Growing up in a town with a rich football tradition is difficult, every parent wants to see their child grow up through the school district, and shine under the lights on Friday evenings. Even growing up in the township meant going to one of the two high school games every Friday night, watching on from the stands wishing you could be one of the starting 11 players out on the field. The tradition motivates you to be the best that you can, and to live the dream of being a varsity football player. However, no athlete can fulfill this dream without hard work and determination. From personal experience, I know that football doesn’t always go your way, but you must learn to never give up.
In fifth grade, I learned right away that not everyone was cut out to be a football player. I didn’t play all that much in the fifth and sixth grade and would only go in every few plays. I was considered the ‘bench-warmer’ of the team. I knew that I wasn’t as good as the other players on my team, but I didn’t let that bother me. I still went to practice, I still ran my sprints, and I still tried to apply myself as being the best teammate I could be. My parents would ask me if I wanted to go to practice, knowing that I didn’t have a big role on the team, and I would always go anyways. My coach at the time would always push me to be better, and would always tell me to “strive for perfection”. I knew that he saw some potential in me, but I never would have guessed that my 5th and 6th grade coach would have such a big impact on me later in life.
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In middle school, I decided that I would sit out my 7th grade year and I wasn’t sure if I would play football again. I wasn’t as big or as fast as the other football players in my grade, and I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for football. Then, I remembered the sense of honor that I felt when putting on my jersey in the 5th/6th grades and I decided that I needed to come back and play in the 8th grade. I was the last string wide receiver in 8th grade, which meant that I saw limited time. The lack of playing time didn’t bother me though, because I knew that some kids were just naturally better than me. I knew that the only way that I was going to play was by hitting the weight room and increasing my speed.
My freshman year was when I really started to realize my purpose in football. My freshman year of football began while I was still attending middle school, solely because I would workout with the varsity football team everyday after school. While working out, I always used my lack of playing time as motivation to work harder. I promised myself that year that I would start on the freshman squad, and would finally get a chance to showcase my talents.
The practices were increasingly hard compared to middle school, but I wasn’t phased and managed to start in the first game that year. I played cornerback and outside linebacker as a freshman. Starting as a freshman was a big deal for me, but it didn’t compare to my ultimate goal of playing on the varsity squad that I grew up watching for so many years. My sophomore year went much like my freshman year, except I would now be practicing with the varsity squad while playing on the junior varsity team.
The players on the varsity squad seemed like giants, and set the bar very high. I was working towards being one of them, and I knew that if I wanted to be like them I would have to work as hard as them on and off the field. Playing junior varsity also meant walking out with the varsity team on Friday nights, I could sense the pride from the locker room, to the pre game speech, to the National Anthem being played just before kickoff. I enjoyed playing on the junior varsity squad, it was where all my friends were playing and it was the first time I really enjoyed playing football. The following year was my junior year of football, and I finally started to get reps with the varsity defense.
I played outside linebacker for yet another year, along with three other seniors. We lost many coaches that year, however like a ghost from the past my fifth/sixth grade coach came to coach the varsity squad. It was very surreal seeing him come to my varsity practices , the same way he did when I was just 12 and 13 years old. The entire offseason going into the season of 2013, he coached my like he had done before. Finally, it all paid off when I played in my first varsity game in front of thousands of fans including my parents, peers, and coaches. I felt that sense of pride that I had been wishing to feel ever since I first became familiar with varsity football.
Everyone wants to strive to be the best that they can be, and that’s what I did. I worked hard to make sure that I would get my chance to show what I could do. Playing varsity football seemed like a monumental goal to me, but bit-by-bit i achieved what I had been chipping away at for years. Most importantly though, I feel like I can sense the pride from my parents, knowing that their son is doing something that not many teenagers can say they do. As I continue to play football for my high school, I will never forget the pride and tradition that comes along with it.