Originally published in the January 23, 2001, issue of Country Weekly magazine. The article is published here in its entirety.
At his Nashville home, Trace Adkins prominently displays one of his most prized possessions — a football autographed by Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre. Now, in his hometown of Serapta, La., he’s clutching a pigskin that trumps even that souvenir.
“This one goes on top of my Brett Favre football,” declares an emotional Trace, holding tightly to a ball autographed by the Hornets of Serepta High School — Trace’s alma mater. He scored this momento at the school’s homecoming game, making him even more glad he came back to Serapta for his 20th high school reunion.
Trace’s proudest moment at the homecoming event came when he escorted his 15-year-old daughter, Tarah, onto the field as Sophomore Maid. “She was nervous, but she was excited,” he notes later. “It was a magical kind of evening.”
The entire weekend had a kind of magic about it, as Trace celebrated his youth, along with the rest of the class of 1980. “It’s kind of a double whammy — I came back for my 20-year class reunion and also escort my daughter,” saysTrace. He pauses, then smiles. “It just compounds my elderly status.”
It may have been two decades ago, but Trace’s old high school buddies still remember every embarrassing story about him — and they delight in sharing these tales with Trace’s wife Rhonda.
“I don’t know what Rhonda’s been told,” chuckles Trace, “because some of my classmates had her over in the corner for a while. I was a little worried about what she might have been hearing. She’s going back home with me, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.”
Rhonda did hear the story about Trace getting caught red-handed fishing in a spot posted with NO FISHING signs, then running away through the woods all night long and getting lost in the process. Another of those kind of war stories in particular still make Trace’s skin crawl.
“When I got caught for smoking in the fourth grade, Daddy knew it immediately,” he recalls. “My mother was a secretary in the principal’s office, and every time I got in trouble at school — which was often — I had to walk right by her desk to see the principal. I couldn’t hide anything.”
Those old anxieties fade away for Trace outside his high school football field, where a huge banner welcomes this former gridiron hero back. After singing the national anthem and hearing accolades about his achievements, Trace watches as his alma mater takes on Arcadia High. “It brought back all those old days again,” he reports afterward. “I was ready to put the pads on and get back out there.”
Later, a reunion party at a lakeside lodge provides time for more catching up. Between bites of deep-fried catfish, the fellowship flows again. “We wore out memory lane.” says Trace with a laugh.
Trace, who’s next album is due out later this year, isn’t the first Adkins that attended Serepta High School — his grandparents, mother, father and brothers went there, too. Trace and his father were both voted Mr. Serepta High — and his dad snared All-State football honors. “I never made All-State, so I didn’t match up to the old man there,” he notes, with more pride than regret in his voice. “He beat me on that one.”
While in town for the weekend, Trace gets the chance to spend some quality time with his parents, Peggy and Aaron, at the farm where he was raised. On the property is an old red tractor — still working — that brings back vivid memories for him.
“It’s the same tractor Daddy used when I grew up on the farm,” says Trace. “It’s nice to go back to something that doesn’t change very much.”
The tractor isn’t the only thing that hasn’t changed — not much in Serepta has been modified in the last 20 years. “The town is pretty much the same as it was when I left,” marvels Trace. “It’s just still a real slow-paced place, and that’s really refreshing.”
Folks in Serepta haven’t changed the way they look at their local-boy-made-good, either. “They don’t really go on about any of the stuff I’ve done or make a big deal out of it,” Trace says. “And you know what? I don’t want or expect them to. They treat me just like they did the day we graduated high school, and that’s the best thing that could have happened.”
One day, Trace hopes to properly repay his hometown for its kindness and understanding, preferably with a large-scale benefit concert for the school. “I’m holding off, in hopes that I can come out with an album that will really break through, and something phenomenal will happen,” he reveals.
“I just want to have enough success so I can start giving back, doing more charity things and using what little notoriety I’ve enjoyed for good.”
Wife Rhonda recognizes Trace’s drive to help others. “Inside of Trace there’s someone hardly anyone gets to see,” she confides. “He wants other people in his hometown to do well, and he’ll do anything in his power to make sure all the people he cares about succeed.”
Bolstered by the energy and high spirits of the reunion, Trace can imagine just such a future.
“I’ve got to keep pressing forward, and that’s the way we’re moving,” he says. “I’m really excited about the future.”