LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Hundreds have gathered at the Lufkin Middle School Auditorium to pay respects to Panthers football coach John Outlaw.
Current players walked in to a reserved section wearing their game jerseys and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver and former Lufkin Panther Dez Bryant led a group of former players to a reserved section.
Outlaw, 58, died Friday morning of what is suspected to be a heart attack.
"Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd played over the speakers before the start of the service.
LISD Superintendent Roy Knight took the podium first.
"Today, Panther Nation is a Panther family," Knight said. "Wins and losses are the least of his accomplishments. For the players you're still his children. Not his kids, his children. In the most intimate meaning possible you were his and he loved you. Whether he was congratulating you or watching you flip tires at practice, he loved you."
"He never ran the score up, except that one time against Nacogdoches. But I'm sure they deserved it," Knight said, which was followed by laughter from the crowd.
"He was larger than life," said Rev. Jeff Robinson. "When I asked Miss Francie how she was doing she said, 'I'm going to be strong and deal with this the was John would want me to.'"
Robinson said Outlaw did three things for his players.
"He gave them hope for the present and gave them a chance," Robinson said. "He gave them hope for the future that they could succeed in life away from the field. And he gave them purpose with a common goal to strive for and gave the community a purpose to which to rally around."
Outlaw's brother, Stephen Outlaw, delivered the eulogy.
"My brother had a secret weapon and that's how he won a lot of games," he said. "I didn't realize what that weapon was until one day with our mother, a little lady with a lot of love, but she knew her football too. She passed away in 87 and that fall my brother went undefeated. Later on we were laying flowers at our mother's grave. As he laid them down he said, 'Thank you mom.' Brother smiled real big and said, 'How do you think I won all those games this year? When things would get tough on the field I'd look up and say hey mom I need some help.' And she helped every time.
"He said, 'I'm not going to use it all the time. I'm just going to use it on special occasions.' So coaches just so you know every time the ball seemed to bounced my brother's way brother had called in his secret weapon. During the state championship run and Lufkin was down 21-3 and I was thinking, 'Brother have you made that call yet? If you don't, I am.' I looked up and I said, 'Momma you need to get here quick before this gets out of hand.' After halftime Lufkin comes out and scores a few times. Looking good. Then the drive stalls on the 40 yard line. Fourth and 5. I looked on the sideline and there was brother looking up. He wasn't looking at the score, he was looking up and I knew what he was doing. Then a big smile comes across his face. Ill be darn. Mother has told him to fake the punt. No one is going to believe this. I'm sitting there grinning. He faked it. The kid ran 20 yards and got the first down and that was the turning point. Lufkin went on to win state.
"I go down on the field and celebrate. As the kids were surrounding brother. They take him on their shoulders and they hand him the state championship trophy. He points that trophy as high as he can, looks up, and says 'Thank you momma.'
"My brother had a heart as big as Texas and a temper to go with it. But I'm going to ask you when you leave here today that you take a piece of his heart with you. And always remember him as your friend, your leader, your coach. But I will always remember him as my brother."
"The Dance" by Garth Brooks then played to close the ceremony as the audience viewed a photo slideshow of Outlaw on the sidelines, in the classroom and as a child.
The wonderful thing about John is his heart is so huge he had room for all of us," said Knight.
Knight quoted the scripture, "Enter into his courts with praise" -- saying outlaw would enter in his own fashion.
There is either a basketball court or a backgammon court you can bet he said ok Lord where's the pickup game," said Knight.
"Football wasn't just a game it taught them the game of life. The ones that actually had a chance to play for him they know what they are missing, the ones coming up are the ones I feel sorry for," said Pallbearer Tommy Earley.