Andrew Jones lost count of how many hours he spent planning.
The Lompoc High football coach filled out a flight manifest on an Excel spreadsheet. He jotted down all of his players' information, including the birth dates and first, middle and last names of the 50 Braves he expected to have on his varsity roster for the upcoming season. He made countless phone calls, negotiating with his school's administration and boosters.
All this was to give his players the game of a lifetime. Jones was all-in on his Braves facing the Permian Panthers in Odessa, Texas on Sept. 22.
Permian — yes, the school featured in the book and film 'Friday Night Lights' — had an open date on Sept. 22 and was looking to fill that hole in its schedule. The Braves were set to play Righetti High that day.
But Jones couldn't pass up the opportunity to play in Texas.
"The opportunity for our kids to go to Permian was awesome," Jones said. "Why us? Why are they calling Lompoc for? Let's do it."
Jones was adamant, though, that he did not want to leave Righetti without an opponent in the Sept. 22 game that was scheduled to be played at Huyck Stadium in Lompoc. So Jones made sure arrangements were made to find a replacement team that Righetti could play on that date. Once that was seemingly set, Jones proceeded to negotiate the terms for the game against Permian.
How did the Permian game first come up? Jones says a promoter named Brian Hercules, who has set up some prominent games in the past, contacted him with the chance to take on the storied Permian Panthers. Jones did what he could to make it happen.
But, ultimately, the deal fell through. Lompoc will not play Permian this year and will likely never get the chance to play in Ratliff Stadium, a monument to West Texas football that holds nearly 20,000 people.
All along, Jones says Hercules — the promoter — told him that it was a done deal. All that needed to be worked out were the finer details. Jones said he was hoping Permian's boosters would agree to pay for his players' food while in Texas.
According to promotional materials Jones received from Hercules, the deal allegedly went like this: Hercules would pocket a $500 service fee from Lompoc. Also according to those materials, the Braves would pay $10,750 for 50 players to fly into Dallas on Southwest Airlines. Permian would provide transportation via bus while the Braves were in Texas. It would cost $4,000 to put the players and coaches in a hotel and meals for the team would cost around $3,000.
Permian, though, would reportedly help offset a lot of the cost with a $10,000 payment, putting the trip's net price tag around $8,000.
As the negotiations wore on, Jones began to get more nervous about the situation, particularly after doing some research on Hercules.
"Brian Hercules owns this sports management program that does out-of-state games," Jones said. "His reputation, after doing a lot of research, is that he's done some good games and he's done things where there are some bad articles about him in the press."
According to the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Hercules has a checkered past putting together inter-state football games.
According to the News-Journal, Daytona Beach's Mainland High was out $15,000 after working with Hercules to play a game against Lakewood St. Edward in Cleveland, Ohio in 2015. That trip was supposed to be a first-class affair, according to the News-Journal, comprised of flights and hotel rooms. Instead, players were reportedly forced to take a 16-hour, two-day bus trip to Ohio, where they struggled to find hotel rooms.
The school never saw the plane tickets or hotel rooms Hercules promised, principal Cheryl Salerno told the News-Journal, which also reported that Mainland is not the only school to have issues with Hercules.
In 2015, schools in Florida, New Jersey, Ohio and South Carolina said that Hercules owed them nearly $50,000 for services he promised but did not provide in scheduling games, according to the News-Journal.
Deep into his negotiations, Jones said he was waiting for a final phone call from Hercules to confirm the contracts were ready to be signed, with Lompoc taking on Permian.
"He goes, 'Hey, everything is set except for the location of the game and the opponent,'" Jones said. "So, I'm like, 'What? Are you kidding me?'"
Jones says that Hercules then informed him that Permian had instead now preferred to keep its bye on Sept. 22. Hercules then suggested the Braves would travel to play Buford, a top Georgia team near Atlanta.
"That deal in Atlanta would be about $12,000 or $15,000 out of our pocket," Jones said. "That was not part of the deal. I feel like a complete moron after I didn't do my due diligence and ask around about this guy."
Jones said after sensing the deal to play Permian was falling apart, or never actually existed, he decided to contact Permian's coach, Blake Feldt.
"Permian's coach said, 'Lompoc was brought up in a conversation, but we never agreed to anything,'" Jones said. "So I sent them the contract and said, 'So you guys didn't agree to any of these terms right here?' He said, 'Coach, absolutely not.'"
Jones' main concern now is for his players.
"I think basically, I got everybody's hopes up thinking that a school from the Central Coast was going to play some 6A school from Texas and see what we got," Jones said. "For two days, I didn't sleep. I had anxiety. I was sweating. Because I felt dumb. I felt I got duped.
"I was given the green light to tell my players, coaches and parents (about the game) and now everybody calls, texts or sees me and asks, 'What the heck happened?' And I have to sit there and explain everything over again. So for my players and coaches and Lompoc fans, and (Righetti) coach (Ed) Herrmann, I'm sorry about the whole situation."
Jones says Herrmann agreed to play Lompoc after the deal with Permian had fallen through and still hopes the Braves will take on Righetti in September. Calls and text messages left for Herrmann to confirm the status of Righetti's schedule were not returned Wednesday night.