My older Brother Kevin and I will both be heading home to our parent's house this weekend to prepare for Deer Hunting next weekend. He left me a voicemail asking me if I wanted to go see our hometown team in the Football semi-finals on Friday night. Both him, my other older brother Bryan, and myself played high school ball, and I haven't been back to see a game in a few years now, so I was definitely in (though I'm going to miss most of the first half, unless I take off early).
While Texas is notorious for being crazy about high school football, certain parts of Wisconsin could give them a run for their money on a Friday night. Turnout at Edgar home games typically reaches over 1,000 people (there's only 1,400 people in the town), and it becomes the focal point of conversation no matter what the time of year is. As a little kid two-hand touch football gives way to two-hand shove, and eventually tackle (if the recess monitors weren't looking). Once we hit middle school flag football began, and with that came pick-up games on the practice field while the real teams battled it out in the stadium.
Finally, freshmen year. I get to be part of the proud Wildcat tradition. I was a scrawny 14 year old, not exactly a hard nosed tough guy on the field, but I loved playing. That first year almost every guy in our class was on the team (Edgar is so small we don't have tryouts). I was one of two wide recievers, and one of a handful of defensive backs. I quietly played my part on the team, and first got noticed when I had a big downfield block that sprung our running back Jeremiah for a long touchdown. Coach Nowak told Jeremiah in front of everyone after we won that "you should be buying that guy a steak tonight, he gave you that touchdown." I don't think I stopped smiling for 3 days.
A few weeks later I had my best moment. We were up by a few touchdowns, so in order to give the starters a break I was put in at cornerback. Sure, I could slack off once in a while on offense, but a guy had to be ever vigilant on defense. It was 3rd and 6, and the opposing team was on our 45 yard line. The ball was snapped, I dropped back into coverage, and watched as the receiver I was covering broke into a slant in front of me. The quarterback's helmet turned to the receiver and I knew what was coming next. I quickly changed directions and sprinted in front of the receiver just when the ball was about to get to him. Interception!! I took off towards their endzone going as fast as I could, nothing in the way for a touchdown....and then I got winded. I made it to about the 20 yard line before that same receiver caught up to me and I was tackled. But what a rush! I jogged over to the sideline to hear my teammates cheering and was greeted with lots of pushing and slapping. Just thinking about it gives me the chills. Our varsity team made it to state that year and won, and I remember thinking that I'd have a chance to be riding a victory float in a few years.
During the rest of the school year our Head Coach wanted us to be in basketball or wrestling, and then track in the spring, in order to stay in shape. But during the summer, when we were supposed to be working out and running and prepping for August, well......I slacked off. Sure, I'd go into the weight room three times a week, but most of the time I slacked off and shot the shit with whoever else was in there. That Sophomore year we were allowed to suit up for every game, and even got in for a few plays. We made it to state that year again, but lost. But for an impressionable 15 year old there's nothing in this world like running out into Camp Randall from the tunnel. I smile just thinking about it. Anyways, I remembered seeing the seniors crying after the game was done, and I couldn't help but feel for them. Going 14-1 isn't easy.
Sophomore year turned into Junior, and without Junior Varsity games to play during the week I was beginning to waste away. The group of senior receivers ahead of me was numerous, and my playing time was extremely limited Still, I was loving the camaraderie and brotherhood of sharing the field with my best friends. We made it to state yet again that year (despite losing twice that regular season), and we were victorious in a hard fought battle, 8-0 final score.
And so my Senior year dawned. Our original group of 20 freshmen had whittled down to only 10 seniors, but the 10 of us had been together through thick and thin. We had 5 starters returning, plus a talented Junior class behind us to fill the ranks. And yet...I didn't push myself nearly hard enough that summer. I was basically the same size and strength as I was Junior year. Thinking back I'm not really sure why I didn't try harder. I think the thought of my last free summer before high school was over sub-consciencelessly pushed me to camp more, drink more, and relax more than was smart. Come football season we were feeling pretty good about ourselves, teamwise. Our new shift formation would take advantage of having 3 powerful running backs, and would also open up our passing attack. And then disaster struck in our first game. While doing pre-game warm-ups our running back Jeremiah (yep, same guy) tore his ACL. This left a huge hole in both our offensive and defensive plans. Still we trucked on, winning most of our games. However our passing game was practically nil. Our quarterback had a hard time seeing over our big offensive line, and I wasn't exactly burning anybody with my speed (not to mention I was pretty scrawny at 6'1" 160 lbs). Passes were almost all directed at the slot or tight-ends. Still, I blocked my heart out, helped out the younger guys when they needed it and played my part. We made it to the semi-finals, but injuries and a thin roster had taken it's toll on the team. It didn't help that we were going up against St. Mary Springs, a private school that was a known recruiter (which is illegal in Wisconsin High School sports). We tried our best, but it wasn't enough. I made it into the locker room before breaking down crying.
Now, I'm not normally one of those guys that waxes poetically about his high school years in most cases. They were fine and all, but they were far from the best years of my life. However, the times I played football are remembered fondly, and there's always the fire that burns inside me to strap on the shoulder pads and helmet and run some patterns again.