Watching his quarterback son, Anthony, take the first snap of the Minneapolis South season, Shawn Hockett saw a big piece of himself.
Shawn started for South as a sophomore 20 years ago. Raised by his mother with government assistance and without a father who left when he was 5 years old, Shawn reveled in the attention that football brought him.
But he got caught up in what he called “stupid kid stuff.” Drinking, parties, pot. His grades plummeted. He dropped out of school.
It took several years of his life, some of it spent drifting to the fringes of gang danger, or sitting wasted at parties, but he desired more for himself. “I always wanted someone to tell me I was dumb,” he said. “I wish someone just got on my butt or would ride me.”
He set out to make sure his children would not turn out like he did. Or like his father, a heroin addict who was never there for Shawn and spent most of his life in and out of jail.
“When I saw Anthony take that first snap against Roosevelt, I knew all the things that I wanted and all the things we had planned for them growing up were coming into focus, and it was happening,” said Shawn, fighting back emotion. “I was proud of that.”
After the game, which South won 15-0, Shawn, now 38, lingered on the edge of the field he once played on and raised a clinch fist as Anthony approached for an embrace.
“It really comes down to having, especially for boys, father figures in their lives,” Shawn said. “It’s why the city schools are the way they are. It’s a big environment and when you don’t have good role models, it’s tough. It comes down to being involved in kids’ lives. It changes a lot of things.”
An involved father
Jolting side to side as he watched Anthony setting up to throw a pass, Shawn yelled “There he is! There he is! Get him!”
The pass fell incomplete, the ball hitting the ground to a booming slap of his father’s hands that rings the ears of fans sitting near him.
“Oh, his best friend was open,” Shawn lamented. “He had him.”
Remembering what it’s like to be out there, Shawn jumps at Anthony’s every move, his attention bordering on overbearing. He wouldn’t have it any other way. He records each game and he and Anthony review it the same night, scheming ways for the quarterback to improve.
Weekday evenings consist of a recap of the school day and what Anthony learned at practice.
Shawn, who has two sons, said he longs to be involved in his boys’ lives the way his father never was. That commitment soothes his fears that Anthony will fall into the traps that caught Shawn and his father.
“If me and my brother do something bad, he’s always there trying to correct me,” Anthony said. “He wants to make us better since his dad wasn’t there telling him what’s wrong and right. It’s good knowing my dad is right there.”
Restoring the Hockett name at the south Minneapolis school is a sense of pride for the family. The quarterback is proud to help fulfill his dad’s dreams.
“I’m amazed every time I see him out there. And impressed,” Shawn said. “Maybe for a second, I kind of did the 'What if?’ game. But now I can see my son and see what he can do, and I’ll do everything I can do to get him where he wants to be in life.”
Confidence in the quarterback
The journey as South’s varsity quarterback started with a 200-pound defender plowing into and landing on Anthony Hockett.
He felt like he had just been hit by a car. But the sophomore’s shoulder pads took the brunt of the impact as he slowly rose to his feet.
“What are you doing?” South coach Lenny Sedlock yelled during the pre-season scrimmage.
Thrown into action without any formal pre-game routines, the underclassman’s nerves got the best of him. He fumbled on the next play. Then he overthrew his receiver.
Sedlock slammed the top of Hockett’s helmet and pushed him toward the huddle. You can do this, the coach reassured his young quarterback.
The days that followed, Hockett wondered constantly if he had answered Sedlock’s call. He replayed each play in his head, pondering if the adjustments he made after his slow start would be enough.
The next Monday, Hockett met with assistant coach Pete Grinager, who assessed the quarterback’s performance. As he listened, a smile began to grow on Hockett’s face. The job was his.
For the next three years, Shawn Hockett’s son would be a centerpiece in Sedlock’s vision for rebuilding South football.
“He’s said that we’re trying to remake [South] into a better team, and have to be competitive, and win this conference,” Anthony said. “I kind of knew he was saying that it’d be lots of pressure on me. But I think I can handle it.”
Growing in the job
Hockett turned a corner in South’s maze of hallways and, without breaking stride, greeted senior captain Conner Bass. Freshman Payton Bowdry followed, handing out high-fives and asking Hockett if he was ready for the night’s opponent, Eden Prairie.
Hockett couldn’t stop thinking about playing the state’s No. 1-ranked team.
Sixth period in the computer lab helped distract the sophomore, but not enough to keep his eyes off the clock.
“I’m getting a little nervous,” he said.
Since turning 15 in June, he’s been absorbing the role of a varsity quarterback. In the Tigers’ Week 3 visit to Washburn, Hockett thought he finally understood what was required of him. The quarterback had been hit so many times, he lost count, yet he was still asked to lead.
Recalling one particular hit, he said: “I just felt how strong he was compared to me. But I think that I was showing [my teammates] that I could play with the bigger kids and against Washburn, the big boys. Even though I’m in 10th grade and short for a QB, I can still play with the bigger kids.”
Before the Eden Prairie game, Sedlock held a scribbled one-page playbook in one hand and Hockett’s shoulder in the other. He challenged his quarterback to score against the best team in the state.
It never happened. And didn’t happen again the next week at Southwest.
The curly-haired, 5-foot-8 145-pounder would continue to get the ball, though. Sedlock considered himself lucky to have Hockett. He praised his decision-making skills and his improving ability to run and throw accurately.
“We’re definitely going to build around him. If you don’t have a good QB, you’re not going to win games, period,” the coach said. “When you look at the QBs we’ve had over the last few years, this kid has something we need that we haven’t had for years. He’s someone that gives you the opportunity to make plays.”
Under the lights of South’s first-ever night game, Hockett started and finished a trick play that changed the momentum. A handoff, a pitch and another handoff back to Hockett, who threw a Hail Mary pass to his best friend and fellow sophomore Kyle Helmstetter.
Jason Gonzalez • 612-673-673-4494 Twitter: @JGonStrib