October 19th, 2014 | By Clint Foster No Comments


Dirty knuckles gripped a ragged facemask.  One jammed finger was taped to another slightly less jammed finger for some stability.  Thumps of plastic on plastic filled the afternoon air as all of the players pretended they knew what they were supposed to be doing.  On a whim, Coach had installed a new offense this week.  He had been smitten with it for some time, and decided that the middle of the season was the best time to try it out.  He was probably wrong.

Linemen bumbled into running backs, quarterbacks kept spinning the wrong way, giving handoffs to the defense and blaming everyone but themselves, and receivers spent an awful lot of time milling around about seven yards downfield, pretending they were both blocking and running a route.  The defensive coaches struggled to contain their glee as play after play led to a sack, an interception, or a fumble recovery.

Ben knew what to do, he was sure of it, but he was too small to make much of a difference.  The second week of practice, his coaches had told him, “Son, you got spirit, and I dig that, so we love havin’ ya out here.  I know you’ve never played b’fore, so just do what you can an’ try an’ figure it out.”

Ben had decided to stick with football, at least for a season.  He wasn’t sure he adored it the way his sister’s friend Ricky did, but he didn’t hate it.  He didn’t feel that he was exceptional at anything specific, so he spent most of his time watching and trying to figure out different parts of the game.  He was too slow to play running back, too small to be a receiver, horrible at throwing the ball, and thus … lineman.

Being a lineman at the beginning of your football career is like purgatory.  Sure, you may grow up to be seven feet tall and weigh five hundred pounds.  Then you’ll probably be good at Sumo wrestling.  However, there’s a chance you’ll get tall and lean, or stay short and get bulky, or do nothing at all and remain exactly how you are.

He did a good job of getting in the defenders’ way at least, even though it usually ended up with him lying on his back, wriggling like a turtle while attempting to right himself.

Ben was certain he would never grow.

A whistle meant it was time to switch teams out, so Ben tugged his helmet on nice and snug, fumbled with the snaps on his chinstrap for a few seconds, and jogged out to the huddle.

“How was practice, Benny?” Cassie, his older sister, red-faced and panting, had just burst through the front door in time for dinner.

From his post on the floor, Ben managed to look as pitiful as possible while shrugging, as if any other movement would truly be a Herculean effort.

“Aww, is wittle Benny-poo sore?” She teased, tossing her gym bag onto his stomach.

He didn’t even flinch, just rolled a little so it would come to rest off to the side. “Football hurts.”

Cassie plopped down next to him with a plate of assorted meat, veggies, and potatoes that she was sure her mother had told her the name of, but couldn’t dredge it up.  “Told you, you’ll like basketball more.  It’s good for you to learn, though!  Even if you never play it ever again for the whole rest of your life, you’ll be better off having played this year. Promise.”

“If I survive this year.”

She swatted him with a pillow, “Drama king.”

Ricky’s junior football season meant it was his turn to lead.  Coach Doud held the upperclassmen to a higher standard than the freshmen and sophomores, and Ricky fully intended to live up to his expectations.  The entire previous year had been spent working for this one.  It meant lifting weights three times a week, agility workouts four times a week, going to bed early all summer, and eating healthy.

It had paid off.

He had easily surpassed his own expectations, finding that he was not only faster, but stronger than most of his teammates.  He could learn more easily, because he wasn’t spending as much time getting put in the dirt.  Everything made more sense now that he could play the game at a different level.

Never settle.

Like the sand in Coach Doud’s parable, he constantly looked for a way to undermine his opponent, whether they be on his own team or a different one.  He watched the game from the inside and out, constantly picking up tips from TV announcers, ex-NFLers, and his family and friends.  He absorbed the game like a sponge, and it made a difference.

He had beat out one of the seniors to start this year, he had been voted by his teammates to represent them as the only junior captain.  He felt the weight of the “C” patch on his chest every minute of every game.  This was something he had struggled for, something he had earned, and he cherished it.

Sitting in the cool locker room, his heart pounding in his chest already, Ricky tapped his cleats to the beat of his headphones.  He could hear the stadium roaring overhead, the band blaring in the background.  For a moment he thought of Carlos tooting away on his trombone.


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