Metevia became my cheerleader during games because I think he was amused by my courage — or stupidity — in running my little body into larger humans. I took a phys-ed class from him, and he occasionally asked how I was doing. I would always tell the truth.

Even after I left junior high, he would stop to talk to me when I played junior varsity basketball, and later football, at Baton Rouge's McKinley High. He was always encouraging. He always had a big smile and carried himself in a dignified manner — something that rubbed off on young people like me.

Later in life, after I became a newspaper reporter, we would cross paths, and he would smile and tell me how proud he was of me. And, yes, we would occasionally laugh about my first brush with organized football.

In recent years, I would see him volunteering around the McKinley Alumni Center. In fact, he volunteered all over the place.

Metevia was a member of the McKinley High and Grambling State University football halls of fame. He was drafted as a center by the New Orleans Saints before he coached me, and he had once played for the Houston Oilers. African-American centers weren’t drafted much during the 1960s.

Coach Metevia died recently. I will miss him and so will a lot of people.

Email Edward Pratt, a former newspaperman who writes a weekly Advocate column, at epratt1972@yahoo.com.