Clayton Blevins remembered those days coaching in Hobbs, N.M., and the kid dragging communication cables along his sideline. His memory has the kid about 2 years of age.
“He learned to be attentive,” Blevins said of the kid, “because he’d get mowed over on occasion. And he’d jump up and go on.”
The kid was his son, David, who wasn’t quite sure that was spot on.
“I don’t know if I was 2, but I was for sure young,” he said.
Maybe it was because for all of David’s life, he’s been a big guy.
He’s for sure the same David who — and in this instance both agree the youngster is about 7 — would watch the plays he’d watched most of his days, when an epiphany better suited for the old man or his staff occurred.
“He looked out there and turned and said, ‘Dad, you need to run the trap.’” Clayton recalls. “And I looked at him and said ‘well then why don’t you call a trap.’ So he signaled in to run the trap.
“And sure enough, we go score.”
Ah, the stuff legends are made out of. Or at least, promising up-and-coming coaches.
“I may be his dad, but I think he’s got as brilliant an offensive mind as there is around these parts,” Clayton said. “This business is one where you kind of have to make your own way and he’s done that. It’s all he’s ever known.”
And now, he’s back at the first school in Oklahoma he knew, Hilldale High School. David Blevins took the job in March just after Greg Werner left after just one season.
How David got there wasn’t exactly a straight road.
He was born in the Fort Worth suburb of Richland Hills, Texas. Clayton had been in and out of coaching in Texas when he got a tip from a friend about a job in Hobbs, N.M. What was looked at as a “free vacation” to go and listen to a pitch turned out to be a place he would stay, he said.
Strolling the sidelines, David got the nickname “Big D” from those who knew him. That label wouldn’t go with him to Texas, when his father joined Larry Heard’s staff at Hilldale.
“Kim Arriaga first called me “Pookie” saying I looked like a pookie bear, and the girls took hold of it,” David said, recalling a classmate. “I’m not sure where she is today, but that’s where this started, and it’s followed me ever since.”
So it went with his teammates.
“I was in eighth grade when he showed up,” said his still close friend, Larry Jackson. “We had the same exact schedule, first through seventh hour.”
Entering their ninth grade years, Pookie would find his way straight to the varsity, closing in on 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds.
“He played whatever position we were thin in that first year,” Clayton said. “He played all five positions on the line, and tight end a couple of times because we ran the wing T and you need a good tight end for the wing T.”
Pookie would settle in at right tackle as a sophomore. Jackson took that spot on the left side. The following year, Clayton got a coaching job at Muskogee, and the Roughers got a new offensive lineman.
It was there when Kenny Evans, a Warner native and one time Northeastern State head coach who at the time was on Darrell Dickey’s staff at North Texas, recruited Pookie. Four more years of wearing green occurred.
After that, Pookie went into the office of then Roughers head coach Matt Hennesy, desiring to wear more green.
“He straight-out asked about coaching the offensive line in high school,” recalled Hennesy, now at a smalltown rebuild at Pawhuska. “The thing was, I could tell immediately this guy was going to be a great coach. He was football smart, and he like his dad, taught math.
“I told him I wanted him to experience every aspect of a program so I started him as a seventh-grade coach. The next year he moved up to the eighth grade, then he took over the varsity offensive line.”
Hennesy left Muskogee and for a season, Pookie was back at Alice Robertson Middle School with his dad. A year later, Locust Grove wanted Hennesy to rebuild its sagging football fortunes, and he was told he could bring one assistant.
He called Pookie.
“I said to him, ‘here’s your chance to be an offensive coordinator,’” Hennesy said. “I knew I could coach defense and special teams but I wanted someone to run the offense and someone who would be loyal.”
Hennesy also got the opposite of himself, which was by design too.
“Pookie’s even-keel, the opposite temperament of me,” he said. “And we were a good (pair) because you could always play bad cop, good cop.”
Pookie chuckled about that start.
“I don’t think I’d ever heard of Locust Grove before Matt talked to me about taking the job,” he said. “It wasn’t someone we ever played at Hilldale, when we were 3A, and never played them in non-district. I really didn’t know anything about the place.”
He made the 90-mile round-trip commute every day to the school, choosing to remain in his Hilldale-area home.
Only one thing ever made him a tad uneasy, if only for a brief moment or two.
Mason Fine, Locust Grove’s record-setting quarterback, had arrived after a 5-5 season in Hennesy’s first year. Hennesy called Randon Lowe, Hennesy’s former offensive coordinator at Muskogee. Both had served on Ron Lancaster’s MHS staff, and Hennesy wanted Lowe up to serve in an lay advisory capacity at Locust.
“Pookie knew, and I knew he knew, the run game inside and out, being the o-line guy he’s always been,” he said. “I wanted Randon to teach him the finer points of the passing game. And it didn’t take him a year as a consultant to do that.”
Pookie quickly saw it as a significant positive in his career.
“I see it as a good thing now because I learned a lot from him and we really worked well that year,” he said. “He was at practice probably two times a week, then we’d meet on Sunday in Muskogee and game-plan together.”
Those helped Fine become the state’s career passing leader and now, as a senior at North Texas, bloom into a quarterback being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate.
“We broke some records and had some really good years,” Pookie recalled. “Going with Matt definitely changed my career. He taught me how to run an organized program, put emphasis on hard work and depend on your kids.”
Hennesy then left for Pawhuska. Pookie replaced him at Locust Grove, but in that time the Hilldale job became open when Chad Kirkhart stepped down to go into full-time administration.
Pookie didn’t have the head coaching experience that Werner had. Werner got the job, but left after one season, an 8-3 mark.
The same situation would present itself again in February when Werner stepped down.
One year as head coach was enough to land the job Pookie always wanted.
Jackson had pushed for that to happen in 2018. He pushed harder the second time.
That friendship would never be divided by miles.
“He came to nearly every place I was stationed to visit over time,” Jackson said. “The lone exception to that was Afghanistan.
“We both played for Erik Puckett (Hilldale superintendent and one-time Hornets assistant). I approached Erik and Chad both times. Pookie never moved and I felt like there was a reason for that. God had a plan.”
That plan would result in a cheaper gasoline bill.
“For seven years I’ve had a Pontiac Torrance and it went from 32,000 to 207,000 miles and I still have that car, but in January I bought a 2015 Chevy Silverado and two weeks later, Hilldale opened up,” Blevins said the day he was hired. “I say the truck fits me a little more and so (does) the three-minute drive.”
He’s now in a situation where by his estimate, he knows the families of 65 percent of the kids in his ninth through 12th grade program, most of them connected to him through school, the vast majority of those at Hilldale.
“(Darren) Riddle was my principal in high school my sophomore year,” Pookie said. “The ties are all over the place. A lot of these parents asked me to apply.”
Many of those help handle aspects he previously had to do himself. Booster parents selling program ads and ad banners was his job as a head coach before.
Working with people you’ve known all your life brings its advantages, but it can also be a tricky thing.
Sometimes, friends want friends favors.
Pookie shrugs when asked about that possibility.
“Right off the bat, I go over our team handbook with the kids and parents and from that point, they know what I expect and that I’m going to be truthful with them from the get-go,” he said. “They know I’m big on conditioning and we’ve had some kids that decided that’s not for them. That’s fine, but everyone knows what my priorities are and what’s needed to play for me.”
Hennesy remembers talking to him about that.
“We operated with policies and when I left, it was easy for him to transition into that, but when you go into a new place, there’s things you have to change,” he said. “But I think the transition to Hilldale is easier than it might be in other places because they don’t know Pookie any other way.
“I think the challenge is transitioning to be the bad cop, and if you don’t, you have to find someone who is. His hardest thing at Locust was he was always the guy they went to because I was being the jerk. But as long as you stick to your policies and not waiver, things will work out. You can’t fool the kids. They know who the best players are.”
Jackson knows his buddy well.
“He has a high expectation for the kids, and we have a high expectation for him,” he said.
So does Pookie, who is the third Hilldale head coach in as many years — something that hasn’t happened since the late Don Hendrix was the fourth in four years in 2002. Hendrix gave the program some much needed stability it hadn’t had, coaching until his death in the spring of 2010. Kirkhart, on staff at the time, took over and lasted through 2017. Both elevated the program to its present level of traditional success.
Pookie has new goals.
“I want to be the best coach that’s ever been at Hilldale,” he said. “I want to get over that quarterfinal bump (Hilldale has never been to a semifinal round despite multiple quarterfinal trips). I want to bring titles back here.”
For the first time, he’s not a math teacher.
“The funny thing is I was going through some papers and I found my second grade folder,” he recalled. “It said I wanted to be a math teacher.”
He did, and as it turned out, one who knew when to call the trap too.