Fighting to the finish

In our second-to-last game of the season, the boys learned how to fight.

It's a skill that has to be learned, like poise, or winning. And once players are empowered, there's no going back.

NS, who has come to most practices and is very passionate about playing but not the most talented kid on our roster, learned he was going to start on defensive line. Our best defensive lineman JL had been sick and kept out of school for half the day, rendering him ineligible to play in our game. If not for this, NS would probably not have had a chance to play much this game, but the effort and heart he gave in practice made him the likely candidate to fill in. NS made mistakes, he didn't make the same plays JL might have made, but he did play hard and at one point, I saw him drive an OL back into the play. He was fired up and he wasn't about to miss his chance. He gave his whole heart that day.

At halftime, Coach L gave some good remarks. We had been playing well on both sides of the ball and it was a close game.

His words to them were something like these:

“Today is the day that this assembled Class of 2014 needs to make a decision. How will you be remembered? Will you make a change? What do you want your legacy to be? Today is the day you start down that road… Class of 2014, what do you want to say?”

The boys went off on a tear in the second half, and offense moved the ball, defense made some good plays, and with a few minutes left, we got the ball back with a score of 26-26.

The offense drove down the field and with under 30 seconds, we were inside the redzone. First down: sweep right – hole the size of a dump truck with a green cutback lane in the middle. We maybe got a few yards as the fullback hit the hole and didn’t cut it inside. Second down was a false start – capped off by an incomplete pass. Third was a failed run play and fourth we went for it and didn’t get it. Turnover on downs with :02 left on the clock. Score: still 26-26.

As the offense came off the field with hanging heads, I said “Ok boys, pick up those heads – we’re going back to work in a minute.”

One of them said, “Uh, but coach…. we don’t play overtime.”

It was all I could do to keep from saying… “Well, that’s stupid.”

Instead, we lined up, shook hands and went over to talk under the goal post.

Coach L’s assessment was “A tie is ok, but it’s not what you want” – later I spoke with Coach A who shared a southern proverb: “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.” Ha.

My two joys from the game were these:

1. I didn’t have to run the game clock. The parent who usually handled this duty was gone and while the coaches and I had discussed the possibility in the lockerroom of me doing this before the game started Coach F said he knew how to do it, and I thought he’d agreed to do so. Instead, I was told to go do it minutes before the start, but Coach A from varsity came to the rescue. His words: “Go coach your boys.”

I felt at that moment that I had all the support in the world… and I thought about how lucky I was to think and feel that – not just on this occasion but all season.

2. I learned what it felt like, in a game, to truly be a coach. Most games, depending on the play, I’ve tried to watch the line, or half of it, or a player I thought was struggling or needed me to provide some feedback. It’s extremely difficult to watch the whole play and see what might have gone awry, or how all the battles came out.

I have learned to wholeheartedly appreciate my past and future coaches who’ve provided guidance of any kind upon request since it’s so difficult to do.

In any case, in this game, I saw a good mismatch in the second half with the left DT. In the first half, he was dominant – making it tough for us to block him, etc. In the second half, he was giving up his whole frontside, setting up perfectly for 26 guard trap, which I shared with Coach L. On the next play, right guard DK came through with a great trap block and the fullback was sprung for about 30 yards.

I have loved coaching all season, but in this moment I felt the rush like you feel playing for the first time. It’s a harmony: calling the right play, coaching the boys to be able to block it right in the heat of battle, the defense lining up to the matchup the way you expect, and the execution of it all in the fight. I loved it.

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