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September 21, 2013

Friends face off, look to future on sidelines

MERIDIAN —     To most, football is a sport.

    An intense game of tackles, passes and  runs, with a point system that when truly thought about, sounds like a little kid’s make believe game.

    But, to those on the field – players, coaches, cheerleaders – it’s so much more.

It builds bonds, teaches lessons and open doors.

    For some, it becomes their career.

    For others, it keeps their fitness up, afternoons full and prevents a dull, Fall Friday night throughout high school.

    Then there are the ones in between, who continue play while earning their associate or bachelor degrees, fully knowing that with the diploma comes the end of the era.

    “We tell our guys, around here all the time, the majority of people not gunna keep playing football,” West Lauderdale head coach Stan McCain said. “It's just a very little percentage of people that'll keep playing, so you have fun at it while you got it, and when it's over you won't have any regrets. We're real proud of those guys that have made it onto the next level, regardless what level it is, and furthering their education.”

    Former Knights Darius Wren and Grant Theall have reached that point. At the end of this season, their collegiate days will be over. They’ll have degrees in accounting and special education respectively, but before that can happen, they have to face-off on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage one last time.

    On Saturday, Theall and the Cumberland University Bulldogs will make the trip to Jackson to take on Wren and the Belhaven University Blazers in the conference-play opener.

    “Being able to play Darius in Mississippi, where we grew up and had that relationship, to me, that's going to be, I just don't know how to explain it,” Theall said.

    “I think it's bittersweet to tell you the truth,” Wren said.

The duo has been playing football together since junior high. After their senior year for the Knights, they went their separate ways for JUCO ball before reunited in the same NAIA conference.

    Theall went North, Wren to the West.  

    But, their football days together weren't over. Belhaven and Cumberland are both in Mid-South's West Division. Best friends, so close it was more like they were brothers, they said, now had to focus on beating each other.

    “I know it's gunna be fun, and he's going to give it all. I'm going to give it my all. It's just going to be fun to compete against each other one last time,” Wren said.

    On the college gridiron, everything had changed, but summers at home were still spent working out together like in high school. That won’t change going forward.

    While their playing days will be over, neither is ready to completely say goodbye to the sport that brought them together, so they’ve devised a plan.

    “Me and Darius talked about it, and one day, we're hoping me and him can coach together on a team somewhere,” Theall said.

    Each has had a coach make an impression in their life and it’s time to repay the favor, they agreed.

    McCain taught them to be humble, on and off the field. As for the game, Theall said Calvin Hampton, who is now at Meridian, inspired him to be the lineman that will take the field today.  

    After getting his CPA license, Wren wants to get into coaching on the side. Theall said coaching high school ball caused him to pursue special education.

    “Being able to teach somebody and them learning it and watching them grow and learn new things and watch young men mature into better men,” is something he wants to be a part of, Theall said.  

    So many football dreams don't work out, but reuniting on the sidelines in polos instead of pads just might.

    “I kinda look forward to one day, hopefully, one day maybe getting to hire them to help us coach,” McCain said. “They have been exposed to not only us in high school, but a couple of different college coaches, that type of thing, undoubtable they've got some good experience.”

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