The following is a story written as part of The Daily Tribune News’ football preview in advance of the 2017 Bartow County high school football season. As the publication’s website erases old articles, I have pasted it here.
As third graders at Hamilton Crossing Elementary School, Seven Richards and Tripp Breeden were troublemakers.
Richards was new to the school, and immediately became the ringleader in his group of friends.
On the other side was Breeden, who was the alpha in a different circle. As much as third graders could be, the two were rivals, one “Jet Song” away from staging a pre-pubescent reimagining of West Side Story.
After one particularly egregious spurt of bad behavior, Richards, Breeden and their friends were called to silent lunch, grade school purgatory. When time had been served, the principal made Richards and Breeden stay behind.
A decade later, countless sleepovers at the Breedens’ and two wrestling state championship rings contextualize a friendship between two senior leaders of Cass High School football — Richards, the gregarious offensive lineman, and Breeden, the set-in-his-ways linebacker.
It’s a marvel to observe a bond like the one Richards and Breeden have. Stories of their youth are told in a manner that suggests they expect others to already know the endings. It’s the type of shorthand that only familiarity can breed.
“They have the kind of relationship that transcends the sports that they play and the time that they spend around that,” Tripp’s father David, who would be president of the Richards and Breeden fan club should such a thing exist, said. “It’s a relationship that they’ll always have.”
The Breedens consider Richards a second son, celebrating his accomplishments as they do Tripp’s. It’s not uncommon for Richards to spend a week at the Breedens.
“It does my heart good to acknowledge what David means to [Richards],” Cass head coach Bobby Hughes said.
Richards is an open book, mature for his age and seemingly as comfortable around adults as he is his peers. Breeden is a more of a straight arrow, telling you what he thinks and nothing more.
“Seven is the more outspoken one,” David Breeden said. “Seven talks a lot more. Tripp, you usually get an answer to your question and that’s about it. Seven, he offers a lot of things. When we leave wrestling tournaments, I usually talk to Seven all the way home.”
Tripp prefers to express himself in other ways. During the start of his state tournament run last wrestling season, he began painting his toenails. When he won his state title, he kept it up. The practice graduated to his fingernails, drawing curious stares from classmates. His father isn’t a huge fan, but is willing to overlook any grievances in the name of superstition. “I say, ‘If I was as bad as you are, I guess I could paint my nails too,’” he said.
Though Breeden is soft-spoken, he is not deferential. In fact, it was Breeden, a lifelong hunter, who bore witness to Richards firing a gun for the first time at Grandpa Breeden’s house. He’s passed on his interest in cars and, most importantly, is the reason Richards wrestles in the first place, convincing him to join the sport he’d been competing in since he was six, save for a short two-season break in fourth and fifth grade.
“It’s got a lot to do with Seven’s level of intelligence,” David Breeden said. “He realizes that there’s a lot of things out there, and when he sees something, he doesn’t form an opinion on it right away. There’s a lot of things that he’s been able to be exposed to due to [he and Tripp’s] friendship.”
From the gridiron to the mat
There were almost no wrestling titles.
The first day of wrestling practice in sixth grade — Richards’ introduction to the sport — he and Breeden arrived at practice and saw a room full of empty mats. Richards looked around, and when he saw that the day would be devoted to outside conditioning, he and Breeden decided to ditch and play basketball instead.
As the two sat in the locker room with conditioning over, Breeden heard his mother’s voice approaching. He and Richards were well aware of the potential ramifications of cutting out of the first day of organized team activity. So Breeden ran and hid.
Out of both amusement and a need for wrestlers, their coach took pity on them.
It’s a story that David Breeden ended up telling at the wrestling banquet at the conclusion of last season, one that doubled as a celebration of a pair of state championships.
Breeden was a volunteer coach, and got to be right there watching as Tripp and Seven won their titles in direct succession.
“One of the best sports memories of my life,” David Breeden said. “All of the things that I’ve experienced through them have been the best experiences of my life in terms of sports.”
This football season presents another opportunity to foster some more memories. Cass had a disappointing 3-7 season in 2016, but the mood around the team as the new season nears is optimistic. Seven wants to make the playoffs in his senior season, and believes that goal is within reach.
Richards and Breeden’s positions intersect enough to be complementary. This allows them to bounce ideas off each other on technique and how to get better.
“My position, we usually block his position,” Richards said. “We’ll talk about how I pull and we’ll talk about how he reads the pull. If I’m pulling, sometimes he has to read the pull of the guard, and sometimes I’ll have to read the linebacker in a step up type of play.”
They are generous in their praise for one another — Richards praised Breeden’s willingness to “put his body for the team,” and Breeden admires Richards’ penchant for pancake blocks.
Cass will need the two to be big contributors in 2017 as it looks to establish an identity. Richards is cognizant of the little time he has left, and wants to make the most of it.
As for the future, Richards has been offered by Jacksonville University to play football in 2018. Breeden wants to join him, and has even had conversations with its head coach.
Breeden and Richards’ plan is to maintain a status quo. The one time adversaries-turned-friends want to remain teammates, to give David Breeden and his wife Andrea one destination every Saturday.
“It would make things easy for us,” the elder Breeden said. “We consider Seven our son
essentially, so wherever they go, if they’re two different places, then we’re going to obviously go both places and watch them play. We want to share in the journey.”