Goodbye Football: Part III

This is a continuation of a series chronicling my football career. Read part one here and part two here.

 

 

We were watching film on Monday and we were going over some game film of Washington. Coach Pritts was struggling with the camera as always and shouting out gameplans for us. He eventually started discussing their line. Washington had an awesome lineman, number 71, Sam Miller. “This guy’s a bastard!” Pritts said.  A few times on film we saw that Miller would bodyslam opposing linemen just after the whistle or give a dirty hit. They even lined him up as fullback in some short yardage situations, that immediately spurred jealousy in me. However, I already had my own personal memory with Sam Miller.

This is right before I learned how bad a cut block can feel

The year was 2006, we were playing at Washington. It was cold and rainy, they had a grass field that was pretty tore up from use already and it was somewhat of a muddy game. They got the ball first and I lined up as defensive tackle, I remember lining up specifically against Sam. On the first play of the game they ran the ball to other side as my eyes followed the running back to eventually run down the line and pursue. Just then, I noticed Sam’s body drop out of my peripheral vision. Suddenly my leg erupted with excruciating pain, Sam dove down and cut my legs out from underneath me. Even worse, my leg was locked and planted in the grass so it didn’t bend normally, putting all of this weight on my MCL. I was slow to get up, after I did manage to get up I couldn’t put that much weight on it. I didn’t tear anything, but i definitely couldn’t walk without a severe limp for the next 3 days. I had to play on it the rest of the game, but It was hard to contribute much because of it. We lost that game 35 to 7.Senior night coin toss

Senior night coin toss

“Yeah I remember 71, I played against him last year.” I told to Coach Pritts while we were still watching film. “He’s their best lineman, they run almost all of their plays off of his blocks. On defense, I want you to line up against him on every play.” Pritts told me.  The next day, Coach Pritts asked us seniors what jersey combination we wanted to wear. We normally alternated with Louisville, NC state, and Rutgers color styles, but we decided we wanted something different this week. Red, all red, we were inspired by some of the full yellow uniforms that WVU wears sometimes and wanted to wear something we never wore before.

My mother and I before my senior game

Friday was so electric, I couldn’t wait to play, I don’t think I was this pumped up for another game in my life, before and since. We kicked off to them and they returned it to thier 40 yard line. My heart started beating like a motor, our defense lined up as their offense broke the huddle and approached the line. I found the big 71 and lined up in front of it, I specifically put a little extra weight on my hand while i was in my three point stance. We both looked at eachother, there was a slight pause in the beginning of their QB’s cadence, this was the calm before the storm. Suddenly, the ball was snapped and like a gun firing at a race or the loud roar of engines at a drag race the atmosphere of the game changed instantly. Both team’s lines slammed into one another with jaw clenching force.  I stepped with my right foot forward and punched Sam in the chest with both of my hands as hard as I could and pressed him back. It was as if someone replaced a matador with another bull and let them both go at it.  I then noticed that Washington’s runningback was handed the ball and he was heading straight for my gap.  I pulled Sam to the left, shed him, dove in to the right, grabbed their running back, spun around, and threw him 2 yards back into their backfield. It’s actually the first play on my highlight tape.

Just seconds before that first play

What Coach pritts told me to do on defense I’m sure Washington’s coach probably told Sam the same. We both played both sides, so when I was on offense he’d line up against me and when he was on offense I’d line up on him. On one series I moved to right tackle and sam followed suit on defense. I think 95% of the plays that game were 1 on 1 with Sam. However, as much as wish it was one sided in my favor, it wasn’t.  Sam was the best lineman I played against that year, better than all of the out of state recruits that Greensburg Central Catholic normally had. I remember there were times he rattled me as there were also times I rattled him, but one thing was for sure, that was the most competitive game of football I ever played in my entire life.

We were down 25 to 28 in the 4th quarter with only around two minutes remaining on our own 40 yard line, it was 4th down and we had to go for it. Somehow, it turned into a busted play that led to a sack and they recovered on downs. The next play they scored and sealed the victory. After the extra point, some of our players got into a fistfight with some of their players in the endzone, I wasn’t one of those guys, i simply walked off the field. Alot of guys were upset, distraught, angry, and even saddened by the game, but for some reason, I didn’t feel any of them. After the game was over, all the players were on the 50 yard line telling eachother good game. I didn’t care about any of that, I just needed to find 71. I eventually found him in the group and walked up and shook his hand and we both acknowledged what an incredible game we both played in.  It’s ironic, he’s actually a really good guy and I wished him the best of luck making playoffs and success in college.  After that, I turned around and headed to the locker room.

The last time I would exit that field as a player

I remember the walk up the hill to the locker room, I was the last player off the field. I remember sitting in locker room quietly taking in the actions of those around me. Some of my teammates were crying, I don’t know if it was because of the missed opportunity or perhaps it was because this was their last game home. I couldn’t cry, I didn’t have any regrets. I made sure I played my hardest, and left the field with nothing in the tank. Despite the loss, the feeling was that of a job well done. That game, I learned that if you literally play your heart out, ensure that you did your job, and afterward, you look at the man in the glass and truthfully say that you played your hardest without any regret, then the score doesn’t matter.

This loss eliminated us from the playoff chase, but I wasn’t done playing. We still had one final game away at Yough, our rivals.

To be continued.

 

To read part 4 click here

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