A new chapter began in my life on the first day of ninth grade. That day, I went to my first day of freshman football practice. Although I knew a little about the game, I had never played football before, so I was somewhat apprehensive about what might happen. The coaches guided us through a series of tests designed to place us into the appropriate positions, although most of the guys already knew where they would be playing. I did everything the best I could, and was soon assigned to Coach Green and the linemen. Through that year I never got to start a game, but the things that happened both on and off the field with the other players made me very interested in what would come in the future. The experiences of that year set the stage for my entrance into varsity high school football, an experience which would shape much of my life.
Before anyone can join the varsity football team, he must complete a series of tests. However, these tests are not like those at many schools. Coach has a philosophy that anyone who is willing to “pay the price” should be allowed to be on the team. Based on that philosophy, numerous criteria are presented to all the would-be players at the beginning of preparation for the season. When I first saw these criteria, I thought that they sounded very simple. They consisted of such things as getting into bed by a specified time each night, eating healthy, coming to five workouts in the summer, and not missing a practice for any reason other than family emergency. Little did I know, they would, in the end, be much more costly than I originally thought.
After our freshman season was over, some of the players on the team were given the opportunity to “move up” to the varsity team for the playoffs. I took advantage of the opportunity, and quickly found myself in the middle of a close-knit family. At that point, I understood very little of what was happening. However, I knew for sure that I wanted to learn more. That season ended at our rival’s field in defeat on a cold night in late November. In the locker room after the game, most of us cried as we realized what this meant for the seniors of that year and for that team. For the first time, I watched guys cry and hug each other as they used their love for each other to pull themselves through the feelings of disappointment. Coach called together those of us who would comprise the team of the following year, and told us to prepare for plenty of hard work in the off season.
The first day back in January, I had my first official test. This test would be the benchmark by which each player would judge his progress in the off season. The test tested our speed and strength, but the workouts would test our heart and our commitment. The next day, we had our first official workout. We spent the first week with coaches giving us demonstrations on proper technique in weight lifting. Within two weeks though, we had begun in earnest. Fridays were reserved for “special” workouts. I still remember my first one. It was supposed to be an upper body lifting day, and the youngest of us were rather confused when we were told to leave the upper body room and go into the locker room. We all dreaded what might be waiting for us. All we actually did through the whole thirty minute workout was what seemed like a thousand pushups, but that day began a special bonding process. Within five minutes of beginning, most of us were already extremely tired and ready to quit.
I am not sure that I ever knew who was speaking, but all that I can remember was intensly painful muscle cramps and the encouragement being shouted by my teammates. At that moment when failure seemed just one more pushup away, we began to develop a sense of responsibility to one another. All that I knew was that we had to work together if we were going to have a chance to be what we could be. The one voice I can remember was a teammate of mine. I remember him lying three guys over, sweating and straining as he struggled to keep his body off the ground. At the moment when I felt that I could not go on any longer his eyes met mine. He quietly told me to never give up and to fight as long as I had the chance. I merely nodded to him and decided that I had to make it through.
After several more torturous minutes, Coach told us to “get in our half mile” before we leave. As I jogged around the track, I thought to myself about how difficult varsity football was going to be. As the workout ended I thought to myself, “just bury me right here.” I decided, however, that I would be able to make it through with the help of my teammates. We had several more “special” days, but whenever I would think that I could not go any longer, I would remember my teammates going through the same thing and be strengthened. Very quickly, the summer was upon us. At first I thought that the summer workouts would be a carbon copy of the ones which we had during school, but I would soon find I was wrong.
The first thing that I noticed was that attendance at summer workouts was optional. However, this proved to be more beneficial. Because people were not required to come everyday, most days only people who wanted to be there would come. There were always some guys who could be counted on to be there. These guys were the ones who eventually formed the core of our team. Friday was once again reserved as a day for a different kind of workout. The first Friday of that summer I was introduced to a superset. In a superset, Coach would decide on a series of exercises, and we would go through the circuit as many times as possible in the time available. These undoubtedly were seen as something of a competition to see who could do the most, but eventually we would all get tired and slow down. Coach noticed our slowing pace and our fatigue, and he asked us why we had been slowing down. Of course he knew the answer, and he quickly asked us another question.
His next question though, was much more difficult. He brought up a hypothetical situation in which we had reached the fourth quarter of a game and were all very tired. Coach asked us if, when the fourth quarter came, we were going to quit and take the easy way out. Of course we all answered that we would play with everything that we had. Then he made a very simple statement. Coach told us that if planned on being able to give things our all in a game, we had to practice fighting past the pain. According to him, to do anything less would be selling ourselves short of the potential that we had. From that time on, we gave all that we had in every opportunity we had. We fought through the summer workouts together, and gradually became more and more dependent on each other. We began to realize that we would have to put together everything that we had learned and practiced all summer if we were to survive the last two weeks before school started.
The last two weeks before school started is known as Camp. Camp is the last hurdle to be cleared before someone is an official team member. We practiced from one till nine for two weeks that year. By the end of the two weeks, we were all strained physically, mentally, and emotionally. Each night, I would come home, shower off, and slump into bed. Then, I would proceed to coat my legs in a layer of Flex-All. While there were moments when some of us likely wondered if the end of Camp would even come, it did eventually arrive. However, eventually the end of the two weeks came. I vividly remember the last night of Camp. We practiced until our regular time, but then a team meeting was called at the fifty-yard line.
Coach congratulated us for making it through and told us it was time for story time. We spent the next twenty minutes running from coach to coach at different places on the field, and listening to stories about something that had happened on that spot of the field. All of the stories told were based on “what it means to be a part of the team.” Through these stories, the coaches painted vivid portraits of past team members who had been willing to go beyond the call of duty for the team.
I do not remember the details of many of the stories very well, but I do remember the story told by another coach. He told the story of a guy from a team several years removed who had really shown what it meant to be a mustang. According to the story, the quarterback had thrown an interception when the team was already down by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. One of the quarterback’s teammates, a guy who had never really been a standout player, was not willing to let the opposing team score as a result of the interception. He ran from the opposite side of the field and was able to tackle the guy ten yards short of the goal line. Coach claimed the player had never run as fast as he did on that night.
Spurred on by the effort of their teammate, the defense made a strong stand, and the team fought back to win that game. I expected to hear a lesson about giving it all you had, but instead, Coach had something different in mind. He told us about the importance of picking up the slack for everyone else. He reminded us that in the time we would spend together, not everyone would be perfect on every play, but that we would still be alright if we all did the best we could.
This year has been a very interesting one. As a senior captain on the team, I have had a responsibility all year long to help lead the team. During the workouts, I would often find myself shouting encouragement to the younger players as they struggled. Many of the seniors have gone beyond their responsibilities for the sake of the team. But these lessons do not stay confined to the field and the locker room, for I often find them having an effect on me outside of the football environment. Coach has taught us that we are examples everywhere that we go.
Any time there is a decision that I must make, my thoughts inevitably bring me to the question, “Is this something worthy of a Mustang football player?” I believe that my experiences in football were critical to me successfully overseeing a class day as junior class president while I was short handed. I think I would have been tempted in the past to just give up. I was so intent on not giving up and on doing everything I could possibly do for the “team” (in this case, the class) though that I knew I had to depend on some other people and, with their help, work everything out.