The best and worst of college football

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I grew up in the southern United States where college football was/is king. Especially in my home state of Arkansas, where cotton, rice, soybeans and the Razorback football made up most conversations. (When I was planning my wedding, Daddy told me that he was unavailable September through December, non-negotiable. Such is the power of college football. I married in July.)

Mark A. Slater’s first novel takes on the dark underbelly of college football and combines it with the deep human need for connections, to be with one’s own. Football teams are the perfect example of a tribe working, playing, protecting each other and dominating the other teams. And wow, does Slater pack a punch!

The story centers two young Georgia men, Wally and Henry. Henry suffers from an undiagnosed medical condition that I would describe as autism, but I’m not a doctor. Henry’s talent is his ability to kick a football. As long as Wally is the holder, Henry NEVER MISSES, whether it’s from twenty yards or sixty yards. Henry NEVER MISSES.

As kids, Wally suffered parental abuse while Henry was left largely ignored. Wally dreamed of attending Bastille University and becoming a member of the Tribe football team. (So much symbolism in that choice of moniker.) He had the grades to be accepted but not the financial resources. When the scouts come calling, Henry is offered a full ride, provided he can do he scholastic work, and where Henry goes, Wally goes, so the university makes it happen.

In the first half of the book, the team is led by Coach John Oldham. He and his coaching staff are trying to build decent young men as well as win football games. The team coalesces into a tribe that works hard and plays hard. Coach Oldham reminded of what I thought Bear Bryant would have been like.

In the second half of the book, Coach Oldham is replaced by Coach Castritt. The staff he brings with him have the same belief: Winning is the only thing and everything.

Castritt and his staff don’t care about the team as individuals. Players are dehumanized and believe they can get away with anything and everything, from treating others as dirt to committing a horrendous crime. How Wally navigates this new regime is what makes this book a page turner.

One thing did irritate me though. One of the teams that the Tribe played against with the Arkansas A&M Aggies. No such school. It’s Texas A&M. All the other colleges/universities were given the correct name.

“Sins of the Tribe” receives 5 out of 5 stars in Julie’s world.