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Saturday, June 18, 2011

Perfection

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Football has always been life around my house. From the time I was years old, I would put on oversized, hand-me-downs of my brothers and “play” football with the older boys in the neighborhood. I have always wanted to play for my father, Jerry. He never pushed me to play football at all; he only wanted me to do what made me happy. He is one of the most respected coaches in Metro Atlanta, and I have always looked up to him. Every day I strive to better myself in hopes of being as respected as my old, gray haired coach that has taught me everything I know. He is easy going off the field, yet his competitiveness strives him to be the best coach on the sideline. This is the characteristic that I have attained most throughout my years of study of my father, on and off the field.


Having my father coach my high school football team is an indescribable experience. We share so many memories on the football field that other players could not experience with their fathers. I was able to go to work with him everyday and see first hand the effects of his sacrifices. My father and I have always competed against each other, whether we were playing Yahtzee after dinner on Sunday night or even playing


H-O-R-S-E as the sun went down when I was a boy. He has always brought out the best in me by challenged me in school, at home and in athletics. Determined to prove myself to my father, I tried to excel in anything I could be involved in, just to here the four best possible words out of the person I respect most in the world, “I’m proud of you.” He would have been proud of me no matter what I accomplished, but in my head, I had to compete and be the best, not necessarily in his eyes, but in mine.


At my high school, Parkview, the coaches picked a couple of ninth graders that were ready to skip ninth grade football and play Junior Varsity and practice with the Varsity. I was lucky enough, along with two of my friends, to be picked to play Junior Varsity. That was the only good athletic news that I would hear for the next year. I had four and a half months of unexpected hardship. Adjusting to high school was hard enough, let alone getting pounded on by mature 18 year-olds that outweighed me by 40 pounds. The physical beatings, random bruises, being at the high school from 645 in the morning to at least 645 at night, that was all easy for me to take, but not being the best was something that would have crawled under my skin if it was not filled with bruises.


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The Varsity would run plays against the scout team (composed of Junior Varsity players) and be successful 85% of the time. I did not have the philosophy of the other scout team members or the coaches. The other players would hide on the sidelines and only be concerned about how much longer this would last. Most sane 15-year-old kids would do the same, in 5-degree weather with 5 pounds of equipment on. Most of them however ended up hurt because they played extremely timid, or continued to play and in the words of my father were “costume players.” These players played not for the love of the game, but to be able to wear their jersey to school and to be known as a football player. The coaches’ philosophy was to play hard and make the Varsity better so on Friday nights they would win. I never played anything, even monopoly, to make my opponent better. I was playing to better myself and develop a good reputation among the coaches. I was one of the few scout team players who played every play like I was in front of 10,000 fans in our stadium, The Big Orange Jungle. Going through that year not only made me a better football player, it helped me as a person.


Competing with players on another level than me helped me to be able to compete for a starting job my sophomore year. My campaign started during the two weeks of spring practice that helped the coaches evaluate personnel. I surprised the coaches with my play and did very well leading up to our annual spring game, and showed them a side of me that had became apparent in the time I had played for them. I played to win. After our team was split up into two teams for the spring game, there was friendly trash talking between the teams about who would win. This led to some more trash talking in the game. Our team did well and won, but the coaches continually tried to calm me down and say we were on the same team. They were wrong, for those 48 minutes, we were neither friends nor teammates; in my eyes we were enemies after a common goal, winning. I did not even talk to the players on the other team until the next day because if they made excuses, I would have felt insulted and infuriated.


Proving my play on the field and heart for the game, I thought I deserved a shot at starting, not so fast my friend. Stereotypically, most players with fathers coaching them received special treatment as far as playing time. My father wanted me to earn my spot through good play and also did not want to see his son fail like any good father. I wanted to be on that field though. I was in no way content watching my teammates play and being totally happy. Two games into the season our offensive coordinator approached my dad, the defensive coordinator, and said that if my dad he was not going to use me, then I would have a spot to play on offense starting the next week. My dad started me at linebacker that week against a team that we had beaten two years before in the state championship and I made him proud, unknowingly. The following Monday we were in a defensive meeting before practice. I made a good play on a pass from the other team and he said good job, not knowing I was watching him smile while he said it.


Competitiveness is a trait that can be just as negative as it is positive. My junior year we went undefeated and won the state championship in Georgia’s highest classification. Well into my senior year, we were also undefeated, but by this point winning was not enough for me. I had to play nearly flawless, as well as the rest of my teammates. In the second round of the playoffs, the game came down to a last second field goal, which the other team missed, giving us the right to advance to the quarterfinals. Everybody on our team was going crazy and happy, I was in the shower trying to get cleaned up and home before I had to explain my anger. I thought that we had let an inferior team come close to eliminating our team and my dream of winning a state championship my senior season. I had become competitive to the point of perfection until the next Monday at football practice. I was on the kickoff return team and the kicker kicked the ball to me. I dropped the ball and out of frustration kicked the ball. Our head coach stopped practice and told me that I was playing with the weight of the team on my shoulders, which I was, and to play the only way I knew how, the best to my ability. Although my competitiveness was a good internal motivator for myself, I had let it come out of me and be critical of not only myself, but also my team. I did not lose any competitiveness on the inside after this, but my approach to our team was different and I had come to realize that football was the ultimate team game and I had a job as a leader to lead my team to victory, starting with focusing on my play.


I have learned the most in life, not in my high school chemistry or trigonometry classes, but from my father and from playing football. My competitiveness helped me become a champion, twice. The only real explanation for my competitiveness can be summed up in a quote from Billie Jean King, “Champions keep playing until they get it right.” Hopefully competition will help me become a champion in lif





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