Seasons Part 1 of 6

August 4th, 2013 | By Clint Foster No Comments

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The antique-style alarm clock that had been perched precariously on the edge of Ricky’s dresser rattled for nearly a second before crashing to the floor. It skittered under the bed and came to rest on a forgotten t-shirt. Ricky rolled out of bed, thudded to the floor, and snatched his runaway clock. A few seconds of fumbling yielded a welcome quiet.

With a yawn, he pulled open his middle drawer and grabbed the shirt on top of the pile, one of the many whose sleeves had been chopped off in hopes of being just one degree cooler during his hot Georgia summer workouts. Hopping into his black and silver team shorts, he munched the toast his mom had left for him and ate a banana smothered in peanut butter. He took to heart his coach’s advice to “always eat something healthy for breakfast, especially on training days.”

Shuffling into the bathroom, he got a small glimpse of his messy hair.  It was never perfect, but in the mornings it was always especially scary. Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he brushed his teeth half-heartedly, spit, and stumbled out the door.

Ricky knew it was gonna be a long day when he realized the sun wasn’t even up yet. His brother Bryce, a junior at UGA, had once given him the sage advice, “Never be awake before the sun.” Yeah, well.  Letting his kickstand up, Ricky pedaled slowly for the high school.

Only one light was on at the school, and it was struggling to illuminate all the corners of the empty hallway. On his way down the hall he had walked so many times, Ricky saw the familiar signs about sportsmanship, respect, teamwork, and school spirit, and he realized he’d memorized every word of them.

Ricky slammed the locker room door open and grinned when he heard his teammates already bickering and joking at 5:30 in the morning.

“What do y’all think about these two-a-days?”  “Anyone else not even go to bed last night?”  “Think Coach Doud ever goes to bed?”

The head coach of the high school was Coach Doud. It was supposed to be pronounced “Dode” but some brave soul had taken to calling him coach “dude.” The name stuck. The door banged open and Coach Doud bellowed, “On the field for stretches … in five, men!”

The chatter died out as everyone finished buckling their shoulder pads, tightening their belts, and wiping sleep from their eyes. As they re-entered the morning air and headed to the practice field, the dew dampened their cleats, the weak sun started to peak over the horizon, and the first whistle of the season pierced the calm morning air. A powerful voice boomed, “Gentlemen, I am Coach Doud. You may call me Coach, or you may call me Coach Doud. Anyone here remember the seniors from last year?”

Everyone shifted their weight, a few whispers flitting through the assembly.

“The senior class last year may have been the most talented group ever to pass through here. They went 5-5. Talent, gentlemen, is always beaten by hard work. How many seniors showed up for the first practice of two-a-days last year?”
No one responded.

“Two. How many have we here today?”

The fifteen seniors cheered.

Grinning, Coach Doud settled them down, having them ‘take a knee,’ which really means that instead of getting tired of standing on both feet one of your knees gets tired of holding your entire body weight on it. Doud started, “I’d like to tell a story to start the year. This is a true story, happened to me when I was about your age. My father blew his knee out in college, his freshman year, and never even got to play a college game in his life. My sophomore year of high school, I was training how I usually did. I’d go over to friends’ houses and play around. Hang out at the mall. Slack off. Now, my father saw the raw potential in everybody. He saw the power that everyone had in themselves, if only they’d take the chance to seize it, mold it, and wield it properly. So, one day, he asked, ‘Do you want to play college ball?’ I said, ‘Sure, of course I do, everyone does.’ He asked if I was working hard to be able to not only play college ball, but to dominate it. I told him I worked out a lot, and I ran, and this and that. He nodded.”
Coach Doud chuckled to himself before striding to the back of the group to continue. “So, my father took me out behind our house to a big, sandy hill. It was one of those places I used to play when I was little. He handed me a big boulder that always rested by the hill. He told me to try and run to the top with this boulder. I tried. Fell flat on my face within two steps. After a few tries, I tossed the rock down at his feet. I told him, ‘It’s impossible.’ He laughed quietly.

“Then my old man, bum knee and out of shape, picked up that rock and sprinted to the top of the sand hill, and then sprinted down. He dropped the rock at my feet and said, ‘Impossible is a word people use to justify failure or, worse yet, not even trying. Wanna know why it will be so hard for you to conquer that hill? The sand. The sand never settles, it never stays still. It’s always looking for a way to slip you up, to beat you. Be like the sand and never settle, son. Never give up.’”

Clearing his throat, Coach Doud walked back to the front of the team. “Gentlemen, never settle. Be like the shifting sand that doesn’t know how to give up, that’s always trying to find a way to win.”

From the back someone said quietly, “But the sand did lose, coach.”

And Coach Doud nodded, “It sure did. Because my father spent nearly five years of his life working hard and eventually conquering that hill. He never settled, and he never gave up, either.”

A whistle from behind the team meant practice had started.  Two hours and several gallons of sweat later, the final whistle ended practice. Ricky flopped onto the hard dirt and emptied a water bottle in the direction of his mouth, but mostly all over his face and chest. He thought about what Coach Doud had said. “Never settle.”

As a sophomore, Ricky was ‘on the bubble’ between j.v. and varsity. He wanted to be on varsity, to travel on the bus with the team. Everyone else in his family were gifted athletes, and he didn’t want to let them down. Dragging himself onto his bike, he put the gears on 7-7, the hardest.

He had decided that even with something as simple as riding his bike home, he would not settle for the easy way.

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