It’s a blistering hot Tuesday morning in august. Your body is sore from previous practices and progressive fatigue is taking a toll on your spirit. It’s only Tuesday, which makes you realize that there are 6 more practices until the scrimmage against those punk ass white boys 30 miles away on Saturday. The band is practicing in the distance, the screams of whistles pierce the ear canal, veins bulge from the sweaty necks and brows of adult males. Mental toughness is being instilled in you. You’re dying an ego death. The narcissism that’s inbred in you as a human is dying as you become a part of a team. This isn’t your first time though. You just happen to be the leader. The coaches depend on you to set an example for your peers. Your peers respect and admire you enough to follow you. You can’t get tired, you can’t show weakness, you can’t break. “You’re the rock of this team, son.” Says the coach. He doesn’t say that to stroke your ego, he says it because on 4th and 1, he knows that the play stops at you. He knows that you two have a connection. That you study game film and that you can call out a screen, draw or play action pass from a mile away. He knows that you’re his coach on the field and so does everyone else. Intense, emotional leader.
Back to the screams.
This is the sophomores first time. They and the one freak of nature freshman are in shock. They get smacked around, outrun, embarrassed. They pass out, vomit. Some quit. They question themselves and wonder who they are and if they really want to play this game. Then, a fire begins to arise. A sophomore safety lights up the senior tailback who shook him last week. That freak of nature freshman linebacker locks down your junior tight end in coverage. Starting quarterback is intercepted by a sophomore corner and the offensive coordinator tears your team captain a new one. The young kings are starting to believe. They’re fighting back.
Wednesday morning. The rain comes.
Coach is tired of the lack of big hits he’s accustomed to. He came down from college to coach high school ball. Ohio State. High expectations. After warm ups and individual, there’s no team drills. You see cones and pads everywhere. The coaches are setting up the pits. “WE HIT ALL DAY UNTIL IM SATISFIED.” Screams coach. Testosterone is at an all time high. There are two pits of hell. Red for the varsity, White for the JV. Rain comes right on time. The titans clash. This is no place for fear or weakness. In this confined space, we go to war. Lineman are flung into the mud as backs and linebackers smash into each other. Defensive backs and receivers tussle with each other in an attempt to gain position. The victor exits the battle with a head but and a taunt to the loser. There are no friends when in the pits of hell. The offense and defense line opposite sides of the pits, some eager to jump in, others afraid. It’s intense, violent and riveting. They even divide you by jersey color in order to increase the emotion. Offense is red, defense is white. Ironic? It separates the boys from the men.
Football is not a game for the completely sane. Those boys go through hell for the glory, for the lights. To be remembered forever. I didn’t know it then but I know what the coaches meant now. Hindsight is 20/20 and I’d give an arm to be out there with my comrades on that field one more time. We play pickup in the fall for thanksgiving, but it isn’t the same. Some of our coaches Have moved. Peers have died, gone to jail, moved away. We get back out on the field and relive moments that touched our souls. Cause when it’s all over?
All you have is babies and memories.