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A big impact on small fry

Editors note: Football is more than a game; itÕs a way of life. In this series, we focus on one player at each stage of the game, from pee wee football through retirement. Through their eyes you, too, may experience the life of football.

By DARRELL FRY

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001


PLANO, Texas -- The crowd is still arriving at Texas Stadium, where the Cowboys open the season against the Broncos. Several former Cowboys stand on the sideline, including safety Bill Bates and cornerback Everson Walls. Not too far away is Tony DorsettÕs wife, who has been looking forward to this game for weeks.

Early in the first quarter, the Broncos run a fake 24 dive play and burn the Cowboys on a well-disguised quarterback keeper around the right side for a 30-yard scoring play.

After crossing the goal line, 9-year-old Kris Lott casually drops the football and does his best impression of Terrell DavisÕ Mile High Salute.

When someone said everything is big in Texas, apparently they meant everything Ñ even pee wee football.

In Texas, you donÕt choose football. It chooses you. And if you are anything like Kris Lott, it chooses you early.

KrisÕ father and coach, Thomas, was a collegiate star quarterback at Oklahoma during the late 1970s (remember how he always wore that red bandana on his head?). And KrisÕ two older brothers, T.L., 18, and Alex, 12, play.

"ItÕs very ingrained," KrisÕ mother, Donna, says while cleaning up after breakfast at their suburban Dallas home. "These people raise (their kids) to play football. ItÕs part of Texas."

Kris, who turns 10 on Thursday, remembers seeing a video of his father playing for the Sooners and then having an unquenchable desire to snap on a chin strap like his old man. Nobody was surprised.

"From the time he could walk," coach Lott says, "everywhere you go, people ask, ÔAre you going to be just like your dad?Õ "

Suffice it to say, if Prestonwood Football Organization league rules allowed kids to play before age 7, Kris would have started years ago. As it is, he has two seasons of tackle football under him with no end in sight.

"Certain people just have that aggressiveness," coach Lott says of Kris, who has played flag football since kindergarten.

From the beginning, football for Kris has been a serious undertaking, one based on fun but driven by commitment and discipline. Coach LottÕs philosophy is this: Sure, these are little kids, but if they have any aspirations of playing college or pro ball, they might as well start preparing for it now.

"If you donÕt (start now), a lot of these kids wonÕt get it," he says. "This is a realistic deal. ItÕs only going to get tougher from here."

This is how realistic coach Lott makes it: Kris does off-season training like NFL players. ThereÕs a playbook with five plays. There are periodic film sessions. Preseason practices are held four times a week.

It is all quite consuming. During the season, Kris says he basically only has time for school and football. He is up every morning at 6. At school by 8. Back home by 3. Homework until 4. Then football practice from 6:30 until dark. Bedtime is 9:30.

KrisÕ bedroom, which he shares with Alex, is dominated by football memorabilia just like T.L.Õs room, which is virtually wallpapered with football posters. The bedsheets have NFL team logos on them. Kris even has an action poster of himself.

On the door is a sticker that reads, "Nothing is impossible."

Kris and his brothers wear jersey No. 6, the same number their dad wore at Oklahoma.

"IÕm going to wear it every year I play football," Kris says proudly.

Coach Lott says he tries to downplay his glory days at Oklahoma and his brief NFL stint with St. Louis because he doesnÕt want his sons saddled with any added expectations. There are no pictures of him from his playing days displayed at their house.

"ItÕs their time," he says. "I donÕt want them to be looking at that and have that pressure."

Still, coach LottÕs big-time football past is everywhere, especially at KrisÕ practices. The once-a-week practices are no joke. Missing one is virtually inexcusable for anyone on KrisÕ team.

"If youÕre sick," coach Lott says during practice, "you come anyway."

After the team goes over a play, a kid walks back to the huddle, drawing coach LottÕs ire.

"ThereÕs no walking out here!" he barks. "Come on! Hustle!"

When another kid fumbles, coach Lott makes everyone do a crawling drill from the 15-yard line to the goal post. When another kid tackles a teammate after an interception, he yells, "Peter, have you lost your mind?

"As soon as I get these kids, I demand a lot out of them," he says unapologetically. "IÕm hard on them, but IÕm fair. Sometimes, I will admit to myself that maybe I was too hard on them. I mean, IÕm probably too hard on my own kids. But itÕs an emotional sport. You get caught up in the moment. But IÕll reflect on it later and realize I was probably too hard and that maybe I didnÕt go about things the right way, and IÕll apologize."

* * *

ItÕs 9:41 on a Saturday morning, and Kris is eating breakfast with his brothers. Sitting at the kitchen table shirtless, T.L. is reading the Dallas Morning NewsÕ eight pages of high school coverage from the night before.

"ThereÕs nothing but ballplayers in here," Donna says. "And IÕm the queen."

The kitchen doubles as the team training room. Alex and Kris take turns sitting on the kitchenÕs island while coach Lott tapes and wraps their ankles and wrists.

"I remember the first time I got hit," Kris says. "I was running the ball, and this kid, June, he plays for the Bears, he just blasted me."

Did it discourage him from playing?

"No, it made me mad," he says. "When he got the ball, I got him."

In two seasons, Kris has avoided being hurt except for a few bruises. Donna Lott said she tries not to worry about Kris, but she canÕt forget the time Alex got hurt and was in so much pain he couldnÕt sleep. Or T.LÕs two concussions, one of which sent him to the emergency room.

"With their father around them all the time," she says, "I know theyÕre in good hands."

An hour before kickoff, Kris is bouncing off the walls. It is part of KrisÕ pregame routine to get excited. Typically, he plays video games (football, of course) in his room and listens to his CD Jock Jams.

"It pumps us up," Kris says.

* * *

Kris is the last one to get dressed before the team takes the field against the Vikings, whose uniforms are purple and yellow, just like the real Vikings. ItÕs the BroncosÕ third game (they are 2-0), yet they are still breathless from their 26-0 win over the Cowboys at Texas Stadium two Saturdays before.

"I was very excited. It was hard for me to sleep," Kris says.

As the players stretch minutes before kickoff, assistant coach Jamie Hawley yells, "It ought to burn in your legs."

Kris starts at quarterback. On the gameÕs opening drive, he runs a quarterback keeper around the right side and streaks untouched into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown. With a successful two-point conversion, KrisÕ team leads 8-0.

The Broncos go on to an easy win, orchestrated in large part by Kris, who stars on offense and defense. Afterward, Hawley and coach Lott praise Kris for his play.

"I was nervous," Kris admits. "I was like, "Are we going to win or lose?Õ I didnÕt know what was going to happen. And I was nervous about how I was going to play."

The Broncos trample the rest of the competition, finishing 8-1 and unscored upon. The lone loss was a forfeit because too many kids were on vacation for a holiday weekend game. ItÕs KrisÕ second consecutive league title. As a reward, the Broncos schedule a post-season exhibition game against the Titans, a team of 9-year-olds from Guthrie, Okla., who went 7-2.

On the field minutes before kickoff, coach Lott makes everyone remove their gloves despite the chilly weather. Eventually, he gathers the team for the pregame speech.

"I donÕt like to lose, guys," he says. "I donÕt know about you, but I donÕt like losing."

Kris starts at quarterback and throws an early interception, which leads to a Titans touchdown. With the two-point conversion, the visitors lead 8-0.

The Broncos have a tough time stopping the TitansÕ running game. ItÕs 16-0 at the half. Coach Lott has been chewing out Kris during the first half for throwing poor passes. He isnÕt happy.

He tells the team he is very disappointed in them and that some of them "are acting like babies."

He tries to rally them.

"Show them how good you are," he tells them. "Make sure you leave this field with them respecting you."

After the Broncos fumble, coach Lott calls timeout and delivers some choice words.

"YouÕve got to play hurt," he says. "I donÕt want to hear about your hands or this or that. Be tough!"

The second half is slightly better. Kris scores on a trick play to make it 16-6. Late in the game, the Broncos are in a no-huddle offense and driving. But on fourth down from the Titans 12-yard line, Kris throws another interception that virtually ends the game.

Afterward, Kris is obviously disappointed. One of his teammates cries softly. Coach Lott huddles his team for the last time.

"You all deserve to lose, but itÕs over now," he says. "Leave it on the field."

He goes on to tell them it has been a great season, one that got better every week. The group of parents in attendance agree and tell coach Lott in unison that they love him. They also give him thank-you cards.

Kris seems as disappointed about the season being over as he is about how it ended.

"I was nervous at the end," he says. "I thought I was going to forget the play or

fumble.'

That night, the Lott family holds its traditional post-season ceremony. Coach Lott, Donna, Kris and his two brothers gather in the family room, where the trophies are kept on a shelf

"We donÕt put anything up there unless itÕs a first- or second-place trophy," coach Lott says, estimating the family has about 50 trophies on the shelf and more in the attic.

Coach Lott gives a short speech about what a good season it was. Then they pass out wine glasses (Kris calls them "fancy glasses") with apple juice. Kris thanks his teammates and his dad/coach.

A toast is made.

"They look forward to it," coach Lott says. "I think Kris likes that we make a big deal out of his trophy."

Weeks later in the heat of basketball season (KrisÕ team is 6-0), Kris is watching an NFL playoff game involving his favorite team, the Vikings. He stares at the TV as if someone were dangling a triple scoop of his favorite ice cream in his face.

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