T1 played tackle for the first time and T2 participated in his first season of flag. Both had a really good time, but in different ways.
T1 was the only person on his team that had never played tackle before. The team itself was in a league where everyone had experience, so it is entirely possible that he was the most inexperienced player on either team in any given game. There was a team he could have played on for new players, but when he showed up for his evaluation the coaches looked at his 5’10 or so frame and general athletic ability and decided they wanted him on the upper level squad.
It was pretty intense. There was a coaching staff of five or six and a team doctor. Before school started they had practice five days a week for two hours a day and then games on Saturdays. He had to be at his games an hour and a half early for a walk through. After school started practice, theoretically, was cut down to three days a week but they also usually had a fourth day where they went to a coach’s house and watched film on their upcoming opponent. This was in addition to the online site where all of their games and at least one game from every one of the other teams was available for viewing, broken down play-by-play, complete with coach’s annotations.
He enjoyed it a lot. He liked going to practice, which was good because they practiced a lot. He loved being on the team, of hanging out with his teammates. They had an overnight trip for an away game where they stayed in a hotel and he had a fantastic time. He acted as sort of an all around sub and so got experience playing defensive end, offensive line, safety and special teams. He learned a lot.
They had a good season but got beat pretty handily in the playoffs by the team I feel certain is going to win their league. He was bummed, but on the car ride home was already talking about next year, when he will play for his high school team and trying to figure out what he should work on during the off season. He wants to play wide receiver, tight end or safety. Any of those would work.
His season highlights included several games with multiple tackles and one with a forced fumble. He was hesitant at times, a side effect of his lack of experience, but if he wants to I think he could turn into a real player.
“Football is a lot harder than it looks,” he said. “Faster too. But it’s also a lot of fun.”
Where T1’s experience was very dramatic, T2’s was fairly comedic.
Eight out of the ten kids on T2’s team, of which I was an assistant coach, had never played football of any type before. The head coach, a really nice guy named Rich, rightly decided that the most important thing was that the kids have fun. They totally did, even though the actual football played occasionally looked like barely contained chaos.
They were supposed to be the “Tornados” but we let them pick their own name for their squad and they came up with “Vampire Marshmallows.” There was also a song and a series of cheers that went along with the name. We had six basic plays but everybody got try every position, so occasionally a play would break down completely, with the quarterback standing in the backfield watching the tailback and the fullback run into each other. Defense was hit or miss, with flashes of brilliance offset by periods where the dirt, or people in the crowd or planes overhead were more interesting to the players than the action on the field. It took us four games to break them of the habit of, whenever anyone on either team successfully caught a pass, stopping and cheering. Sportsmanship is great but we really had to stress “pull their flag first, cheer for them later.” T2 was as guilty of this as anyone. He’s naturally a nice kid. In game two his man came across the middle and caught a pass. T2 came to a dead stop in the middle of the field and yelled, “WOW” as the other kid ran twenty yards for a touchdown. It was pretty hilarious.
T2 started the season running sort of funny. He would lean way back and swivel his head around looking at everything but where he was going. A little more than halfway through the season our constant form corrections finally clicked and he developed a real semblance of speed. Along with this speed he realized he could spin and juke a bit. He referred to his newfound agility as his “smokin’ hot moves.”
In the very first game a player on the other team broke through our Maginot Line of a defense and took off down field. T2 chased him the length of the field, all the way to the end zone. Didn’t catch him, but didn’t give up on the play either. I complimented him on his excellent hustle, without properly explaining what hustle was. He spent the rest of the season keeping track of how many hustles he had per game, as if it were a stat like passing yards or tackles.
“I had a good game,” he’d say, “I had at least three hustles.”
It made him play hard, so I didn’t correct him.
I enjoyed coaching and had two cool experiences.
E was a kid who, the first day of practice, I thought was going to drive me and the head coach crazy. His focus was non-existent. He talked constantly, listened rarely. He was a good athlete, but was so out of control that he fell down almost every single time he did anything.
However, over time, he got better. He started to listen. We explained the importance of staying on his feet and he got it. His chatter went from complaining about not getting the ball to actually making good suggestions. Plus, he was the only one on the team who remembered to say “Ready….break” when they broke the huddle. That was actually his specialty, he’d do it even when no one else would, then look at me and give me a thumbs up. He took pride in it. After the last game he shook my hand and gave me a card. His parents had written me an amazingly nice note, thanking me for helping his throughout the season, helping him to focus and generally just making his first year of football so great. I was really touched.
The second amazing thing that happened centered around CM.
I admit, I sort of wrote CM off the first practice. He didn’t look particularly athletic. He only seemed marginally interested in being there. Coach Rich would tell him “Show me your war face!” and his would stare ahead, deadpan and say, not yell, “roar.” I swear I didn’t hear him speak for three weeks.
Apparently CM watches and learns.
Gradually, he became more engaged. His war face yell gained a little volume. Then came the last game of the season.
In our league, the coaches are on the field during the game. The team was split into two groups. The first group played offense in the first half and the other group played defense. At halftime they switched. We make sure everyone is where they are supposed to be, we give guidance on defense and we tell them what plays to call. The last game, Coach Rich decided to let the kids call the plays. They loved it. CM excelled at it.
“Okay,” Rich said, “who is going to be our quarterback?”
“I am,” said CM immediately. Rich and I looked at each other and both shrugged.
“Okay,” said Rich, “it’s your offense CM.”
CM sprung into action.
“Huddle, huddle, huddle,” he yelled, running out onto the field. His startled teammates jumped into action. CM was suddenly channeling Peyton Manning. He controlled the huddle. He decided what plays to run, making sure everybody got a chance to get their hands on the ball but making sound, smart decisions.
“Okay,” he’d bark in the huddle, “play two, play two. T, you are getting the ball. C, you go first, don’t run into him. READY…BREAK!”
I realized he was channeling everything we’d tried to drill into them all year.
CM can’t throw the ball, so when he decided a pass was needed, he made his friend C the quarterback and he switched to center, still running the offense.
He moved the goddamned ball as well, or honestly maybe better, than we had all year. At the end of the first half he switched to a fucking hurry up offense, getting four plays off in under a minute, which in our league is equivalent to running the hundred yard dash in five seconds. It just doesn’t happen. I was completely blown away.
Midway through the half Rich and I stood in the middle of the field, laughing.
“What is happening?” he said.
“Well coach,” I said, “we’ve got an eight year old making us look stupid for not turning the entire team over to him six weeks ago.”
I walked over to the sidelines at halftime where his parents were sitting.
“CM called every play but one in that whole half,” I told them.
“What?” they asked. The other parents looked equally confused.
“He ran the offense,” I said. “Like, by himself. You should have heard him out there. It was maybe the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”
The kids had a blast. They really had fun every single game, which was the point of the thing. This despite the fact that we mostly got our asses kicked every week. Their attitudes never wavered, they never gave a shit about the score, they just wanted to play.
After the game CM ran over and hugged me.
“That was the most fun ever!” he yelled.
Everyone got medals, only the team that won the championship got trophies. Nobody minded. T2 held my hand as we walked off the field, pleased with his tackle and a run were he broke it off for a handful of yards and what he felt to be a “hustle filled game.”
Basketball starts in a few weeks.