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Friday Night

            ODESSA, TEXAS - It is only the second full day of practice in pads, but Permian High School's new football coach, T. J. Mills, already likes what he sees. Tight end Chris Mineo-6 feet, 3 inches and 258 pounds-has just taken a perfect pass on a slant pattern, tucking the ball in the crook of his elbow without breaking stride and deftly shedding a linebacker trying to wrap up his legs. As he heads upfield, Mineo crushes two small and wiry defensive backs who made the mistake of trying to tackle him around the shoulders. Mineo jogs back to the huddle with a big smile on his face while the two defensive backs help each other up from the burned-out grass, grasshoppers and dragonflies flying up from their feet. Then they do it again. And again. And again. .
             It's a scene that's being repeated around the country, as thousands of high school coaches prepare their kids for the fall football season with grinding practices, morning and afternoon, in the stifling dog days of August. This is the time of year when championship teams are forged, when dreams of "going to state" are very real, when the hopes for big-time college football scholarships are not so far-fetched-even for little defensive backs.
             And here in Odessa, Texas, which may be the cradle of high school football civilization, the team's expectations and dreams are no different. But for the fans of Permian High School football-indeed, for nearly everyone in Odessa-the cracking of helmets and the pushing of blocking sleds around the field mean much more. The 190 kids on this parched gridiron represent the best values that their city has to offer: the blue-collar work ethic of the oil fields, teamwork over individual glory, and the quaint idea that hard work beats superior talent any day of the week. .
             The Odessa community has supported Permian football in ways that some professional sports franchises might envy. It sells 5,000 season tickets every year and regularly fills 20,000-seat Ratliff Stadium.

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