Friday Night Lights and Me

There was this great book which was made into a movie and has now become a television show, “Friday Night Lights”. All of which is about high school football in Texas, revolving around a state powerhouse team. I think the book was best and delved into the dark side; steroids, rivalries between payers, payments, and all that other nasty stuff.

Well, I played high school football in Texas for a state powerhouse team and I did it at the same time and against the same teams that the book and movie were about (yes, I saw all the “nasty stuff” above). I got clobbered playing for a number of years, destroying knees, breaking fingers, wrists, arms, noses, etc. We did pretty well as a team, going to the state playoffs on several occasions (yes, I’ve played in the Astrodome. I even got a cut on my ass, when I got tackled, from one of the zippers in the turf!), but I didn’t have a chance to win the championship. Many players from my high school program played Division I-A ball in college, a number of them going on to the pros….

And if you want to get a good laugh, take a look at this picture. I’m the little guy in the middle (we’re about to “go in”). Notice the stadium that we’re playing in…. Yes, this was high school. A sunken, concrete stadium with artificial turn that we would regularly fill with over 19,000 rabid fans!

I even wrote a college entrance essay about football, and with the TV show, etc., I dug it up. I thought that after 20 years, it was still fun, so I am going to reproduce it here, verbatim (when I originally wrote this, it was typed on a typewriter!)

Bear in mind, I wrote this when I was maybe 17/18. It was written for a particular audience, college admission boards, and there was a space/word limit.

Learning to Catch a Football

Catching a football looked like a pretty simple thing, until the first time I tried catching the Quarterback’s throw and got one drilled into me. I went out for the team when I was a Freshman. The first things you are taught is hot to catch a nice, easy pitch. It’s a lot harder than you expect because the shape of the ball is so strange. For some reason, coaches teach you how to use your hands by screaming at you. In between screams, they throw the ball at you so hard that if you don’t learn to use your hands pretty fast, you catch it with your body. Self-preservation teaches you to use your hands.

The next part of the catching lesson comes from learning how to catch the hard-thrown balls. When the ball is thrown hard, it spins very quickly. This, along with the velocity of the ball, makes it very hard to hold on to. When you are first learning, the ball bounces off your hands as if it had hit bricks; only bricks don’t hurt.

The secret of catching the ball is to learn to take the power out of the ball. First, you can’t flinch. You learn to trust your hands, and to give with the ball as you catch it. The element of timing is crucial. By bending your arms at the right moment, the force is taken out of the ball. You extend your arms fully, hold your hands up to make them a target for the ball. You have to think of nothing but the ball. You have to train yourself not to “hear footsteps,” not to think of several hundred pounds pouring down on you.

When the ball first touches your hands, you give with it, slowing it so that it is moving the same speed you are. You put the tip under your arm and cover the other end with your hand. You then turn, run, score (of course). The coaches scream “Give, tuck, run, score!”

I joined the team in ninth grade. I played continuously throughout high school, earning a varsity letter. It took me over a year to learn how to catch the ball and hold on. “if at first you don’t succeed…” I learned to catch wet balls; I learned to catch under lights; I learned to catch in the ‘Dome.

I also learned to catch with a casted arm. I learned to build and rebuild knees. I learned to catch cold and I learned to catch tired. Sometimes I dreamed of catching. But most of all, I learned how to “Give, tuck, run, score!”