Authors: Tiki Barber
For AJ, Chason, Riley, and Ella
For my three roses
The authors and publisher gratefully thank Mark Lepselter for his help in making this book.
9TH GRADE HIDDEN VALLEY JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
MANNY ALVARO, GRADE 8
HAYDEN BROOK, GRADE 8
TIKI BARBER, GRADE 9
LUKE FRAZIER, GRADE 8
JONAH JAMES, GRADE 7
PACO RIVERA, (C), GRADE 9
ROB FIORILLA, GRADE 7
DANNY HALPIN, GRADE 8
HENRY WELTMAN, GRADE 8
FRANK AMADOU, GRADE 7
FELIX AMADOU, GRADE 7
RONDE BARBER, GRADE 9
JUSTIN LANDZBERG, GRADE 8
ALISTER EDWARDS, GRADE 8
ADAM COSTA, GRADE 9
RIO IKEDA, GRADE 7
PREVIOUS GAMES AND RESULTS
EAST SIDE MOUNTAINEERS (H): W, 35â17
NORTH SIDE ROCKETS (A): W, 42â35
BLUE RIDGE BEARS (A): W, 29â28
PULASKI WILDCATS (A): W, 26â24
JEFFERSON PANTHERS (H): W, 54â14
MARTINSVILLE COLTS (H): W, 35â17
WILLIAM BYRD BADGERS (A): W, 49â3
PATRICK HENRY PATRIOTS (H): W, 57â20
MARTINSVILLE COLTS (A): W, 38â3
NORTH SIDE ROCKETS (H): W, 42â17
BLUE RIDGE BEARS
TIKI BARBER DIDN'T LIKE ITâNOT ONE BIT.
He was sitting at his usual spot, on the bench in the locker room. Surrounding him were his Hidden Valley Eagles teammates, all of them hooting and hollering, psyching themselves up for the game against the Blue Ridge Bears.
The game hadn't started yet. It wouldn't start for another ten minutes, in fact. Yet the Eagles were acting as if they'd already won!
Tiki glanced over at his identical twin, Ronde. The Eagles' star cornerback returned his sober look. They were the only two players who weren't acting like fools.
“I'm gettin' two TDs today,” crowed Felix Amadou, the Eagles' star wide receiver. “Oh, yeah!”
“I'm gettin' three! Count 'em, fool,” his identical twin brother, Frank, shot back. It was weird, thought Tiki, that the Eagles had two sets of identical twins on the roster.
Tiki and Ronde had purposely tried out for different positionsâTiki on offense, Ronde on defense. But both
Amadou twins were wide receivers. That meant they had to share playing timeâunless the Eagles were in spread formation. When the Amadous were
out on the field, with Tiki at halfback, quarterback Manny Alvaro was armed to the teeth with great offensive weapons.
“Fifty points today,” Manny offered up. “Tiki, what do you say? How many TDs we gonna score?”
“I say we ought to quit talking so much.”
“Gee,” Manny said, taken aback. “What's up with you, man?”
“Nothing,” Tiki insisted. “It's justÂ .Â .Â .Â aw, never mind.”
A few of the others shook their heads in confusion. “Whatever,” Manny said. “Long as you're sure you're okay.”
“I'm fine, okay?” The rest of the Eagles left him alone after that. They kept on joking about what a breeze today's game was going to be. The Blue Ridge Bears hadn't been a good team for ten years, and this season, they were even worse than usual.
The Hidden Valley Eagles, on the other hand, were undefeated, and in sole possession of first place. They had been crushing their opponents for the past six weeks, and hadn't had a really close game since week four against their archrivals, the Pulaski Wildcats.
But Tiki had a long memory. He and Ronde had been through a lot during their three seasons with the Eagles. They'd even won the state championship last year. And
one thing Tiki had learned was that
nothing worth having ever came easy.
The past six weeks had been
easy. The Eagles were too comfortable, too confident. To Tiki, his teammates looked ready for the picking. And had they already forgotten the final score of their last game against the Bears, way back in week three? The Eagles had come away with a big, fat,
He wanted to say something, but he didn't want to be a killjoy. His buddies had every right to be confidentâand negative thoughts were the last thing they needed before a game.
The trouble was, Tiki couldn't shake those negative thoughts out of his own head. Looking over at Ronde, he knew his twin was thinking the same thing. It happened all the timeâa look they shared that meant they both knew.
The look they were sharing now.
â¢Â Â â¢Â Â â¢
The game started well enough. Ronde received the opening kick and returned it to the Bear's twenty-five. But that's when it all began to fall apart.
The Blue Ridge defense pulled an all-out blitz on third down. Manny never saw them coming. Just as he was rearing back to throw, he got creamed from behind.
Tiki tried his best to block the outside linebacker, but it didn't matter. Manny had already coughed up the ball.
Even worse, the Bears safety had recovered it and was running it back the other way for a touchdown!
“Aw, man!” Tiki yanked off his helmet and had to stop himself from throwing it down on the ground. That might make him feel better, but it also might draw a stupid penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.
This was just what he'd been afraid of. All that overconfidence was gone now. He knew going in that the Eagles would be fine as long as things went wellâbut how would they react now, when they were staring at a seven-point gap?
Ronde took the kickoff, but his blockers were overwhelmed before he could even get a runback started. The Eagle offense had to start operations deep in their own territory.
Now it was up to Tiki. He told himself to hang on to the ball, keep his head down, and run straight ahead every time. The Eagles needed him to steady their offense, and he proceeded to do just that.
Five straight times, Manny handed him the ball, and Tiki pushed the defense back for a grand total of seventeen yards.
Finally, they had enough breathing room for Manny to go to the air. But on his first passing attempt, Felix Amadou caught his spikes on the grass and fell, just as the ball was coming his way! The cornerback was right there to grab it, and the next thing anyone knew, the Bears were driving again.
Blue Ridge had played the Eagles before, and their quarterback knew enough not to throw in Ronde's direction. They had no such respect for the Eagles' other cornerback, Justin Landzberg. Justin was victimized twiceâonce on a double move by the receiver, and once when the tight end blocked him out on a cross pattern. A leap into the end zone, and one extra point later it was 14â0, Blue Ridge.
Sure, it was early, Tiki reflected. Plenty of time for the Eagles to come back. But their bubble of invincibility had been pierced. The Bears had to be feeling that they could actually win this game. And that made them very dangerous. Sure enough, Blue Ridge continued to play inspired ball, dominating time of possession.
The Eagle offense had gone nowhere the entire first half, when, with just over a minute left, Tiki sank to one knee in the huddle and told himself, “I've got to take over this game. Now.” He shot a look at Manny, and the quarterback called Tiki's number.
Tiki took the handoff and started toward the lineâthen did a sudden reverse and sped toward the far sideline. All day long he'd been attacking the middle, and now he'd caught the Bears by surprise. By the time they recovered and started to give chase, he'd already notched a big gain. Then he dragged two defenders ten more yards, all the way down the Bear thirty!
“Time-out!” Coach Wheeler yelled from the sideline. Everyone trotted over to him, including Tiki, who was
still catching his breath. “Okay, Eagles, let's poke it into the end zone right here. They're looking for Tiki, and they're gonna get himâbut not in the way they think. Let's try the direct-snap play.”
A whoop went up from the excited Eagle offense. They'd never tried the direct-snap play except in practice. It was a trick play, to be pulled out of the bag only in an emergency.
Well, this was an emergency for sure, Tiki thought as he lined up to the right of Manny, just a little closer than usual. Paco Rivera snapped the ball, and Manny pretended to grab itâbut instead, it went directly to Tiki. He dashed three steps to his right, and found Felix Amadou streaking for the end zone.
Tiki let the ball fly. It wasn't a perfect spiral. Tiki hadn't done that much throwing in the past, except back when he was a little kid. But he put enough into the throw so that only Felix could reach it.
Felix's fingertips brushed the ball, but it bounced upward as he fell. From the end zone turf, he reached back up and grabbed the floating ball before it hit the ground. Touchdown, Eagles!
Adam Costa added a quick extra point, and the final seconds of the half flew by. When the Eagles got to the locker room for their fifteen-minute break, they were more relieved than confident. But soon enough, the overconfidence started making a reappearance.
“They got so lucky that half,” Justin Landzberg said. “They're not getting another one by me today.”
“And Felix falling down?” Manny put in. “When does that ever happen, yo?”
Tiki was fuming. He'd known this would happen! It was like he could see it coming. Yet he'd chosen not to say anything before the game. What was the matter with him?
Hadn't he learned anything these past three years? Hadn't he watched his mother speak out and stop a factory from polluting their neighborhood? Hadn't he seen how well his big speech to the whole school went over, once he found the courage to say it out loud, in front of everyone?
These were his best friends. His teammates. Why was he so afraid to get up and speak his mind, to them of all people?
This was the time. This was his last chance to say something. He told himself to get up and take the floor. He and Ronde were co-captains of the team now, after all. They had a right to address the team whenever they wanted to.
Tiki looked at Ronde. Ronde stared right back at him. Tiki understood that they each wanted the other to speak first.
The seconds went by. People started conversations with one another. Kids cleaned their cleats or adjusted
their padding. Some went to use the restroom.
Maybe he didn't need to say anything, Tiki thought, looking away from Ronde. After all, they were only seven points down nowÂ .Â .Â .Â and if he spoke to the team too often, they might stop paying attention. He thought of the story of the boy who cried wolf so often that, when a real wolf appeared, no one listened to his warnings and the wolf ate all their food.