Writer’s note: I previously wrote about my football experiences here.
I was a football player for seven years, three of them in high school.
I prefer to tell people that I “was a football player” rather than I “played football” because it’s more specific. I have been referred to as “athletic”, which I find ridiculous and flattering, considering my body composition. But the description that I “was a football player” is also pretty honest and complete. Football was a part of my life. I was a football player. It’s an honorable title to have, though I think just knowing how to play would’ve been enough for my high school career.
But as a thirteen year old struggling to find myself in the world, I couldn’t help but pour everything into the sport. Different factions of my daily life stemmed from football. My emotions revolved around our team. My best friends were my teammates. My role models were my coaches. Books, activities, food, social events, tastes in music, everything.
Eventually, football dominated my life.
In reality, I was already committed before I start. Living the football life means you aren’t making time for non-football things as you are trying to make the most of what you have. And every teammate I had was knew this. Whatever freedom we are given we use to talk about everything else. Pranks, inside jokes and laughter are frequent during the locker room. Topics such as classes and parties and girls rotate in motion; we were all united as close friends as much as we were teammates.
But the rest of the time was for football. The first full-gear practices begin on August and last for four or five hours from Monday through Wednesday. Thursdays are much easier, since it’s often the day prior to the game, so things are more focused towards getting us warmed up and ready rather than brute physicality. We finally play on Friday nights, and wake up Saturday morning to lift weights and spend time watching and critiquing ourselves from the night before. If we’re lucky enough to make the playoffs, where the games are on the weekends, then we’d move everything up by one day and add another practice in. Extra work wasn’t an issue (as an offensive linemen, we are entitled to pushing tackling dummies after most practices anyways); You just learn to deal with it.
We made sacrifices too. Physically, emotionally, socially – I guess I never had much time for anything else. Bruises, aches and other ailments distracted me from school. And with the tedious sechdule, trying to find people to hang out with was difficult. But we’d pull through. We kept grinding between the sweat, tears and blood until we won the state championship or die trying, and after a brief celebration we’d start preparing for the whole thing again from the top.
Like I said, there is no off-season.
Dirty, incomplete, uncompromising. All these are true about playing football. And I think this experience has taught me two important things. The first is balance. I can’t fault my commitment to football had other parts of my life been in check. There’s nothing wrong with passion, of course, and like most flames, it has to be watched, controlled and kindled.
I was not the biggest man on the field. Certainly not the fastest, and definitely not the strongest. To stood apart I could only rely on work ethic. And I hated being just “another guy” on the team. I stayed for extra work. I was willing to spend weekends with coaches for one-on-one drills. I didn’t complain. I couldn’t afford to.
What I thought was giving my all instead left me feeling burnt out, tired and dull. In the end I was only part of the rat-race, stuck in perpetual motion, repeating the same drills everyday but expecting different results. By senior year I gave up on the routine, and now I will never see things the same way ever again.
The second is gratefulness. It’s hard not to dream what I could’ve done in place of those 20+ hours I wasted running and tackling guys twice my size. I often see other high school students, other children following down my path. I wonder about their future and what they think they’re getting out of this, wonder if they too will look back in disappointment. And then I look at myself and realize I’m still doing okay. It’s an optimistic outlook, but at least things worked out for me.
I don’t miss playing football; I’m at peace with that part of my life. In a way, I think I share this attitude with my teammates who did succeed, those who received scholarships to play in college. At least both of us have the luxury to know where we are and where we’re going.