Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Thriller excerpt, and we’re happy to share the news that this terrific read at $2.99 and FREE for Amazon Prime Members via Kindle Lending Library for Kindle Nation readers during its TOTW reign!
Eric heads into his senior year at Germantown High School determined to turn his life around. Fighting through drug and alcohol issues, his brother dead, his father gone, and longing for Sheila, his ex-girlfriend and support system, to return, Eric puts his hopes into leading the Black Knight football program to a title.
Trapped between crushing verbal abuse from his head coach and loving encouragement from his assistant coach, Eric must choose between forgiveness and sobriety or revenge and loss. What he doesn’t know is that the very man who continuously doubts and hurts him, actually needs him on and off the field.
What Readers Are Saying
Take a dose from a Dean Koontz’s psycho-thriller and a heaping of Friday Night Lights and you have Scott Rempfer’s SEASONS OF CHANGE. Rempfer weaves an insightful action-packed tale of the trouble and triumph, weakness and strength, darkness and light within the human spirit. You won’t be disappointed with this read. I highly recommend it.
– Phil Truman, Author of GAME: AN AMERICAN NOVEL
Seasons of Change is informative and concise in regards to Highschool football and its fan base. Small town or city highschool no matter, Seasons of Change captures and holds the imagination and hearts of everyone who was ever involved with this great sport. As the book and author point out so well highschool sports are more than the event itself, it is the particpation in a sports where there are life lessons and character building learned and earned. The book itself was written well with detail to intricacies of the game of football and those involved from the coaches to players, classmates, and parents. As a past football player and classmate, Seasons of Change allowed me to revisit a time that meant a great deal to me. I would highly recommend this book.
-Amazon Reviewer, 5 Stars
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
SEASONS OF CHANGE- GERMANTOWN 2007 SEASON
Coach Razor climbed out of the grey aluminum canoe with his star halfback’s body slumped over his shoulder, dead. He spoke to no one. The muscular body lay face up on the pier, as Razor blankly gazed across the peaceful lake.
Jose was a cut above the average teenager but he shared the human need for inclusion and love, just the same. As the only Mexican player on the squad, and a freshman on varsity, he did not fit in. During the championship run he was hazed so heavily by a trio of jealous juniors, he contemplated telling his parents, but kept his mouth shut.
Away games were especially bad, and a trip to Antigo punctuated the hurt when he dipped his hand into his travel bag on the ride home, reaching for a snack. His nose detected the problem first and his urine soaked hands confirmed that someone or a collection of someone’s had soiled his belongings.
Monetarily, the bullying was expensive, over two hundred dollars worth of electronics ruined, but the emotional pounding he took was almost unbearable. He wasn’t disliked, he was hated. Covered by total darkness, sitting alone on the bus, he pulled his prized letterman jacket over his head and sobbed quietly. A physical giant can still be a boy.
In January, a month removed from football madness, Jose considered leaving the team, but as the snow melted and spring promised hope, he felt inspired again. Coach Razor invited him and a small group of varsity players up to the lake, a new and improved future seemed to be on the horizon.
James Morehouse was the most unlikely friend Jose Benvara gained the spring after the 1997 championship. James’s toes were firmly placed on the white chalk of the sidelines as Jose galloped into the record books and hogged the headlines, yet a bond in the weight room seemed to be flourishing. Morehouse shared lifting tips with Jose and a five -man warrior pack created an exhausting physical routine that demanded five weight room workouts and one “Knight” session a week.
Jose looked forward to the “Knight” workouts with increasing anticipation as the weeks elapsed. James personally designed physical tests in unusual and scenic locations like the 182- step statue in the heart of the forest preserve overlooking the river. The boys raced up and down the grueling ladder of steps three consecutive times, draining all their energy, their calf muscles revolted with spasms, and they dropped to the earth soaked in sweat and in the ecstasy of pain.
Pushed to achieve new heights, the boys turned to supplements to combat their fatigue. James offered Jose a purple tub of pre-workout powder that he used himself. Jose worried about using supplements and conducted internet research, concluding that the legal substances would foster better performance and were safe to ingest. Besides, James and the other guys carried their loaded shaker bottles with them to every workout, it was the norm.
When summer came around, Jose was treated to a trip to the lake, courtesy of the warrior pack and Coach Razor. Jose wobbled from the cabin to the pier, like a drunken sailor, but totally sober. An intense migraine formed and his equilibrium was compromised. Blinding sunlight allowed all the boys to play the male version of dress up, the main accessory being the choice of sunglasses. Black and gold Oakley’s rested on Jose’s head and he expressed a bit of individuality by altering the stem color to a solid white, his own flair.
Lake Chippewa’s waters were calm and inviting. A day of fishing, swimming, and bonding lay ahead for Coach Razor and the tight knit group. Competitive as always, Dave Bowers suggested a two man canoe race and all agreed instantly.
Jose and Coach Razor sat together at the starting line, Dave and James on their left, and Scott and Dan to the right. In red mesh UW shorts and a lifting shirt, Razor was a few intense workouts, and a couple of dinner table push-backs from being able to line up and play again. Short red hair and red stubble over a face that badly needed shaving, his physical presence matched his intimidating personality.
An endurance race, five miles, down to the opposite shore, around Devil’s Island, and back to the dock would determine the winner. The winner’s prize, a complete grilled steak and potatoes meal prepared by the losers, and an entire day of replacing empty cups of water and soda, a friendly wager. A spasm shot down Jose’s leg, similar to what he’d experienced at the end of “Knight” sessions, but they were coming more frequently and he had lost weight recently. Complaining his way out of the competition never entered his mind, gutting through pain was the only acceptable option. Coach Razor bellowed a husky “On your marks, get set, go,” and it was on.
Razor and Benvara clearly had more collective muscle than the others, but canoeing is a sport of synchronicity and teamwork, and Dave and James had fished, boated, and canoed together their entire lives. At the turn- around point, Coach and Jose trailed the high school pairs by over a mile and as they approached a small tributary yards before Devil’s Island, they were all alone.
Jose sat in the front position and the vessel suddenly turned sideways. Muscles cramping wildly he reached for his right calf, as though he had been shot. Throwing off the balance of the boat, Razor tried to correct it and overcompensated, tossing Jose over the side and into the lake. Razor tumbled over the back end and fought to get back to the surface as Jose’s contorting body became trapped underneath the canoe. Gasping for air, Razor clamped on to the side of the boat and braced himself in a secure position, unaware that Jose was seconds from death. The boy wasn’t anywhere in sight and Razor panicked. Immersing himself under water he located Jose, swam over to his sinking body and gathered him in his arms.
It took the man additional time to drag the boy sideways and above the water, and ultimately, it cost Jose his life. He swam with Jose under his grip, to a tiny island 50 yards away, and with every second Jose’s death became more certain. Stephen Razor frantically alternated between administering CPR to Jose and screaming at the top of his lungs for help. After 10 minutes of futility, he loaded Jose’s body into the canoe and brought him back to dry land.
Back at the pier, the boys splashed each other innocently, dunking one another, until they realized what had occurred. Jose’s body stretched across the structure, his head rested on Razor’s lap as the coach instructed Dave to call the police immediately, as he tried to figure out how to call the Benvara’s and explain what he couldn’t understand himself.
August 1, 1998. Jose died that day and Bruno never saw the world the same again. Lost were the innocent days of idolizing big brother, waiting for him to come home and motion to Bruno that fishing time was on. Bruno would arrange all the gear in order, taking great care with Jose’s favorite lures. A red and white Daredevil was placed in the right hand top row slot, ready for use at all times. Jose cast across the river effortlessly; he was a natural at anything manly. It didn’t matter if they slayed the fish or came home empty handed, they came home side by side, brothers.
He missed the little things most, like the mixture of Polo Double Black and Axe Body Wash emanating from inside the room they shared before their mother took her position with the firm. Money wasn’t abundant at that time, but love was. Bruno saw his brother in the massive set of veins pulsating from his own sculpted arms. This was Jose, this was his brother, and he was dead.
Bruno and his mom, Angie, dedicated one day, each year to formally honor Jose. A wreath of yellow and black flowers forcefully displaying the colors of Jose’s treasured team, the Pittsburgh Steelers decorated the young man’s grave. Surrounded by Packer fans, Jose stubbornly allied himself with a team four states away. Before the wreath could be respectfully laid, Bruno and Angie played Jose’s song of choice, Even Flow, by Pearl Jam. Bruno loathed the band, refused to listen to anything with that Seattle grunge sound, a form of protest. Irrational but comforting, distancing himself from the music was one way to regain control and to avoid pain.
Watching Jose on the football field was witnessing a true phenom performing his craft at a level not comprehensible or accessible to the average. Striding like a quarter horse, with strength, grace, and elegance, the elder Benvara brother had a following as early as his eighth grade season. It wasn’t as much that he could run up stunning numbers; the draw was the Gale Sayers’ fashion of dancing and gliding across the green grass with such ease. Whereas other standout running backs mercilessly pounded and abused the opposition, or simply sprinted to the perimeter on sweeps and jets, Jose floated, fluid but with purpose. One local writer pronounced him the next Marcus Allen of the Midwest, an appellation Jose politely and humbly rejected. As a staunch Steelers fan, he would have preferred a Franco Harris reference, but that would’ve missed the mark.
When he reached high school he was immediately elevated to varsity, the first and only player with talent to warrant such promotion. Certainly not frail, yet a boy in a world of animals seeking to maim him, Jose emerged as the starting right tailback in Germantown’s powerful flex bone triple option attack in 1997. Surrounded by loads of skill in the backfield, particularly QB Jeff Hodges, along with the strongest offensive line in decades, Jose was the breakaway threat, the missing puzzle piece that could ensure the sleepy town its first state title.
The past two seasons held promise early, only to fizzle into heart-breaking late-playoff losses; as heartbreaking as a 30-point beatings can be. Archer Valley had delivered the monumental embarrassment last year in the semi-finals, and revenge was on the minds of the Germantown faithful as the 1997 season began. Nothing short of a trip to state, topped with the hoisting of the trophy, would suffice, and Razor was constantly reminded of it.
Coach Razor had been given the ultimatum along with his teaching position and reigns to the football program. Win the title or find work elsewhere. That was the fuel behind the controversial decision to start a freshman at the varsity level. A 15-year-old boy, a Latin one at that, would cause a townies’ son lose their starting slot. A dark skinned stud replaced the all-American lunch bucket, James Morehouse. A solid athlete who rarely missed workouts but lacked star power, a core stock that promised no huge dividend, James Morehouse was expendable. It was an all-or-nothing decision that would propel Razor to instant legend and assure his place at the top of this football utopia, or cost him his job.
Start James Morehouse on all special teams, and as a speller for both halfbacks in the rotation. At minimum, that would guarantee the senior playing time. Apparently, that solution was not acceptable to James’s temperamental father. The morning before the big game, Allen Morehouse stormed into Razor’s office, “I wore the black and gold 20 years before your drunk ass got here, and you give my kid’s position to some wetback? I’ll have your job, bet on that.” The stumpy man practically fell out of the door, pointing a threatening finger at Razor.
Undefeated, ranked number four in Class 5A, and more importantly seeded first in their quadrant, the 1997 Germantown Knights marched into the playoffs with the momentum of a runaway train. Home games assured for at least two of the initial three rounds, anticipation of a third consecutive semi-final showdown turned into inevitability.
Who would be waiting for them, with a trip to Madison at stake? The Archer Valley Raiders, of course. Each team decimated their respective opponents on way to the “real state championship,” as it was referred to by everyone in the Northern half of the state. Truth told, the two schools fighting for the other championship birth paled in comparison to the hurricanes blowing southward. An icy cold late-November Saturday up north changed the lives and fates of players, coaches, fans, and families. Some realized it that day, some played out the statement decades later, but Coach Razor and Bruno Benvara were chief among those who felt the long term effects.
The day was a study in contrasts. Archer Valley resembled the fast paced Florida Gator spread option attack, plug full of flash and dash, right down to their $100-a-pair silver and white gloves that every coach and player fidgeted with constantly. Why on earth would a coach or manager wear those gloves, wondered all the loggers from Germantown? In fact, one could practically distinguish the fan base by looking at the parking lot. For every Lexus, BMW, or Cadillac that pulled into view, a pickup truck or Jeep displaying Knight black and gold rushed competitively to the nearest row. Not that Germantown didn’t have a few elitists, but they were the exception; the Holztmans and the Donovans rubbed elbows at the country club, and were tolerated on game day because they signed the paychecks of fathers and uncles of the boys on the field, but they couldn’t be found at Fuzzy’s tap after the game with the beer drinking flannel crowd. Both sets of fans piled on thick layers of team apparel today, racing to claim open spots as the scoreboard closed down to game time.
The tone was set early as two Knight gunners collided simultaneously with the Raider return specialist on the opening kickoff, all three bodies momentarily splayed on the grass. Hitting was definitely going to be the order of the day.
Archer Valley, suited in white jerseys with black trim and silver helmets, confidently embarked on their inaugural march from their own 26-yard line. March wasn’t the correct term, it was more like a flash, as a wheel route to the slot receiver caught the corner biting up, allowing the deep threat to stretch easily and waltz into the end zone for six sudden points. There would be more to come.
After trading downs for the following quarter and a half, Archer Valley threatened again. The beneficiary of a rare mistake by a Knight defensive end on a reverse, the potent offense positioned themselves on the right hash mark at the 13-yard line. After two incomplete fade routes to the corner of left end zone enough time remained for one last play.
Scouting perfectly, the defense anticipated the tight end middle screen right on cue. Shadowing the tight end release down the line of scrimmage the Knight defensive end, Sam Liponsky, a 6’3 205-pound farm boy, whose robotic movement and lack of athleticism kept his coaches up at night, slipped between the QB and the intended target, causing the mishap. As the defensive line pursued the backpedaling signal caller like rabid dogs, an unexpected burst of speed from the nose guard forced a premature weak throw. Leaping, a tornado of destruction, Bruce Nodden reeled the tipped ball in and jetted 90 yards to even the score at 7-7.
Lightning struck twice in the second half. Bottled up and frustrated the initial 24 minutes, Jose exploded on a 76-yard counter and a halfback seam pass thrown deftly over the linebacker and underneath the strong safety. The Raider air show lacked consistency and with every gust of wind and incompleted pass the Knight faithful inched achingly close to the state championship berth.
“It’s going to happen baby, were going to state,” Jack slapped Coach Nevins on the back.
“Not yet dammit, nobody smiles or celebrates. We’ve got three minutes left in this one,” slammed Coach Razor, though the jubilance in his eyes said something else.
“Have it your way, boss, I’m going to Madison with these kick-ass Knights!” Several offensive players overheard Coach Sheppard, and all the stern looks and admonitions from the head man couldn’t hold back the tidal wave of celebration. Finally, after decades of mediocrity and the past two years of sniffing greatness only to have it rudely pulled away, Coach Razor and staff had fulfilled the dream and promise. Germantown was ablaze, with the exception of one man.
Allen Morehouse returned, stalking Coach Razor, and cornered him as he turned to leave the locker room. Dwarfing the businessman, intimidated by no one, Razor scowled as he stared directly into Morehouse’s eyes. “What the hell do you want?”
“You’d better live it up this year, pal,” poking the chest of the coach. “I won’t watch another season of that dirty brownie claiming all the headlines while the kids who have paid their dues stand on the sidelines,” Morehouse grunted.
Hiking his pants up, the father continued, “You may know a few things about football, but don’t underestimate me. No punk out-of-town coach and his Mexican gang banger sidekick are going to disgrace this great town. You ain’t been here long enough to know how it works, but your lessons are starting soon.” Morehouse skulked away.
So much for the perfect day Coach Razor thought as he put his all red Wisconsin Badger football hat on his head. “Wow, this coaching thing is a ride,” he thought.
A week later the Knights of Germantown stormed into the championship and routed Harrisburg 52-7 to claim their first state title. The local newspaper read, “Freshmen Phenom Propels Germantown: A Knight to Remember,” accompanied by a picture or Coach Razor and Jose Benvara side by side hoisting the trophy for all to see. That image burned into the mind of Allen Morehouse.
“Just tell me, are you coming to the game Friday night?” Eric asked with little emotion.
Her bloodshot eyes barely opened, she replied, “I’m not sure, I’ll try, but I gotta work later that night at the bar. Isn’t it just a meet the team thing anyway, you’re not even playing another team are ya, eh?”
“You know what, forget about it. I don’t want you to have to miss another chance to get wasted,” Eric sneered. Disappointment had turned into bitterness many years ago when it all changed. In his mind he thought football might reestablish a relationship with his mother that transcended wearing out the same paths in the carpet.
“Smartass, always mouthy, aren’t ya? I don’t see you bringing home any money, paying for the heat, the cable, the gas. Besides, you’ve hated those guys for a long time, so why a sudden interest now?” Motherly touch was not her forte, but Eric wasn’t asking for what Sheila or half the other kids at school got from their parents, just some recognition and support.
“Yeah, I guess I’ve changed, but so have you mom,” Eric spat.
Grabbing an Old Style from the fridge she glared at him and walked away. Walking away was a habit she’d been perfecting, attributing the increase in skill to having seen it happen so vividly with her husband. Eric rarely put up any resistance, their mutual existence relied on silence and a lack of expectation, but as he looked out the window he saw the world from a better place, before Scott had died.
It happened so quickly they all denied its validity. A family of hunters, all four of the Gieger clan eagerly heaped layers of warmth on, prepping for a long day in their makeshift deer stand. The hollowed out insides of a school bus buried in a holler was as much of a family dinner table to the once nuclear group as what resides in the best of homes painted in a Norman Rockwell. Fitting their physical natures and a love for the wild, nobody complained in earnest about sub zero temps, if the promise for a deer and a good story were in the air. On January 10, 2005, Scott Gieger became the central character in a tale nobody in the family talked about or dealt with.
Huddled around the fire, smack dab in the middle of the massive shell, they warmed their extremities as they watched alertly for movement. Accomplished hunters, Eric and his father, Jake, taught Scott all about the necessity of proper gun safety. Many hours of tutelage preceded Scott’s initial trip and he was conscientious in nature, always cleaning and checking the weapons, obsessed with perfect working order. Eric knew it wouldn’t be long before Scott overtook him in accuracy, it was evident in the quick learning curve, but he never saw that day.
Accidents happen. As a nine point buck gingerly pranced into sight, Eric took the lead position, surveying the situation calmly. A glance to the tree tops verified that wind was no issue. He continued to study the animal, making sure he could execute the kill shot, wanting to show respect for his prey. At 100 yards, and on a gentle upward slope, the buck was in range for a tricky shot, but one Eric braced for. Squinting into the scope, Eric continued to breathe evenly, as the trigger popped. Eric turned his head to the left and winked arrogantly at his younger brother, the deer fell to the earth. Pats on the back and a series of attaboys sent the hunting party out of their hiding spot and to the animal.
Traveling up the slope, Scott took the trail position, envious and proud of his brother. Within 30 yards of the fresh carcass a tree stump, covered and unseen, snared the left ankle of the boy and he placed his hands out instinctively, trying to soften the fall. The rifle, half the length of the boy, struck the ground first, the butt forcefully crashing into the hardened stump. In one second the Gieger’s lives went from bliss to hell. Kathy pounced on her son, desperately searching for the wound’s entrance, blood pouring out of his chest. Ripping the fabric away, she cradled him like a baby, screaming at Jake to do something, anything, as Eric stood transfixed in horror. Scott bled out in minutes, a blessing of sorts, avoiding unwarranted agony. Children aren’t supposed to be buried by their parents, but Scott Gieger was gone at the tender age of eight.
The tragedy precipitated the move to Germantown. Eric loved the UP, the miles of natural splendor, prime area for a young boy to explore and dream. Michigan was home. Germantown might as well have been in California for all he cared, but the decision wasn’t his. At age 11, Eric Gieger reluctantly became part of the Black Knight nation.
Eric thought about Dante’s levels of hell, unsuccessfully pinpointing exactly where this cruelty fit. Hearing the childish pounding of the stairs, his mother retreating from their heated exchange, he felt pity for her and his father. One part of him yearned to tear into his mother for her inability to move on, but a maturity beyond his age tempered that desire, and he accepted the role of adult for her. Dollar store artwork covered large spots where mounted trophies once hung. He could match every odd piece to the animal whose head once graced the spot. Only he and his mother could perform that feat, and Eric wondered how many hunting seasons had passed since she had.
Selfishly, Eric returned to a point his mother had made in their debate. Why am I so bent on playing ball with these jerks? For three years he’d openly despised them and they showed their disdain for him primarily with cold shoulders. If the testing day had taught him anything beyond that persistence pays off, it was that bridges burned, aren’t easily reconstructed. He thought about that during his run, turning it over from all angles, and his grand thesis became: this is for me, I love football, and this is for me. Perfectionists never settle, and by the first crank of the rusty hot water handle in the dingy shower, Eric was hard at work, editing and revising his thesis.
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by Scott Rempfer