The first time I played on a football team I was in the 5th grade. I played for my school's team, and we were known as the St. Mary's Vikings. I was horrible! I couldn't throw the ball. I couldn't run the ball. I couldn't catch the ball. So, I played offensive and defensive line. When the ball was snapped I would either rush the quarterback or block a member of the opponent's defense. I usually stood out from the other players on the line of scrimmage. I would carry out my assignment until I got tired, at which point I would stop, turn to the sideline, and stare at the cheerleaders. My logic was simple: If I could put up with the coaches yelling, a lot of running, and survive the blocking and tackling drills at practice each week, then I would be able to to don my Viking uniform, play in the game, and proceed to watch the cheerleaders. What a bright young lad! Watching the cheerleaders is still my favorite part of the game!
I didn't play football in the 6th grade. The most likely explanation is because there was too much exercise involved, but I can't honestly remember why I decided not to join the team. At the end of 6th grade summer, my brother, sister, and I were ordered by the court to spend two weeks in Arizona with our father. He had petitioned the courts for out-of-state visitation rights. The trip was to be a test. If we came home and told the court appointed psychologist that we had a good time and wanted to return, he would be granted the visitation rights. Things were going fine until my father and I had a misunderstanding. My father watched from inside as my brother and I played. We were playing with a remote controlled car in the driveway. My father's take on the situation was that I had bullied my brother into letting me control the car, so he came outside and called me over. He threw me against a wall and started poking my chest with his finger. He kept asking me, "How do you like it? How do you like getting bullied?" So, I told him that I hadn't done anything wrong and that it was simply my turn to play with the toy. He took me inside and made me sit on the couch, so that we could talk. We got into a fight instead. I called him a fag (it was the worst name someone at school could be called) and, in what seemed like in an instant, he was on top of me. His strong hands gripped my throat tightly. He raised my body up and slammed me back down on the couch, over and over again. Each time he did so, the back of my head smashed into the armrest of the couch. I was crying, I couldn't breathe, and I wondered if I ever would again. He eventually stopped. No other incidents occurred while my siblings and I waited to return home. My father was not awarded visitation rights.
My high school football coach, Bob Doyle, used the Bigger Faster Stronger, Inc. (BFS) program. If you wanted to play on his team you had to learn the program, so I did just that. While I was still in 8thgrade, I started going to the off-season football training program with the high school students. I had the most trouble with plyometrics; I couldn’t jump over the hurdles or onto the boxes. The high school players were becoming quite perturbed with me because I kept holding them up. I needed to fix this problem. I began jumping over smaller objects on my back porch until this weakness was turned into one of my strengths.
photo credit: [ changó ] via photopin ccMy last blog post discussed my first cooking competition and how I decided to play football instead of compete in the State Fair cooking competition. I'm proud of that decision; it made me who I am today. Deciding to put football before cooking has impacted my life in many ways, but none more than my experiences in the United States Army. I went from leading young men on a football field to leading women and men on a battlefield. I was in Baghdad for Operation Iraqi Freedom III. I was a Sergeant and I was paratrooper. During this deployment I was the gunner in a vehicle called the ASV. My Military Police Company was tasked with protecting the main supply routes around the city. So, that all boiled down to my squad getting daily orders for which roads we were to patrol. My squad drove around the city with my ASV in front, followed by two HMMWVs. My job was to protect everyone in the squad. The best way for me to do that was to find the IEDs before the terrorists could blow us up. Once we located a possible IED, we would keep a safe distance away from the device, shut down the flow of all traffic, remain vigilant and look for secondary attacks, and wait for the EOD team to come and dispose of the device. We would go back to work and start the process all over again. Going on patrol meant that I would look through my ASV scope for about 12 hours. Every person, every vehicle, every building, every dead animal, and every pile of trash on the side of the road was a potential threat. It was my job to see everything, figure out the threat level, communicate what I saw with my leaders, engage the enemy, and defend my squad and any other coalition forces. This was the most difficult job I've ever had. The stress of finding the IEDs and protecting my squad was overwhelming. I spent my down-time listening to The Beatles, cross-stitching, and thinking about my home and my family.
I was 14 when I started playing football for Chardon High School. We were known as the Hilltoppers. My typical school-day was as follows:
5:45 am - wake up, get ready for school, and eat breakfast
6:15 am - get to school before workouts started
6:30 am - lift weights in gym (MWF), or plyometrics (TTh)
7:15 am - get ready for school
7:38 am - help the "lunch ladies" prepare breakfast in 1st period study hall (I helped out and, in return, they gave me a half-priced breakfast.)
8:15 am - attend all other classes for the day
2:38 pm - school ends/get ready for football practice
3:15 pm - practice begins
5:30 pm - practice ends
5:35 pm - clean up and go home
6:00 pm - family dinner, do homework, do chores, and try to watch some TV
The Hilltoppers had won the State Championship when I was 12. So, my coaches knew what it took to win. They always gave us great motivational speeches! They told us that Tecumseh said, "a single twig breaks, but the bundle of twigs is strong." I agree with this completely. However, I always felt that it was my duty to not only be a stick in a bundle, but also to be the binding that held the sticks together. After all, I was the center. I led by example, and my teammates followed me. We worked hard, and when I was a junior, we played in the state championship game! In the final seconds of the 4th quarter, the opposing team threw a hook-and-ladder pass that resulted in the game winning touchdown. I was named team captain when I was a senior. One college sent me a recruiting letter, but I knew I was just too small to play college offensive line (5'8" 165 lbs.). My football career was over.
Playing football prepared me for my duties overseas. As the center, I would sprint to the line of scrimmage after the quarterback called the play. The defense would line up in their formation when they saw me running towards the ball. So, I was able to look at their defense and figure out if the play we just called would work well against their defense. We would either run the play called, or I would tell the other offensive linemen any blocking assignment changes, or I would tell the quarterback that he should audible to a play that would put the offensive linemen in the best possible position to attack the flaws in our opponent's defense. There wasn't much time for me to make all the calculations, and there was no room for error. When I decided what the best course of action to take would be, I needed to effectively communicate what I saw to the rest of the team. I always got the job done! My vision, my cunning, and my communication skills had been honed over the many football games I played in. These skills were essential to my survival and to the survival of my squad. I believe that without having gained these skills while playing football, I would be dead.