Goodbye Football: Part 1

Over the next couple days I’m going to be chronicling the entirety of my football career. I’m going to remember the highlights and memorable things as well as the effect that football has had on my character. Enjoy.

The year was 2001, and I was in sixth grade, a family friend convinced my mother to sign me up for midget football and after the first two days of non padded practice they gave us a large mesh equipment bag that had all we needed. When I got home with it I quickly ran into the living room with it and shut the large sliding door that gave me privacy. I felt like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he was decoding little orphan Annie’s message on the radio in private in the bathroom. However, this was far more important than that. I’ve never worn any football pads or pants before, let alone a helmet. It was actually quite funny, I had difficulty determining where some pads went and how in the world to adjust my buckle for my helmet. After around a half hour I finally had everything on. I remember the feeling, standing there with the straps of my shoulder pads hugging me tightly. I felt like I was wearing body armor, it was spectacular.

That was when this life changing journey began, wearing football pads in my living room while an episode of Hey Arnold was playing on TV.

Me just a few weeks into my first season. I picked 66 because it was Mario Lemieux

Before my first practice I had the mindset that I wanted to be running back. I had 2 posters of Emmitt Smith on my walls, that was gonna be me. Hysterically, I extremely overestimated my athletic ability and as soon as I got there I was thrown onto the O-line. O-line? What do those guys even do? I watched a lot of football when I was a kid and I guarantee that none of it was of the offensive line. But I slowly started to like the position, I enjoyed pancaking kids.

I played a couple other sports during those years, but as soon as I was done with my first padded practice they all didn’t matter anymore. This was my sport. I let my catcher’s mitt rest untouched for the rest of my childhood. This sport wasn’t like any other sports, I had to work my butt off everyday, but for some unusual reason I loved it. My coach was Jeff Love, he was hard nosed and energetic, I remember him telling me to run two laps cause I was late to practice one day. He made all of my other coaches look like losers, he taught me that there’s a large component to football that many people don’t see, attitude.

Once a year the midget team would play one game in Southmoreland stadium, which for a 6th grader was like playing in beaver stadium or the big house. The next week we were scheduled to play Hempfield there. That Sunday, while we were in the middle of our warm ups, the Hempfield coaches wanted to challenge the weight of our quarterback. The rules of the league was that all players must stay under 135lbs, Matt, our quarterback was a very big offensive weapon. So Matt is taken out of warmups with one of our coaches, a ref, and one of Hempfield’s coaches up to the locker room to weigh him. About 10 minutes later, we see matt walk back down the hill, but this time he wasn’t wearing his pads.

He failed the weigh in.

There were a lot of different reactions by my teammates about this, but after a few minutes and with some motivation by our coaches we all began to agree on an emotion, anger. Matt was huge, it’s hard for him to stay under 135lbs, this is all those Hempfield coach’s fault. I was so mad, I was shaking with anger, I remember a distinct message we wanted to send them was “make them pay”. When we ran out to the field I was shaking, I had tears rolling down my face I was so angry. If you watch a video recording of the game it probably just looks like a bunch of 6th graders running around on a field, but my memory paints it in a way that we were flying around, hitting everything that moved, wrecking them. Hempfield was picked to beat us, but we ended up rolling over them 35-7. After the game was over I was still so angry. That was the first time I learned how much of an effect that the mind and emotions has on a player and their performance.

The years went by, after 6th and 7th grade midgets was junior high. Junior high was so amazing, I went from losing almost every game in midgets to losing only 1 game in junior high. Winning gives you an incredible feeling that’s so unique you cannot experience it any other way.

I wanted more.

When high school came around I was terrified, the players were so much faster and bigger. Freshman year I didn’t play much, I only played defensive end in the end of games that were blowouts. I remember making my first tackle at Burrell, we were losing 45-0 and their running back went to run outside and I had containment, I grabbed his jersey and pulled him to the ground.

Yeah, I wore glasses under my helmet until the 10th grade.

The next year was a different story, I started working out in the off season, but I didn’t work out hard so I didn’t get that much better as a player. I was starting left tackle, and boy, did I suck. I remember the first game at Yough, I’ve never been so nervous in my life. I remember I kept messing up almost every play. Normally all nervousness and butterflies leave after the first play or series, but this stuck with me the whole game, maybe even season. The next week we played Burrell and they beat us 62-2, they sent more than 5 of our players to the Emergency room. We were the worst team in the WPIAL according to Points allowed and points scored. I think we only scored 2 or 3 touchdowns that whole year. A normal person would probably quit and not look back, and many did. I didn’t, I couldn’t, there was something about this game that kept me. Over that off season I began working out with Brian Hyde, my friend’s father, he beat the crap out of me, but I started getting much stronger. I was making gains in weeks that used to take months. I eventually became one of the strongest guys on the team and it really showed on the field. Because the team dwindled to less than 30 people, I played left guard and defensive tackle. This means I was always on the field unless someone scored, I got a 40 second break during a kickoff and then back out of the field. It was hard, but I did well, the team did better, we won 3 games that year and those three wins made it worth it. The next spring I attended a combine called metro index, I started to have a few coaches come up to me, talk to me and shake my hand, but when I let them know I was actually a junior their interest deflated immediately. I don’t think I’d have the ability to play college ball, my coach put me up to this combine, but maybe. I decided to open up all the cylinders and really dig deep in my training. I began going to a speed trainer by the name of Tony Mitchell, fantastic coach, he’s had an influence on my drive to become a better player.

Getting better meant I had to get faster and stronger.

I’ve come to learn that nothing worth doing in life is going to be easy, and everything that’s easy will not have that much of a payoff. In other words, all this training, running, and lifting wasn’t easy, but it will pay off eventually. I continued working hard all summer while my last football season in high school slowly approached.

To be continued.

To view part 2 click here.

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