Grandfield coach weaves together coaching, preaching
It's a bright, cool Sunday morning. The Oklahoma-Texas game, an annual football scrum for bragging rights over the Red River, isn't even 12 hours old yet.
William Dickey is up almost before dawn, driving around the town of Grandfield (pop. 988), about 10 miles across the river on the Oklahoma side. For seven days a week for as long as he can remember, he's risen this early and driven through whatever town he calls home. He likes the few minutes to clear his thoughts and talk to God.
Whatever God says back, Dickey hopes to convey somehow to his football players at Grandfield High during the week. On Sundays, he delivers a more direct, religious message to his congregation, which even then consists of several players.
Dickey is a football coach who pastors. Or maybe he's a pastor who coaches football. At this point, it's all intertwined.
At practice he wears a cotton bucket hat, a whistle and tennis shoes. On Sundays, like this one, he stands in the pulpit, his face round and his haircut clipped to the skin. He wears a silver blazer wrapped over a black t-shirt. His thin, rectangle glasses give him an academic look. A shimmery watch and black penny loafers tie it all together. He looks sharp.
Dickey tries to develop physically strong football players, because strong bodies win on Friday nights. He has used them as building blocks to turn the Grandfield program into something special again since he accepted the head-coaching job there five years ago.
But his approach goes beyond weights.
"We focus on the mind, body and soul. If you don't have those three things," he says, "you'll never make it in this world."
Dickey understands the importance of fortifying oneself. He came of age without knowing his biological father. The two wouldn't meet until later in life, long after Dickey got married and had kids, and forged a career after becoming the first of his family to earn a college degree.
Dickey grew up in a mostly-white town and is old enough, 59, to have experienced the painful wedge of segregation. He attended Snyder's all-black school until fourth grade, when the town first integrated. The schoolhouse eventually became Mount Zion Baptist Church, where Dickey first heard a call to the ministry, a call he refused until years later.
Six days ago, Dickey completed his morning drive through the autumn air, then stood on the ragged steps of Rising Star Baptist Church, welcoming his smiling members who would fill several rows of pews inside the flawed, yet charming, building.
Tonight many of the same folks will help fill a rack of bleachers as Dickey's No. 2-ranked Bearcats host No. 3 Tipton in a game that will most likely decide the District C-2 championship. These are good days for Grandfield: Two straight state semifinal appearances, with a third attainable in what is considered the most wide-open Class C title race in recent memory.
But the program was a fixer-upper when Dickey took over. In a way, so was Rising Star Baptist. Dickey wakes up early every day to clear his head so he can continue working as foreman for both rebuilding projects.
It just so happens that on this Sunday, a message discussed inside his church's walls is construction related. It's rooted in the third chapter of Hebrews, verse four.
"For every house is built by someone," it reads, "but God is the builder of everything."
Garrison Brown, a former linebacker of Dickey's, reaches the top of Rising Star Baptist's steps in a white t-shirt, with his mother alongside him. Dickey wasn't expecting him and he throws a big hug around his broad shoulders.
Dickey is affectionate, an avid hugger. Always has been.
About five years ago when he met Grandfield's players for the first time players who had won two games in three seasons, including two 0-10 campaigns Dickey finished his talk and excused them from the locker room by saying something strange.
"I love you guys," the coach said to a bunch of blank faces.
Everyone walked out silently except Jahred Lopez, an eventual Bearcats star who's redshirting at Southern Nazarene University this year. He marched up to Dickey to explain that coaches don't normally say "I love you" to them. Dickey's message back: Get used to it.
"Now," Dickey said, "if I don't tell them in awhile that I love 'em, they say, 'Coach, you forgot to tell us something. You forgot to tell us you love us.'"
That's Dickey's style.
"I can tell you this. He does it the right way," Jim Kerbo, a close friend, said. "It's not done with cussing, or anything harsh or anything like that. It's positive motivation."