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Original Issue

Just Call Him Knute Rockhead

Okay, so you're 23, but you've still got the wheels, right? And you're way more ripped than when you played high school football, yes? Wouldn't it be cool if you could go back and play high school ball now?

Buck up, boy, you can!

All you have to do is get your bad ass to Houston's Texas Christian School, where the high school football coach is not a big stickler on the "high school" part.

His name is Herc Palmquist, and on Oct. 28 he dumped his 2-5 team and suited up college-age men instead. And still lost!

Seriously! Palmquist had his six-man football squad turn in its uniforms for "inspection," told the players their upcoming game was "canceled," gave the uniforms to eight high school graduates and ran them against a team from a charter high school in Austin.

Hey, you have your game plan, and Herc has his.

The opponents, Not Your Ordinary School (NYOS), had no idea who they were up against. But they knew something was odd right away, during warmups. "I looked over, and these guys were huge," recalls NYOS running back David Johnson, who stands 5'7". "One guy had to be 6'4", 250. Dude looked like Goliath. A lot of 'em had goatees and tattoos."

NYOS coach Tim Knetl remembers looking at Not Your Ordinary Opponents and thinking, What the heck do they feed 'em at this school?

At the coin toss the ref asked each captain what his school's team nickname was. The ringers were stumped. "Uh, Tigers?" one of them guessed, looking at the paw print on his helmet. Right!

Then Texas Christian went out and took its game to another level. Possibly because the team actually was from another level. Reportedly led by Palmquist's son, Jonny--a junior at Texas State in San Marcos who set a Texas high school record for most touchdown passes in a game (nine)--the, uh, Tigers? took an 18-0 lead.

Nothing quite made sense. TCS had few fans on its sideline. And no adult assistant coaches. Palmquist was handling everything, including the water. Plus, the team had nobody who could come within a toll call of kicking the PAT. TCS botched one kickoff so badly that the ball was actually downed behind the kicker.

It got weirder. At halftime Palmquist offered to forfeit the game to NYOS. "That was just so strange," recalls NYOS volunteer assistant Wayne Alldredge. "Who forfeits with an 18-6 lead?" Maybe Palmquist got cold feet. Or maybe he knew what was coming next. Generally, as a game wears on, ex-players become more ex than players. Soon the Tigers were huffing and puffing like John Goodman chasing a bus. And since they didn't know any running plays (the basic call seemed to be, "O.K., everybody get open"), they were gassed.

NYOS and its 20 players won 26-18, thanks in part to Johnson's zigzag 60-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. A helmet-to-helmet smack left a dizzy Johnson on his back in the end zone for two minutes. "What would've happened if he'd been seriously hurt?" asks Alldredge. Better question: How did Palmquist think he would get away with the Big Switch?

The next Tuesday a former TCS parent noticed that there was a score for Texas Christian on, the bible of the sport. "Is this a typo?" the parent wrote in, noting that three TCS starters were at his house during the game.

This is where it gets good.

In a letter of semiapology to TCS parents and supporters, Palmquist insisted that he had told NYOS that his team was "banged up," that he wasn't bringing his usual players and that it would be a "pickup game" just "for fun." He said the eight men he suited up were "friends of friends of friends," and "none of them have ever played college ball."

Alldredge replies, "At no time did [Palmquist] mention anything about bringing anybody but high school players."

And ask yourself this: If Palmquist was just playing a pickup game, why did he have the game filmed? Why the uniforms? Why lie to his players?

"No way would I ever put my kids at risk against a bunch of men," says NYOS coach Knetl. "This guy just keeps getting in deeper. He needs a longer shovel."

Proverb 26: Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein. Palmquist was suspended by his league for five games, but he wasn't fired. "My school supports me," he told the Houston Chronicle--possibly because Palmquist is not just the principal and a Bible-study teacher, but he also owns the school. Maybe what he meant was, "I support me."

For its part NYOS went on to finish the season 7-4.

And 1-0 in college play.

• If you have a comment for Rick Reilly, send it to

One high school football coach in Texas is not a big stickler on the "high school" part. On Oct. 28 he dumped his 2-5 team and suited up college-age men instead.