David Franklin was the star athlete at Hickory High School. He played three sports and excelled at all of them. He liked basketball the most, his parents thought he was better at short stop, but the scouts wanted him for his abilities at wide receiver.
Hickory had never had scouts show up in the stands before Dave started to play. As a Freshman, he caught thirty-eight passes for 486 yards and seventeen touchdowns. And that was as the only Freshman on the varsity squad.
His numbers had only improved. Despite playing in the 1-A division, he put up numbers to get recognized. Not by USC or LSU, but he did get a visit from BYU earlier in the year.
Now more scouts had come for the final game of the season, the 1-A Championship Game. The Hickory Cougars took the field against the Ralston Panthers. It would be a real catfight, and with 3:27 left in the game, Hickory was down by ten points but they had driven to the twelve yard line.
Dave lined up in the slot. He took off on the snap and angled for the corner of the end zone. The ball was a little high, but he jumped and grabbed it in the air. As his feet hit the ground the linebacker hit his side. His cleats caught in the grass for just that horrible second, his knee refusing to bend.
There was no instant replay in high school but everyone who had seen it knew that Dave’s scholarship chances had just gone down the tank. He had blown out his knee forever.
He writhed in the end zone, but he had not let go of the ball. It was a touchdown and with just over three minutes left in the game Hickory would have one shot to hold Ralston and get the ball back.
They brought the stretcher for Dave. He was wheeled to the sidelines where he pleaded: “Please, let me see the end. You owe me that much!”
The paramedics shouldn’t have listened, but they knew this was it for Dave’s sports career. And besides, it was only three more minutes of game time and they were interested in the outcome too.
With the paramedics watching the game, no one noticed the dark man move over to Dave’s stretcher. “You’re in pain,” he said in a low voice. “Try some of this.”
“Get away from me,” Dave moaned.
“I’m not drinking that crap. You’re just trying to poison me!”
“I promise that it ain’t poison. It’ll make your pain go away. Trust me. Take it and you’ll score the winning touchdown yet.”
Dave looked at the dark man dubiously, but found himself reaching for the bottle. He sipped the liquid and the pain in his knee melted away.
Ralston was held to a three and out and punted the ball away with 0:52 on the clock. Then, while everyone looked in awe and marveled that the boy from Hickory must be made of steel, Dave Franklin trotted out on the field to take his position. The ball was snapped, Dave raced down the field, undressing the safety with a frightful juke. He was wide open and the throw was a perfect spiral.
Dave watched it in slow motion. The stadium lights burned like the sun, the white gleam of the stripes reflected it like a diamond. And the ball sailed right into his hands. He pulled it to his body, pumped his legs, and hoofed it 53 yards to the end zone.
Hickory had won state. David Franklin had won scholarships to three different schools. And the dark man had won the soul of a town.