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June 7, 2008
From Austin to Boston, Texas high school football is often summed up in three words:
"Friday Night Lights."
When most people hear those words - the title of a book, movie and TV show - their first thought usually is of Odessa Permian and its legion of black-clad "Mojo" fans.
Permian's 1988 football season of was chronicled in the book and movie. The TV show is based on its similarly named predecessors.
"Mojo football is something special," Bayou Bowl quarterback Braden Smith said.
He ought to know.
He lived it in 2003 and 2004, when his dad, Scott Smith, was Permian's head football coach.
"I loved the people," Braden said. "The people are just nice. That's one of the first things you hear about them."
And they love their team.
"I'd never seen a high school stadium (20,000-seat Ratliff Stadium) that big before, and when there were big games, like against Odessa High, one side would be black and one side red," Smith said.
Braden, a 6-foot, 190-pound redhead who played his final three seasons in the Dallas suburb of Rockwall, didn't attend Permian but was a ninth-grader in its feeder school, Bonham Junior High.
He did attend the games.
"I'd sit up in the press box charting plays," Smith said. "It's something my dad does with most of his young quarterbacks."
Moving is another thing his dad, and a lot of coaches do.
Scott Smith, a starter in the early 80s on a Baylor defense that included Mike Singletary, was on Forrest Gregg's coaching staff at SMU when Braden was born.
After that, his dad was an assistant coach at Baylor, twice, and Arkansas along with being head coach at Duncanville, Highland Park, Permian and Rockwall high schools.
"I've enjoyed being a coach's son," Smith said. "It's football 24/7. You come home and still get to talk about schemes and coverages. And even with all the moving, I've been able to find some real good friends.
"A lot of people will be with you when you win, but down on you when you lose."
The nomadic way of coaches delivered a blow to this Class 5A All-State honorable mention selection after he committed to attend SMU last summer.
The school fired its head coach, Phil Bennett, in November and didn't name a replacement until mid-January.
"I liked coach Bennett's staff and their offensive scheme was similar to what I'd been doing at Rockwall," recalled Smith, who used a multiple-formation offense to pass for 2,889 yards and 26 touchdowns last fall.
"Then he got let go and for 71 days they didn't know who the coach was going to be."
That limbo ended when SMU hired June Jones away from Hawaii.
Jones, the original run-n-shoot quarterback when he played for Mouse Davis at Portland State, had teamed with Forrest Gregg to bring that offense to the University of Houston and the Houston Oilers in the mid-80s. At Hawaii, his quarterbacks Timmy Chang and Colt Brennan set several NCAA passing records.
"With June Jones coming in, that was a blessing," Smith said. "I think I fit into his style of offense very well, too."
Braden Smith never got to quarterback for Odessa Permian, but he was there when the filmmakers hit town for some local color for the 2004 movie.
"The first year we were there, they had three or four cameras at every game," he recalled. "They'd be at a few practices, but it wasn't really a distraction.
"They were just getting footage to put in the background. The second year, they weren't really around. They shot the rest of it in Austin."
The movie, like the book it was based upon, pulled few punches in showing how a community lives and dies with its football team.
"A lot of the people there had mixed feelings about the movie," Smith said. "Those were the ones who were actually around back in the 80s and living it."
Living there during filming was enough for the coach's son.
"I don't really watch the TV show," he said, "but the movie well, my brother, Shea Smith, played quarterback there and he wore number 20, just like the guy in the movie poster."
The photo of Permian's three captains holding hands on their way to the pregame coin toss has become iconic.
"My brother did that when he played,"Smith said.
"It's neat to see something about a school you've been to."