Early this summer our oldest Michael decided he wanted to try football. He’d never played a down of organized football in his life and he had no clue what he was getting himself into, but he decided to give it a go. All summer he attended workouts at school for three days a week, and usually three hours per day. Weight lifting was a big part of it, and since Michael had lifted only a handful of times in the past his body soon started talking back to him. Then there were the football drills, all foreign to him at the beginning, and the cardio training. He took it all and persevered. Then in August he came home from vacation and went straight into full practices and started wearing the helmet in the 90 degree-plus heat.
Finally the season started and he was issued his beloved 71 jersey. Then the first game came along against Glenn H.S. and he watched and listened from the sidelines, soaking it all in, but never getting into the game. No surprise there since he hadn’t even been wearing pads for a month. Then the second game against Carver H.S. came along and again he watched from the sidelines. Last week they played their third game against arch-rival Reagan and Michael thought he might get some playing time, but it didn’t happen and he was getting pretty dejected. We talked a lot about how it was important to keep playing hard at practice, to show that he had the gumption to pick himself up after disappointment and show what he was made of. We talked about how hard it is to work your way into a playing position once the coaches have their rotation set. We talked about the whole purpose being to try your hardest no matter the result and have no regrets at the end, about how the worst thing is to not give it your all and then wonder years later if you could have played if you’d tried harder.
And so Michael went back to school and practiced hard. He wasn’t happy, but he kept at it. Tonight his team played Parkland H.S. His sister Erin had soccer practice and I was at the field with her, wrapping things up when we I checked my phone and saw a text from his Mom, Celeste, telling me that his team was up 26-0 at the end of the third quarter. The message was 15 minutes old and we were 10 minutes from the game, and I figured that if Michael was going to get into a game then tonight would be the night. Erin and I ran to the car and I tried to make record time to the school. Erin called Celeste for an update and she told us that there were about six minutes left in the game and Michael hadn’t been in yet (she was wrong, but more on that later). Of course we got stuck behind every slowpoke driver in the county on the way over there and then Erin’s phone rang and Celeste told her that there were three minutes left in the game and it looked like Michael might be going in. I pulled into the parking lot two minutes later and Erin and I sprinted to the stadium. As I approached the fence I saw number 71 lined up in the middle of the line, nose over the center, and then the ball snapped and Michael got two fists full of jersey and stood the boy up on his toes. The runner took the ball around the end and Michael pursued. He didn’t get in on the tackle but he was in the mix. A play or two later he was out of the game and another boy got a chance to play. On the sideline Michael pulled off his helmet and I could see his smile from 50 yards away. After the game he told me that he was put in on the punt team at the end of the third quarter, but since he’d never practiced with the punt team he had no idea what he was doing. That also probably explains why Celeste didn’t see him go in the first time, seeing as there was no reason to expect to see him there.
All told Michael was in for five plays tonight, but I don’t care if he plays another down in his life because I couldn’t be prouder.