October 16, 2009 9:08:00 AM
ABERDEEN -- The dreams come a little slower to Don Loftis these days.
The landscape around town has changed some, too, but the memories remain.
It''s easy to recall many of them when Loftis thinks about former Aberdeen High School football coach Thomas Pierce''s name affixed to the wall of the football team''s dressing room/weight room.
Other names -- Boonie and Clifton Sykes Evans and Butch White -- come back to him as he reminisces about how a boy who dreamed about being a quarterback instead grew into a guard and then a tight end and went on to be part of an undefeated season his senior year at Aberdeen High in 1977.
It''s also easy for Loftis to remember when he and his son, Griff, would throw the football on the Aberdeen High football fields. He would be the quarterback and his son would be the wide receiver and they would spend time -- like most fathers and sons do -- enjoying a shared love.
In those times, one memory is stronger than the rest: He always thought there would be a quarterback in the Loftis family.
Tonight, that dream will be realized at Lester Miley Stadium.
And even though Loftis doesn''t get around as well as he used to, he will be at Aberdeen High at 7 tonight to watch Griff Loftis lead Mooreville High School against Aberdeen in a Class 3A, Region 2, District 1 game.
"I am as proud as any father could be of their son," Loftis said. "He is a lot smarter than I was and a lot more even-keeled than I was. I am very proud of his off-the-field accomplishments. He puts God first in his life, he always has done the right thing by his family, and he has done real well in his schoolwork. When it comes to playing ball, he is always willing to give maximum effort.
"He is not a speed-burner, but I think he has a sharp mind and a good arm. He is young, but he is going to have time to mature, and right now I think he is on the right track."
Tonight will be the first time this season Loftis will see his son play. The last few months have been trying for Loftis, 50, who graduated from Aberdeen High in 1978 and went on to play football at Itawamba Community College.
In the early morning hours nearly three months ago, a tree limb fell on the roof of his house. Fortunately, Loftis was in the bathroom at the time because the limb broke through the roof and landed on his bed.
"I was very fortunate that the way I move I wasn''t there," Loftis said. "I was coming back from the bathroom. I just thought I was slow when I played football. I am really slow now."
Shortly after work had been done to repair the home at 1000 South Meridian, a fire, which is believed to have been caused by old wiring, burned the house and took all of Loftis'' belongings.
"I don''t believe anything happens by accident in God''s world," Loftis said. "He has a hand in protecting the ones he wants to protect. I always have been a spiritual person. I haven''t always been the most religious person, but I have been spiritual in my heart."
Loftis said God saved his life when he was 8 years old after he was hit by a truck. He said him not being in the bed when the limb fell through the roof and him not being in the home when the fire destroyed it were just the latest examples of God not being ready for him just yet.
Loftis, a Marine who served in the Gulf War, now lives at the Shelaine Motel across the street from Aberdeen High School. He doesn''t get around very well due to hip issues and a neuro-musculature problem. He said his health started to deteriorate in 1992 and has slowed his speed to well below his best time of 4.9 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
That time wasn''t good enough to help him become a quarterback, but it was good enough for him to be a tight end who was a solid contributor on a team filled with talented players.
"I wasn''t very good at all for a very long time," Loftis said.
Loftis credited the late Clifton Sykes Evans and Boonie Evans for helping to teach him the game of football. He also had coaches like Don Rowe, his former junior high coach, and Pierce, his former high school coach, who saw the potential in him.
Rowe ended Loftis dreams of being quarterback in eighth grade when he looked at Loftis and immediately put him on the offensive line.
Loftis matured in the next year and became a little more coordinated and moved from guard to tight end, where he stayed and had enough success to earn a scholarship to play football at ICC.
"I turned into a fair football player," Loftis said.
Loftis feels his son is a lot better football player -- "or he is going to be" -- than he was, and he is excited to see him play at his old school. He isn''t sure where he will sit, but he knows Aberdeen''s defense will present a challenge to his son.
"I hope he gets a chance to find a receiver every now and then," Loftis said. "I think if he can find one he can get it to them."
Griff, 15, who lives with his mother, Marti, started some at quarterback last year as a freshman at Mooreville High. He said he has been playing the position ever since eighth grade, when coaches saw him at running back, liked his size, and moved him to quarterback.
Griff started to play football in the third grade and enjoyed the lessons his father has taught him while throwing the ball in Aberdeen or on the soccer fields in Tupelo. He also had time recently to see his father''s football and family memorabilia before the house on South Meridian burned.
Griff knows the game will be special for his family and he is focused on giving his best effort.
"It is going to be a pretty good game and a pretty intense game," Griff Loftis said. "I hope to go out and do my best and make my dad and family proud."
Griff said his father pretty much taught him his priorities: God, family, friends, schoolwork, and sports. He said he has done his best to follow that example, and he knows everything he does on the field is because of the talent God has given him.
Griff inherited some of that talent from his father, although he said he gets his throwing arm from his mother''s side of the family. He said he hasn''t thought much about what tonight will mean to his father, but he knows it will be fun for everyone.
Don Loftis credits his ex-wife, Marti, for doing an outstanding job raising Griff and for getting him involved in the right things. He said it will be a joy to share a special night -- and plenty of special memories -- with his son on a field that is so dear to him.
"There have been times with my health problems and with different problems I have had that I wasn''t so sure there was much use for me around here anymore," Loftis said. "But I always think back to my son and what a good person he has been and how respectful he is and never being the kind of person I was growing up. He is doing everything we ask of him. I am real proud of him, and I always want to be here for him."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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