SAN ANGELO, Texas — Football starts at first light in the Concho Valley. One by one, members of Central High’s varsity team pull into the stadium parking lot to report for practice prior to homeroom. Most arrive by pickup trucks and sports cars. One comes in a red Ford Focus with “LACES OUT!” scrawled in white shoe polish across the back window. It is 6:40 a.m. on a Thursday. Headlights are turned off; engines settle. Teeter and Gunner, Rowdy and Gage enter the field house. Each player strides past a bobcat that a former player hunted, shot, gutted, stuffed and gifted to the program. It is the mascot. The moniker is Angry Orange, a reference to a past rich with rage. A digital clock on the locker room wall counts down to Friday night’s dance, at home, with Byron Nelson High. There are 36 hours until kickoff. Head coach Brent Davis busts on Teeter about his skinny-leg jeans and searches for junior quarterback Maverick McIvor. His locker is topped by an orange helmet, gray shoulder pads and a quote from coach Bear Bryant about there being no substitute for guts on the field.
“Mav’s halfway late,” Davis says. “He’s not late yet, but he’s fixing to be.”
In slips McIvor, sleepy eyed and sandy haired. The team is to take the turf in four minutes. He stands 6-foot-3, tips the scale at 200 pounds and can sling the ball more than 60 yards in the air. He takes every snap out of the shotgun and fires a .243 Winchester bolt-action rifle while hunting with friends. Doves are in season as he prepares to collect West Texas prep pelts. Townsfolk track the marks he hits. At The Quarterback Ranch, a skills camp, McIvor earned MVP honors during Under Armour’s Elite Passing Academy in July. This is to be his second career start at quarterback. In the previous week’s opener, he completed 23 of 38 passes for 357 yards and four touchdowns to beat Abilene High. He also rushed for a game-high 86 yards. McIvor is the pony Big 12 recruiters star in their racing forms, and he draws mock cheers from teammates for sleeping through his alarm. His cheeks redden. He pulls his helmet on over his head. There is a “WARNING” sticker that includes safety legalese in tiny lettering on the back. It reads: “No helmet can prevent serious head or neck injuries a player might receive while participating in football.”
“Present?” Davis says.
“Present,” McIvor says.
“And accounted for?” Davis says.
“Yessir,” McIvor says.
Players walk through a tunnel to the field; their cleats click-clack on concrete. Offensive coordinator Kevin Crane minds the quarterbacks as they warm up.
“Get air tight!” he says.
The defense’s motto is “Eat.” Whistles blow. Linemen shout.
“Let’s go,” they say in unison, “eaaaaaaaaaaaaattttttttt!”
Chinstraps are fastened. The offense’s marching order is camouflaged as an acronym — A.T.M.O. — on blue T-shirts.
“Air That Mother Out,” Davis says.
McIvor’s mom, Lashawn, knows the firepower her son packs. She is a special education teacher and a past Miss Rodeo Texas. Two of her fingers are still bent from the time Maverick broke them while playing catch with her when he was in the eighth grade. His father is responsible for his mechanics and hardwiring. His name is Rick, and he is a former Texas Longhorns quarterback from Fort Davis, an old Confederate depot that sits a mile high in the Davis Mountains. Rick played two seasons in the NFL with the Cardinals, and he once threw a ball 100 yards in the air, from goal line to goal line, in Seattle. At 57, he is a good distance from his playing weight, dealing with health issues and working security after two terms as Davis County sheriff. He regales friends with stories of hunting mountain lions 65 miles north of the United States-Mexico border. Now, he monitors his son’s progression, wincing when he gets sandwiched by linebackers.
“If you’re not physical out here, you’re not doing it right,” Maverick says. “If you’re down on the field for more than two seconds, you are a sissy. That’s for sure.”
Maverick absorbs blows 250 miles east of his hometown of 1,200 citizens. He uprooted from Fort Davis High, which totaled 15 kids in his class, after his freshman season to enroll at Central, which has 728 students in his class, in San Angelo, a city with 100,000 residents. For Fort Davis, he was all-everything. At Central, he was an all-district receiver last year as a sophomore. Quarterbacking offers new demands to meet, and the McIvors embrace the game’s brutality. They remain all-in during an era of five-receiver sets, $ 70 million high school stadiums, tightening rulebooks, safety legislation, head trauma registries and growing concerns about football’s fate. Maverick’s transition from a six-man school in Class 1A to an 11-man school in Class 6A, the state’s greatest stage, comes as the University Interscholastic League, the governing body for Texas public schools, launches the nation’s largest effort to track brain injuries among young athletes. Perils are in the spotlight, as is Maverick. He is one of a million high school students playing football nationwide this season, and his emergence is considered to be the most intriguing rise in the Lone Star State. Where others see officials reining in football’s savagery, he sees open paths.
“I’m so glad we moved, so many more opportunities,” Maverick says. “I miss how easy life was. I say that, but you had to worry about some things, mountain lions knocking on your door.”
Mettle tests await Maverick. At 17, he proceeds into the American football machine’s maw with confidence in his talent and knowledge of the trade’s dangers. He need not look farther than his father’s seat in the stands to appreciate the risks. Rick knows all the routes, from drags to drifts. He is familiar with the rub, too. In college, Rick was hospitalized after enduring a knockout concussion. He still deals with damaged nerves and wrenched knees as he considers joining lawsuits against the NFL and NCAA. He has also filled out surveys for Harvard University researchers, but on Fridays, as he says, he “hoots like hell” for his boy. Recently divorced, Rick drives four hours from Fort Davis each Thursday to sit in San Angelo Stadium, which fits 18,000 spectators, or wherever the Friday night lights reflect off of his son’s helmet. Maverick notes changes. He says that his father is “going through hell.”
“I don’t think the game is as physical, honestly,” Maverick says. “I think it was just as fast. It’s more schemed than just running out there and killing each other. It was dirtier in the piles back when dad played. Better technology now. Seeing dad all messed up makes me wonder about the joys of playing football, but I just love it.”
Davis informs the team that there is no pep rally this week. The boys are to wear ties to school the next day, though, to show that game day is a business day for all. Support for the team is never hard to find in town, from front lawns to meeting rooms. By the time McIvor arrives in his green Off Road Silverado without a tie on Friday, there is a glossy paper football ready to be affixed to his locker stall. It reads:
* * *
“Ol’ Mav, I’ve been coaching Maverick for, mercy me, ever since he was big enough to play tee ball,” Rick McIvor says as he settles into a chair inside Davis’s office after school at Central. He is dressed in a burnt orange shirt and blue jeans. Grays dot his mustache; his hair is thinning. His view is of the playing field on a sunny afternoon. Outside, his alma mater, Fort Stockton High, squares with Lake View High in a junior varsity game. Rick thinks back about Maverick’s roots as he waits for his son to make his way over from class. “We had a little old football team in Fort Davis. Alpine is down the road. We’d go in helmet and pads and beat ‘em. Boy, let me tell you, they’d get madder than hell. Then Mav would play summer baseball. We’d beat them in that, too. They could not stand it. Of course, if it wasn’t for Maverick, we wouldn’t have been beating any of them. He just stood out.”
Maverick is the cynosure at Central. Rick knows the role’s demands. Father no longer coaches son in an official capacity, but son still follows his father’s path. Like Maverick, Rick departed Fort Davis for a larger school, in 1975. In Rick’s case, the destination was Fort Stockton, a city of 8,400 residents that sits 89 miles east of Fort Davis. His mother, Jean, informed her father, Big Jim Espy, a roper and rancher, that the family was moving so she could start the girls’ basketball team at Fort Stockton High. There was a bonus, too. Rick could play 11-man football. It was a seismic shift. Big Jim asked, “Baby, do you know how far Fort Stockton is?’” Jean said, “Yes, 89 miles.” He replied, “It is not. It is halfway around the world!”
To Rick, the move from six-man grass fields of 80 yards by 40 yards to 11-man fields of 100 yards by 50 was disorienting. After his first practice, Rick reported back to his mother that he had never seen so many people in a huddle. He explored all angles and eventually played quarterback, safety and kicker. He possessed the two greatest virtues in the six-man game — versatility and resourcefulness — and later applied them to 11-man. He credited ranch work — stretching out wire, breaking in horses — for his strong wrists. In his senior year, he led the Panthers to an 11-1 record. Prospectors came calling from all over; they phoned around the clock. There were letters and scholarship offers. A second mailbox was set up. Rick recalls lining up a tailback named Jerry Bullitt from Andress High in El Paso. Bullitt was in blue; rain fell. A blocker was stood up in mud. Rick knew there was only one hole for Bullitt to pass through. Rick met him there and lifted Bullitt off both feet.
“I got the snot knocked out of me on offense, but I always loved going to defense because I could return the favor,” Rick says. “I returned the favor.”
Accolades are in the annals. Rick is listed as All-State in all three phases of the game. He signed on with Texas coach Fred Akers. During his first start, in 1979, Rick threw a 54-yard touchdown three minutes into the game. He finished with 270 yards that afternoon. At the time, it was a school record. Cannon blasts continued as he moved up and down the depth chart in Austin. It was a run-first offense, but Rick, all eye black and mustache, kept his rifle at the ready. His finest hour came against Texas A&M in 1983. Texas trailed 13-0 when Rick replaced Rob Moerschell. Rick took aim at the Aggies. He threw two touchdown passes in a 96-second span. The Longhorns went up, 14-13, before adding 31 points in the third quarter. In that burst, Rick threw 33-yard and 60-yard touchdown passes. The 45-13 win elevated the No. 2 Longhorns to the Cotton Bowl against No. 7 Georgia. Texas was 11-0, but fell in front of 67,891 fans. Rick completed 8 of 26 passes. One went for 44 yards, but two throws were intercepted. He was sacked twice. No. 1 Nebraska lost to Miami (Fla.) in the Orange Bowl. Texas would have finished No. 1 with a victory. The ebbs and flows remain with him today. Collisions and camaraderie also come to mind.
“I love to sit and watch, reminisce,” he says. “It just brings back good times. I’ll tell ya, I used to love knocking the crap out of people on defense. I really loved it.”
He considers the game’s toll. There is wreckage to sift through. After Texas went 7-5 his sophomore year, trainer Spanky Stephens rode herd on the Longhorns. The team worked out in what Rick calls “The Dungeon.” Players performed sit-ups, punched heavy bags until knuckles bled and wore weighted vests. They went 10-1-1 the next campaign. He notes that the “worst of it in terms of stupidity” was the workouts under Gene Stallings, one of The Junction Boys, with the Cardinals in the NFL, in 1986. Stallings famously survived Bear Bryant’s first training camp at Texas A&M in 1954 when Bryant brought 111 players to a rock patch of a field in drought conditions 240 miles west of campus. Bryant worked the team past the point of exhaustion and withheld water from them. Night after night, players escaped. Bryant had 35 players left when he returned to campus. Rick recalls similar tactics by Stallings at the 1986 camp in Charleston, Ill. Humidity reigned; water was sparse.
“Biggest injuries? Well, sh–, my whole body, man,” Rick says of his career. “I had knee surgeries. Now I gotta get both knees replaced. In college, I had left knee tore up really bad. I redshirted. Against Houston, they separated my right shoulder. Back then, crap, they shot some cortisone in there, moved it around and you went back out and played. Cortisone’s supposed to be three days. People were crazy.”
Maverick enters the room. Rick greets him by saying, “Hello, pumpkin head!” They compare how far they can throw the ball. Rick insists he can still throw farther. Maverick knows his body is growing every day. Central’s strength and conditioning program requires that players sleep 7.5-9 hours per night, take a 20-60 minute nap, consume 10 12-ounce glasses of water throughout the day, eat five servings of fruits and vegetables and take in 20 grams of protein after a workout. There are foam rollers, foot rollers, ice baths and hot showers. Maverick offers old-school defiance when asked about whether he has ever been concussed in football.
“I definitely probably have been,” he says, “but I won’t tell anybody about it unless it is real bad.”
“You are to,” Rick says, furrowing his brow as he looks at his son.
“Yeah, you are right,” Maverick says.
They head out and walk down the hallway. Rick broaches a legal issue.
“What about this traffic ticket that you got?” Rick says.
“I pulled right out of the house,” Maverick says.
“You did something wrong or they wouldn’t have given you a ticket,” Rick says.
Rick’s mom is in the truck by Fort Stockton’s team bus. They will stay in a motel for the night so they can watch the game tomorrow night. Maverick takes a detour through the training room before emerging outside. Rick shakes his head.
“He just wanders off,” Rick says. “He’s thinking about so many damn different things.”
* * *
Kevin Crane, the offensive coordinator for Central, cues up game clips on a projector screen. A few players sit at the oval conference table in the meeting room; others sit on the floor. The lights are off. It is Friday morning quiz time. Maverick, an honors student with a 3.9 GPA, is the star pupil. Crane’s laser pointer comes and goes, but his focus is fixed on applying finishing touches to the game plan. He talks about rovers, run-pass options and receiver releases. He asks Maverick to identify the roof: one high or two high? Crane wants to go vertical and violent. He slips into football vernacular and points out C-post suckers, bear fronts and 16 dart choice backside. He wants one wide receiver to sell the post and come back on a curl route.
“Catch the ball, get it tucked, and get straight up field, without indecision, without hesitation, without anything but just freaking hauling butt to the end zone,” Crane says. “Alright?”
Crane goads Maverick to be fast and efficient. There is no shortage of offensive knowledge to work with. At Fort Davis, Rick served as the offensive coordinator and implemented West Coast offense schemes into six-man personnel. Together, they built a route tree; the offense blossomed. Maverick finished his 10 games with 1,872 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions as a freshman. He picked off four passes and returned one for a touchdown. He forced two fumbles and brought one back for a 73-yard score. He rushed for 550 yards. Maverick and his sister, Hadley, a three-sport athlete, transferred to Central the next semester.
“Physically it was rough in that you played every play and both sides of the ball, never came out,” Maverick says. “Not as big players hitting you. I was definitely one of the larger people out there. I’m an average size player in 11 man.”
Davis, the Central head coach, remembers Maverick coming out firing when he first transferred. Every ball was thrown as hard as possible in spring practice. The Bobcats already had a starter in Cal Vincent, a senior, so Maverick shifted to the slot as a wide receiver. Week in, week out, he was listed as the reserve quarterback, but repetitions were rare in practice. The regular season played out with the offense averaging more than 50 points per game, and the Angry Orange reached the Class 6A Division I semifinal against Allen. With an enrollment of 6,450 students, Allen, located 26 miles north of Dallas, is the largest high school in Texas. The Eagles boast four state titles in the last decade, and home games are played in a stadium that cost $ 60 million to build. Their fans flocked south 300 miles for the game; more than 20,000 spectators filled San Angelo Stadium. It rained; standing room went four deep. Maverick started in the slot and had a front row view when quarterback Cal Vincent scrambled out of his end zone late in the second quarter. Vincent looked for receivers; none were open. His first step to avoid a safety was into the striking range of a linebacker. The defender launched himself and rocked Vincent up high. A lineman then smashed Vincent from the other side. Vincent ricocheted between them. The ball came loose. Maverick was summoned under center to run out the clock. A quarterback sweep was called and a defender forced a fumble on his first series. Allen tacked on a 48-yard field goal to lead 31-21 at the half. It was believed that Vincent had suffered an elbow injury at first. During intermission, Vincent tried to take snaps and drop back on an indoor field. He vomited and was ruled out due to a concussion. Maverick led the offense. It slowed to a halt. The final was 34-21.
“Mav talks about it a lot,” Crane says. “He doesn’t want to experience losing for the team or the town.”
Maverick accepted all offseason challenges from his coaches. He signed up to run the 400 intermediate hurdles in spring track at their request, and he met with Crane three times a week for “quarterback school.” He was drilled on the field and studied film in the meeting room. There was a conditioning course that is called “The Deadly Medley.” Maverick and teammates were harnessed with 15-inch steel-belted car tires and ordered to run 60-yard sprints while carrying a baton. The finale was a 50-second run. It was a gut check. Participants went as far as they could.
“People laying face down on the ground, throwing up,” Maverick says. “Legs aren’t the worst. It’s your breath. After three weeks, you’re in pretty good shape.”
Crane trains his attention on the screen. He knows Maverick is better equipped after an offseason leading the Bobcats to the championship bracket of the state 7-on-7 Tournament for the first time in College Station. He also took a mission trip to Guatemala with left tackle Gunner Couch. Coaches note maturity in his preparation.
“Mav, that middle three is going to be playing center field, trying to read your eyes, decide what you’re doing,” Crane says. “You control that guy with your eyes.”
Crane leaves McIvor a handwritten letter prior to each game. He also encourages his starter to “be the most excited to play the game of football.”
“Don’t ever get tired of us saying that to you,” Crane says. “Like a kid on Christmas morning, like a kid in a candy store, like a kid in a video game room.”
Crane asks for the lights to be flipped back on. Players file out. An assistant coach informs Crane that Couch, who was honored with the “Big Hit” award earlier in the week, shaved his No. 75 into his chest hair.
“Are you serious?” Crane says.
Crane laughs. His thoughts return to the passing game as Maverick heads out.
“Put it in play, Mav,” Crane says. “Put it in play over and over and over again.”
* * *
There are 120 Bobcats on Central’s freshman team. The junior varsity suits up 110 players. The varsity is reserved for the best 60 players in a school of 3,000 students. There are 350 members in the Mighty Bobcat Band. The Tex-Anns, a drill team of 30 girls, dresses in orange and blue field uniforms. They form a tunnel for players to run through prior to kickoff. One Bobcat carries the Lone Star flag; another waves one emblazoned “Come and Take It” above the image of a cannon. A Texas battle is about to be waged. Byron Nelson hails from Trophy Club, a community between Dallas and Fort Worth. Davis tells his team it is representing “all of West Texas” tonight. He tells his players, “Football is not as important to them as it is to us.” Defensive end Payton Menchaca, a senior, rallies teammates inside an inflatable helmet prior to sprinting onto the field. The Bobcats bounce around.
“Hey, they from the Metroplex! They don’t know how to ball!” he says. “They don’t know how we do it out here in West Texas. We whupped their ass last year! We gonna whup it again! Everybody came to see ya’ll do it. This is the sequel!”
It is Parents Night. Maverick’s mother sits with her father, Hadley, on the home side of the stadium. She wears orange and blue earrings; Rick sits up high in Row 25 on the visitors’ side. He is among a gaggle of old football coaches from Paducah and other outposts. They talk about coming just to see a quarterback named Maverick. Rick introduces himself. There is a pinch of Smokey Mountain herbal snuff in his lip; he spits into a Mountain Dew bottle and listens to the radio broadcast. The commentators already refer to Maverick as “Top Gun.” He is No. 7 in orange and feathers a few balls early. He finds Teeter for a 15-yard slant and slips by linemen to take on tacklers. Pageantry yields to pace pushing. Another pass goes for 35 yards. Back by midfield, Maverick finishes the throw as a defender hits him in the legs; another crashes into his chest. Teeter adjusts to the spinning ball, leans back and hauls it in over his left shoulder. Central builds a 26-7 lead. Cheerleaders chant:
Beat ‘em up!
Beat ‘em up!
Rah, rah, rah!
Rick drinks it all in. He watches as a Byron Nelson defender stays down on the field after a play. The Nelson players take a knee in solidarity. The boy is led to the sideline. Rick looks down and notes that it appears he “got his bell rung.” A trainer on the Nelson sideline flashes a light in front of the player’s eyes to examine him. Rick considers the concussion calculus in the modern game. In 2011, state legislators in Texas passed House Bill 2038, which requires training for coaches and athletic personnel on how to react when players sustain head traumas. Previously, a coach could put players back into a practice or a game if they were symptom-free — no dizziness, blurred vision or headaches — for 15 minutes. Now, a physician must give clearance before an athlete can return. All coaches are required to be certified.
“They have come a long ways in protecting you,” Rick says. “There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Concussion awareness is a part of all coaching curriculums now. One year ago, the UIL — the governing agency for Texas high schools — partnered with the O’Donnell Brain Institute in Dallas to implement the ConTex registry to be used by 1,400 member schools. The database is to include concussion cases reported by middle and high school athletic trainers and other school personnel in all sanctioned athletic activities. More than 800,000 student-athletes are potential case studies. The project relies on trainers to report all concussions to a central archive through an app or online site developed by Medical Innovation Labs in Austin. The cause of the injury, concussion history, gender of the player and other data are to be noted. Information is shared with coaches, who are being educated elsewhere, as well. In June, at the 44th annual Angelo Football Clinic, coaches gathered for lectures like “Teaching Linebacker Fundamentals in Our Zone Dog Package” by Texas Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and “QB runs in the Air Raid Offense” by Pete Fredenberg, the coach at Mary Hardin Baylor. During each of the four days, a two-hour slot was reserved for “Concussion Management Certification” presentations to comply with H.B. 2038. They were held in a V.I.P. lounge on site.
“I don’t like Maverick taking the hits a lot because of the way I am now,” Rick says. “If it’s a fair, legal hit, I’m fine, that’s part of it. If it is a cheap shot, I’ll come unglued. It’s a good thing I sit up here because I might go on the field and be put in jail. It’s getting to be a fierce game, madness and frustrations, lack of discipline at times.”
Rick details the knockout concussion he endured. It was against Houston, and the Longhorns ran a reverse for wideout Herkie Walls. Rick transitioned to a blocking role after handing the ball off to Walls. The wideout reversed field, and Rick eyed Houston defensive end Hosea Taylor, all 6-foot-5, 260 pounds of him. Taylor charged up the field full force. Rick remembers the moment before making contact.
“I want to get down low and cut his feet out,” Rick says. “He dipped down. His knee hit me right in side of my head. Nasty dude in the temple and I’m down. It doesn’t have to be helmet to helmet. Knees, heels, feet can catch you in the head. I can’t tell you how many times I saw stars all the way through. That was common.”
Pain is constant these days. Rick explains that part of the motivation for moving his kids to San Angelo was the proximity to Shannon Medical Center. In 2011, Rick suffered a heart attack and needed to be stabilized before being airlifted by helicopter to Odessa. He had a stent put in at the time. In recent years, he has suffered through discomfort between his third and fourth vertebrae. On a separate doctor’s visit, he went in for an MRI. A pituitary tumor was discovered. It was affecting his optic nerve. Dr. Leslie Hutchins, a neurosurgery specialist, operated.
“They cut me,” he says. “They laid back my lip, then opened it up where the doctor could go through. The doctor left a bitty, bitty piece in.”
Numbness remains by his lip. He is going through tests to see if he is battling dementia or Alzheimer’s. The health issues do not halt his interest in football, though. Central has the game in hand, but Rick is not turning away as throws are made. One of Maverick’s passes sails a few yards farther than his wideout can run.
“Oooohhh, God dang it, Maverick!” Rick says. “He gonna have a nightmare about that one. God dang it!”
Maverick finishes with 307 passing yards and 62 rushing yards. He takes a victory lap with teammates following the final whistle and shakes hands with fans in the front row. Rick and Lashawn come down to the field to congratulate their son.
“You’ve got a fine young man,” Herman Fox, an old coach, tells Rick. “I love the way he sees and goes. He don’t wait around either. I’ll see you next week.”
Rick will be up with the sun in the morning. There is a lawn to mow back home and a 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift to work in his security shack Sunday. Maverick heads back to his mother’s brick house on Huntington Lane. The address is known to college recruiters; mail comes from coaches. Lashawn and her father talk about Maverick’s promise after he heads out with friends. She tells of growing up between Brackettville and Del Rio. Her grandparents, Happy and Virginia Shahan, created Alamo Village on a ranch outside of San Antonio. It was the site of John Wayne’s directorial debut in “The Alamo.” The Duke is long dead; Lashawn no longer runs a casting company. A sign out front marks the brick house as a Bobcat’s residence. She hosts linemen — “The Goon Squad” — for dinner each week. The ribs are barbecued on low all day. She then adds a little browning. Mother and son hold their best conversations while throwing a foam football to each other inside the house.
“There’s a real peace in him lately,” she says. “I just pray over him that he maintains that peace.”
* * *
Ninety-three in the shade and mountain lion cages sit empty in the tall grass. It is on the McIvor family property of 20 acres in Fort Davis. A “For Sale” sign stands at the foot of the driveway. The only remnant of a sporting life in the house is a lone baseball. A mule deer’s head is over a doorway. Natural light fills the house through floor-to-ceiling windows. Jean moves about inner rooms, noting where Maverick used to have Texas Tech wallpapering. To grow up in town is to live a childhood forever on the verge of adventure. There is a memory the family keeps of Maverick trying to follow his father’s trail. Maverick was no older than seven years old then.
“That was not a good day,” Rick says.
Rick was driving a bulldozer. Maverick, at the wheel of a Ram 3500, followed him on Kokernot 06 Ranch, an expanse of land that stretches over 110,000 acres. Rick knew the landscape because he worked the property as predator control. He cut across a pasture and Maverick remained on the road. Maverick lost his father and couldn’t figure the best way back to him. For four hours, Maverick moved across rough switchback roads and cried. He finally eyed his father and detected anger.
“I was scared to drive up to him,” Maverick says. “I was like, ‘Oh, sh–.’”
Maverick’s face was full of dirt. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
“He had the notion to turn around,” Rick says. “He found my tracks.”
Maverick maintains a workman’s mien that he developed as a child. He woke up at 6:45 a.m. each day and toiled until twilight. He filled feeders, built roads, mowed lawns and proved to be tireless. He had show sheep that he kept in a pen; balls of all kinds dotted the family’s lot. He used to wear a black shirt that read: “Longhorns For Life Like My Daddy.” In his early grade school years, he would leave class behind for two or three days at a time once hunting season began in order to go with his father and a few guides. Mountain lions were the toughest game.
“Saw one killed with a bow,” Maverick says. “That will make you wet your pants.”
A wildfire once threatened to burn down the family’s house. It was April 2011 and the blaze that emanated from an electrical spark west of Marfa blew quickly across West Texas. Flames were fanned by high winds that reached 50 mph. The fire climbed the mountains and arrived at Fort Davis. More than 100 structures, including 25 homes, were destroyed. It spared the McIvor house.
“Some of the harder things I did was fighting fires,” Rick says. “There would be days and days and days that I stay out there.”
There are issues to monitor by the Mexican border, as well. As sheriff, Rick incorporated a system of sensors to detect movements of travelers in the mountains and surrounding areas. One drug bust involved an Avalanche pickup truck with 1,777 pounds of marijuana stored under a cover in the bed and in the backseat. Rick could watch designated areas from cameras that streamed into his mobile phone. Jean believes Rick got the law enforcement bug from his genes. Maverick’s great, great, great grandfather — Captain J.B. Gillett — was one of the first Texas Rangers.
“I’d sit here, look at my phone and say, ‘There goes five of them,’” Rick says. “Call border patrol, meet me at a certain place.”
His mother is on the move at the moment. Jean drives 26 miles to Alpine to pick up medicine for Rick. Sleeping Lion Mountain is in the distance. Her attention turns to a gathering of border patrol pickup trucks by a family member’s property.
“Ooooh, they must have caught somebody,” she says. “I’ll tell Rick.”
* * *
A green railing lines the football field at Fort Davis High. The grass inside is browning after 10 days without a drop of rain. Rick used to keep it well watered. Maverick is remembered for spraying passes on site. A manager leans on a tackling sled as he watches classmates play. Horse trailers are nearby, as is a green tackling dummy that is emblazoned “Wrap Up” on top. Mountains loom beyond the white goal post. The varsity six-man team practices now. Jean watches it all from the side.
“When my father died, we went to the funeral home in Alpine and the director said, ‘I know we cannot have the service at the Presbyterian Church. It is not large enough,’” she says. “And he said, ‘We’re going to have it at the gym. I think it is large enough.’ My mom said, ‘Oh no, no, no, no. His favorite place was a football field.’ We had his service right there, and it was awesome.”
The family never gets its fill of football. Seth Nolan, the coach of the Indians, comes over to speak with her. She updates him on Maverick’s doings. Week in, week out, Maverick marches the Bobcats to victory. Jean witnesses it all. She knows when Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury is out to watch her grandson’s warm-ups and when wide receiver Jesse Scott is removed from the field on a stretcher. Maverick is responsible for six touchdowns in a shootout win over Killeen Shoemaker and wins “Built Ford Tough Player of the Week” honors. He leads the team to a perfect regular season. The San Angelo police department provides an escort for the team out of town for the second round of the state playoffs. The Bobcats fall, 55-37, at Mansfield, on Black Friday. His final statistics earn him Offensive MVP honors for District 2-6A. In all, he completes 62% of his passes for 3,371 yards, the second most in school history, and a school-record 43 touchdowns. The past is repeating itself.
“Mav’s going to be a superstar,” says Graydon Hicks III, the Fort Davis schools superintendent. “You’re going to be watching him in the NFL, winning Super Bowls. The kid’s a superstar, tougher than hell. He can do everything. Football just happened to be the path.”
Nolan recalls Maverick’s inimitable style.
“Unstoppable here,” Nolan says. “We played good teams, and they could key on him pretty easily. He started to slow down a bit but not too much.”
“He’s running good now, Seth,” Jean says.
“You know who he reminds me of?” Nolan says. “Vince Young. He’s deceiving, long as he is, the legs unfolding.”
Nolan notes that a player returned to Fort Davis recently, and the team has 12 members. They had been struggling to field a skeleton roster to scrimmage six on six. Maverick’s old No. 7 jersey was given out by an assistant, but Nolan took it back.
“I have it in my locker, just to keep until Maverick comes back,” Nolan says.
Jean wishes Nolan a good practice. She heads home and drives by a shop that advertises “The Largest Live Rattlesnake Exhibit.” The words are punctuated by a painting of a snake slithering around a globe. Hummingbirds flutter above her porch. Whitetail deer approach at dusk. Rick comes in for carnitas fresh out of the slow cooker. Rick reflects on the spectrum of experience that is within Maverick’s grasp. There is talk of Crane doing yoga with Maverick in order to loosen him up during the offseason. Maverick spoke with his father on FaceTime about possibly playing baseball in the spring. For now, a homecoming is planned. Rick’s children will spend a few days in Fort Davis ahead of Christmas. Rick readies for them.
“Mav has my letter jacket,” Rick says. “He’ll wear it once in a while. All the sleeves, front and back, there’s not a place to put another patch.”