The game of football may be the greatest thing that the people of Texas have. Aside from bar-b-que, I can’t think of anything that is as Texan as football. Especially at the high school level where entire towns will close on Friday nights to gather at the local field or stadium, depending on the size of the town, to cheer on the local gridiron warriors.
Lufkin, my hometown, is one such town where people mark the weeks by Fridays. Every Friday in the fall (and sometimes Saturdays, depending on the playoff run,) the residents of Lufkin rally around the Lufkin High School Panther football team. It is the identity of the town; to be from Lufkin is to be a Panther.
For the past 17 seasons, one man has symbolized what it means to be a Panther. John Outlaw made a name for himself in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, where he won two state titles in 1979 and 1987. In Sherman, Texas, he coached for seven years before going to Lufkin in 1995 where he became the head football coach and athletic director.
From the time he took over, until his untimely death on December 23, 2011, of a heart attack, he led the Panthers to their greatest run of success in school history with a record of 162 wins, 46 losses and one tie. But the man taught lessons off the field as well.
“He taught us to work hard in the classroom and in the community,” junior kinesiology major and former Lufkin Panther Zach Taylor said. “To give us a good future.”
My football career sputtered out in the eighth grade, and I missed the opportunity to have Coach Outlaw as my coach, but in my time at Lufkin High School I learned things from him that I carry with me to this day.
Coach Outlaw believed in the power of community and the ability of football to bring a community together in good times and bad. Whether his team was winning a state championship, as they did in 2001, or slipping out of the playoffs in the first round-as they had done in three of the previous four seasons- his message remained the same.
“What matters to me is each and every one of these kids out here and all the ones I’ve coached in the past,” Outlaw told the Lufkin Daily News following his 300th career win in 2011.
If there is one thing you can learn from Coach Outlaw, it’s not about winning and losing. It’s about building character, representing your community and playing the game the best you can. Because it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose; the only thing that matters is how you play the game.