Fred Warrior truly smiled from ear to ear the morning of Feb. 6, as he prepared to sign a national letter of intent to play football for Northwestern Oklahoma State University.


Warrior, a senior at Pawhuska High School, beamed because a dream was becoming reality for him. He had attempted to play football for the PHS Huskies last fall, but he had already turned 19, and his age disqualified him. The school sought permission from the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association for him to play, and Warrior was able to play in one football game, versus Barnsdall, before the decision was reversed, and he remained ineligible for the rest of the season.


Matt Hennesy, head coach of the Pawhuska Huskies football team, recalled Feb. 6 that he has seldom seen anyone as excited as Warrior was when he learned that he had been ruled eligible — that ever-so-brief eligibility.


“Then it was yanked out from underneath him,” Hennesy told the gathering of friends, relatives and fellow students who turned out to see Fred Warrior sign his letter. The coach said that’s when he learned something about Fred’s character. The young man could have quit, could have walked away from what was a disappointing experience, but instead he accepted Hennesy’s pledge that if he would keep coming to workouts and helping the team, Hennesy would find him a college football scholarship.


Hennesy said Warrior “showed me he was a champion.”


Warrior kept going to workouts and helping his teammates. In turn, the coach delivered on his pledge.


“This is why I changed my major a long time ago from pre-law to coaching,” Hennesy said of the joy he experienced at being able to help Warrior realize his dream. “Big congrats to Big Fred.”


“Look at that smile,” someone called out from the crowd of onlookers. And they had a point — Fred just kept smiling. In addition to coaches, Pawhuska Superintendent David Cash and Pawhuska football boosters turned out for what Hennesy also pledged would be just the first of many letter signings in the new era of Pawhuska high school football.


“I want to thank everybody for making me feel at home whenever I showed up,” Warrior said. He thanked God and praised his coaches for believing in him. Candice Rhodd, his mother, said she was thrilled. Rock Pipestem, his dad, noted that Fred “worked hard to get where he’s at.”


Fred Warrior was named All District last fall, as the recipient of what coaches dubbed the Courage Award.


Warrior was just one of two seniors on a 2018 Huskies team that went 6-5, turning things around from a 0-10 season in 2017. The team was fueled by strong community support, both from relatives and friends in the stands from week to week, and from institutions and families in the community that financed the new turf field at Ormand Beach Memorial Stadium.