Fatherhood & football from afar

Two soldiers in Afghanistan experience a slice of Oklahoma once a week, thanks to their sons and high school football.

By Jason Kersey, Staff Writer, jkersey@opubco.com

At around 4 a.m. Saturday in eastern Afghanistan, two soldiers in the Oklahoma Army National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team will roll out of bed, get dressed and head to a computer room in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation building.

While Maj. Casey Reed gets his morning coffee, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Todd Warrington will pull on his Mustang Broncos ballcap before they huddle together in a computer cubicle — one of about 15 in a drab chamber where everything is either tan or gray.

Then, as they sit on metal chairs, Reed and Warrington will use headphones, Internet access and their imaginations to transport themselves home.

"For that three-and-a-half hours, we'll pretend the war doesn't exist and we're sitting at Wantland Stadium enjoying a great game," Warrington said.

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While Reed and Warrington fight side-by-side in Operation Enduring Freedom, their sons will meet as opponents on Friday when Edmond North plays host to Mustang.

Berkeley Reed is Edmond North's junior deep snapper. Dakota 'Buster" Warrington is a junior receiver and defensive back for Mustang.

After the soldiers listen to the game, they'll wait for Edmond North and Mustang coaches to post the game film to Hudl, an Internet site many schools use to watch and transmit game film.

Coaches have given Reed and Warrington passwords for the website.

A small token for two fathers to be part of a game they've sacrificed attending to serve their country.

Listening to KKNG's radio broadcasts, which are streamed online, and watching game film helps the fathers cope with not being there, but it can never replace sitting in the stadium or standing on the sideline.

And for two teenage boys who have shared a lifelong love for football with their fathers, knowing their heroes are thousands of miles away fighting a war is about as tough as it gets.

'He's never really not been there ever since I started playing," Dakota Warrington said. 'I'm ready to have him back."

Warrant Officer 2 Todd Warrington, left, and Maj. Casey Reed are part of the Oklahoma Army National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan. Warrington's son Dakota is a Mustang junior receiver/defensive back, and Reed's son Berkeley is Edmond North's junior deep snapper.

Warrant Officer 2 Todd Warrington, left, and Maj. Casey Reed are part of the Oklahoma Army National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan. Warrington's son Dakota is a Mustang junior receiver/defensive back, and Reed's son Berkeley is Edmond North's junior deep snapper.Photo provided

A STRONG FOOTBALL CONNECTION

A letter written by Oklahoma Army National Guard Maj. Casey Reed to his son, Berkeley, who is Edmond North's junior deep snapper. Casey Reed is in Afghanistan.
A letter written by Oklahoma Army National Guard Maj. Casey Reed to his son, Berkeley, who is Edmond North's junior deep snapper. Casey Reed is in Afghanistan. Photo by Jason Kersey, The Oklahoman
Edmond North's Berkeley Reed posez for a photo at Wantland Stadium in Edmond, Okla., Sept. 28, 2011. The player's father aix in a National Guard unit in Afghanistan.
Edmond North's Berkeley Reed poses for a photo at Wantland Stadium in Edmond, Okla., Sept. 28, 2011. The player's father aix in a National Guard unit in Afghanistan.Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman

Casey and Berkeley Reed have always had football.

Casey Reed started coaching in 1992 as Mount St. Mary's offensive line coach and coached in some capacity at the school until 2001.

'My son, almost every day, would show up at practice and be on the field with me," Casey said.

Berkeley doesn't remember those practices as vividly, but he does remember being there.

'I think at an early age, football became a big thing for them," said Julia Reed, Berkeley's mom and Casey's wife.

Casey left Mount St. Mary to coach Berkeley's youth league teams in Edmond. And even last season, while Berkeley was Edmond North's deep snapper as a sophomore, Casey helped the Huskies with stats and would be on the sideline during games.

'Our deal has always been on the football field, whether he was three years old coming to practices or last year," Casey said. 'He'd come off after long snaps, and I'd sneak some advice to him or get him to focus a little better."

Their after-dinner ritual was this: Berkeley snapping to Casey in the front yard, Julia tracking progress with a stop watch.

That was last season. This season, Julia tried fielding Berkeley's snaps.

'I can't catch the ball; it hurts," Julia said with a laugh.

No offense to mom, but Berkeley thinks his snaps have suffered.

'It's just not as on target," Berkeley said. 'I'm a little off sometimes."

But Casey's presence is still felt, even if it is from afar.

With his Hudl log-in, Casey studies game films. Each week after he watches the game, he calls home to talk about it with Berkeley.

Last week, he and Berkeley went over the North-Edmond Memorial film together.

'It was kinda weird to think that he was way over there and I'm here, and we're looking at the same thing," Berkeley said.

Casey even got to see one play live a couple weeks ago.

As he called Julia on the Internet-video service Skype, the Huskies scored a touchdown against Choctaw, and Berkeley headed onto the field for an extra-point snap.

'I ran down as close as I could get so he could watch him snap," Julia said. 'It was a really good moment. It was really fun for him to participate that way."

The video quality wasn't great. The moment was.

'I couldn't see much, but I knew what was going on in my head," Casey said.

Julia keeps a running email of all first-half events that she sends him at halftime.

Sometimes she gets her football lingo mixed up.

'I said one time that Berkeley had gotten a tackle, but now I know that is a block when you're on offense," Julia said, laughing.

'I don't speak football-ese."

Most of their communication is by phone or email, but Casey did send one letter to Berkeley and addressed his snapping.

How's snapping? Hopefully you have made a decision about whether you are just the Edmond N snapper or .... one of the best in the state and nation. If that is true re-dedicate yourself now. I'll be looking for you on Hudl.

Love,

Dad

Casey usually calls once during or after every Edmond North game. If he calls afterwards, he and Berkeley spend some time talking about the game.

'When they get off the phone after talking football, Berkeley is just a little bit happier," Julia said.

LISTENING IN AFGHANISTAN

Mustang's Dakota Warrington stretches and catches a pass as the Mustang Broncos play the Lawton Wolverines in high school football on Friday, September 23, 2011, Mustang, Oklahoma.
Mustang's Dakota Warrington stretches and catches a pass as the Mustang Broncos play the Lawton Wolverines in high school football on Friday, September 23, 2011, Mustang, Oklahoma.Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman
Warrant Officer 2 Todd Warrington stands in front of the Mustang flag his son, Dakaota Warrington sent him. All of the Mustang players signed the flag.
Warrant Officer 2 Todd Warrington stands in front of the Mustang flag his son, Dakaota Warrington sent him. All of the Mustang players signed the flag.Photo provided

Dakota Warrington can usually keep his emotions in check.

But when he came off the field after Mustang's season-opening loss to Yukon, and his dad wasn't there, he broke down.

'It just hit me that he wasn't gonna be there," Dakota said. 'He's always the first one I see coming off the sideline."

Lisa Warrington, Dakota's mother and Todd's wife, was on the phone with her husband right after the game ended.

'I really haven't seen him cry since he was little — he's very good with his emotions — but he just came off the field, found me and had a breakdown," Lisa said. 'So I'm crying, Buster's crying, dad's on the phone. ... That was an emotional moment."

While it is tough on both father and son, they keep a small piece of the other close at all times.

For Dakota, it is his father's original dog tags, which are around his neck at all times.

'He gave them to me a week before he left," Dakota said. 'They are from when he was first in the national guard."

And Todd sees his son's signature — along with every other Mustang players' — every day in his base's dining hall.

Last summer, the Mustang Touchdown Club gave Dakota a massive red and black Mustang Broncos flag to be sent to Todd.

Dakota's teammates each signed the gift, and it now hangs in the base's dining facility.

'At our facility here, we have all kinds of flags hung up from different people that have come through over the years — from universities to pro teams — and I thought, ‘I'm gonna be the first guy to put a high school flag up,' so I hung it up and it's a little reminder of home each time I go in there," Todd said.

Todd also gets plenty of reminders of home via Hudl. He is able to talk about the games with Dakota when he calls home and emails him, which his son always appreciates.

'He's on (Hudl) quite a bit," Dakota said. 'He always calls me Saturday morning after we go through film and just kinda tells me the things he saw. ... I think it helps him more than it helps me because he can see what is going on."

Todd can also hear what's going on, thanks to KKNG's broadcasts of all the Mustang football games.

'They give him shout-outs on the radio," Lisa said of radio announcers Jim Miller and Mike Hall. 'When Dakota scored his first touchdown, the KKNG guys said, ‘Todd, I hope you're listening in Afghanistan.'"

What Todd misses even more are the other things — playing catch in the yard, watching practice or just talking football face-to-face, father-to-son.

'Whether you're working with them between practices, or on the weekends, going out and throwing the ball around, or just being out there and being around," Todd said.

'That's kind of our time; when he was growing up, we spent so much time on the football field or the baseball field, wherever. ... That's really hard to give up."

Todd will get to see one — and maybe two — live games when he comes home for 15 days in November.

He will be at Mustang's Nov. 4 home game against Del City and — if the Broncos make the playoffs — the Nov. 11 first-round game.

'I'm counting down the days," Todd said.

‘SOMETHING TO BE PROUD OF'

From left to right, Maj. Casey Reed, Warrant Officer 2 Todd Warrington, Mustang's Dakota Warrington and Edmond North's Berkeley Reed

From left to right, Maj. Casey Reed, Warrant Officer 2 Todd Warrington, Mustang's Dakota Warrington and Edmond North's Berkeley ReedPhoto provided (left) Photo by Bryan Terry, The Oklahoman (right)

Until then, the bland computer room will have to do.

Casey Reed's time off comes in late December, after football season.

Tonight the two fathers, who are scheduled to come home from the their deployment in March, will enjoy each other's company and their sons' live football game.

And after the game — or at the very least after each father has had time to break down the film — Berkeley and Dakota can expect phone calls.

While it remains extraordinarily difficult for them to not only play football, but get through this critical period in their young lives without their fathers nearby, the two teenagers understand and appreciate what their heroes are doing.

"As tough as it is, knowing that he is over there, it's definitely something to be proud of," Dakota said. 'He's over there for a good reason."

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