Neely Crenshaw (born 1969) was a high school All-American quarterback, who had been Messina High School's 'golden boy', expected to lead them to the state title.
Number 19, Neely was a "highly recruited quarterback with a golden arm, fast feet, plenty of size, maybe the greatest Messina ever pns in its opening pages. When Neely was younger and playing football with his friends,a man watching him approached Neely, saying "You're going to play football for the Spartans".
In 1987, after trailing 31-0 at halftime to East Pike, and crippled by a broken hand, the gutsy quarterback rallied the Spartans to a 34-31 victory for Messina's first state championship in seven years, achieved without the assistance of coach Rake. His hand injury had been caused when Neely punched Coach Eddie Rake in the face, after Coach Rake backhanded him, causing him to break his nose.
After graduation, Crenshaw had received 31 scholarship offers and chose Tech, a fictional university. He had received $50,000 (violation of NCAA rules) for signing with the school.
In the second half of the 1989 Gator Bowl, Crenshaw came off the bench for Tech in the second half, threw for three touchdowns, ran for one hundred yards, and led a last-second comeback.
As a sophomore, he was national player of the week when he threw for six touchdowns against Purdue University. But against A&M later that year, he suffered a career-ending knee injury on a late hit.
Crenshaw subsequently dropped out of college and drifted across the country eventually living in the Orlando, Florida area and involved in the estate business.
When the story begins, most of the 714 football players Rake had coached in his 34 years at Messina High School return to the town for the funeral of the legendary coach, a man both beloved and reviled.
Rake had ended his career with 418 wins, 62 losses, and 13 state championships. During a gruelling, unsanctioned, Sunday morning practice in 1992, Messina player Scotty Reardon had died of a heat stroke. Rake's brutal training methods were called into question, and the superintendent of education, who also was Reardon's uncle, fired Rake.
In a letter revealed at Rake's funeral, the coach states the two regrets of his life were losing Scotty Reardon and for striking All-American quarterback Neely Crenshaw at halftime of the 1987 championship game against East Pike.