This year marks your trusty scribbler’s 33rd season covering high school football in East Texas.

I’m not sure how many games I’ve covered for the Kilgore News Herald, Lufkin Daily News and Longview News-Journal over the past three-plus decades. Add a season covering Kilgore College when I attended school there, and I’ll throw out a conservative estimate of around 450 games.

That’s a lot of words written, a lot of travel, a lot of press box food (good and bad) and a lot of late nights arriving back at the office or back home hoping I did the teams I was covering justice with my account of their game.

I love my job, but I’ll be brutally honest here. I once did a game I didn’t want to do, and when it was over I really didn’t care if anyone liked or even read my story.

Eighteen years ago, on a Tuesday morning, our nation was attacked by cowards. Thousands of innocent people and hundreds of our brave first responders died.

Three days later, I left my 16-day-old son and his terrified mama and drove nearly two hours north to cover a football game between Pine Tree and Sulphur Springs.

I didn’t want to leave my family. I didn’t want to cover a football game. I really didn’t want to do much of anything, because like most of us, I was still stunned that someone had the nerve to attack the United States of America – and had been highly successful at it.

But, I had a job to do, so I hit the road.

In Quitman, I got the attitude adjustment and the “sign” I needed to let me know things would be OK. On the marquee at Quitman High School were the words “Pray for our country. Grades due Thursday.”

I chuckled at first, remembering how much I prayed whenever I had a report card due back in high school. Then, I laughed out loud.

And then, for some reason, I cried like a baby.

It was the relief and the release I needed. I gathered my composure, went and did my job and then came home to love on my family.

Little has changed over the past 18 years, and I believe it’s what those who lost their lives that terrible day back in 2001 would want.

Work hard. Play hard. Love and take care of others.

And, never forget.

The GOAT

Voting is underway to settle once and for all who was the best football player to ever suit up in East Texas.

You can vote for one player one time per week by visiting the contest website: https://www.news-journal.com/contests/

Every player is in the running until the end of the regular season, and we’ll cut the list down to the top five vote-getters for a five-week playoff stretch before unveiling The GOAT on Christmas Day.

This is an online contest only, so don’t email me with your votes.

This week’s Game I’d Pay to See if I Had to Pay to See Games: I’ll let you in on a little secret. Sportswriters love a good football game as much as anyone else, but near the top of the wish list for us is a game that is played quickly so we can hit our deadlines.

I’d be willing to bet Redwater at Paul Pewitt is one of those games tonight since the Paul Pewitt Brahmas typically only put the ball in the air on a kickoff or a punt.

In two games, the Bulls have rushed 124 times for 762 yards and eight touchdowns. They’ve attempted two passes.

Go watch this one, but don’t get too comfortable. You’ll be at the local Dairy Queen by 9:30 p.m. at the latest.

MASCOT MANIA

Mentioning press box food and Dairy Queen earlier made me hungry, so with that in mind, this week’s Mascot Mania winner comes from Frankfort High School in Indiana.

The Frankfort Hot Dogs.

Email: jstallard@news-journal.com; Follow Jack Stallard on Twitter @lnjsports