WB 1, Chee 0

The Class of 2014 made a statement in its last game of the season last week... and it was loud and proud.

I thought we'd be a wreck as we arrived with not as much time before the game to warm up or do our normal routine, and the boys dressed in our lockerroom before we left. We've also only played two away games all year. I also rode the bus with the team, which was interesting, but so fun afterwards.

We jumped out to an 8-0 lead, moving the ball swiftly down the field and scoring with the muddle pass to the side with a lone player. The defense forced our crosstown rival to punt right off the bat, setting up the first score and after they did it again, we drove the ball again downfield, looking for another six. Sadly, the ball carrier T fumbled and we turned over so close to our goal line.

Coach L yelled at the boy - later Coach L told me that though he raised his voice, his words were something like this: "You will get the ball again and you will take care of it. We need you to play today!" In my head, I was thinking as a player, all I heard was "f, f, f, f" because that's how you feel.

I was walking over to speak with the offensive line about a few blocks I had seen on the muddy drive - and overheard this exchange:

Kid 1: "Man, we are fumbling all the time.. hold onto the damn ball!"

Kid 2: "Leave him alone - we're going to go score again in a minute."

I was really happy to see them policing themselves on the sideline, and proud that they took on the leadership role, even when it was hard. Still, I saw that our wingback was hurting so I decided to talk to him. He wears a dark shield on his helmet, but I could see he was crying. Here's how my talk went...

Me: "T, look at me.... This is what we were talking about before the game... how we'll have some bad stuff happen, and we'll have to decide what we do about it. Right?"

He nodded weakly...

Me: "I know you're upset, but here's the great thing: the worst thing has already happened, and we're going to go back out there and you'll get another chance. Coach L is going to make you run the ball again, and you're going to do great. Take a minute for you here ... and then go see him, because we're going out on offense again in a minute."

I turned my attention to the offensive line, all of whom were pretty fired up. Halftime was a blur, and we came back out in the second half, giving up a quick six to our rivals, after scoring another touchdown ourselves.

You could see the beginnings of a doubt stirring among the players - the "here we go again" moment was there, and left - as we charged downfield to score again. My attention in the second half was largely focused on center AO, who was being cut play after play by the 0-technique with no real defense or solution other than to try to lay on the defender.... This proved to be futile after awhile, when I realized that the kid who was cutting him had no intention of getting up to try to make the play. We tried to get his feet to move faster, and then we focused on getting him to use his left arm to dig out the guy's facemask so he could block him.

I was concerned as the game wore on, though, because AO kept coming back to the sidelines a bit more hobbled than before... and at one point, when I heard he was going out on defense, I told Coach F that he couldn't do it and made him go sit on the bench. I'm sure he would've tried, but that was my breaking point. If nothing else, poor AO had done all he could do in the game and we might've still needed him. He did tell me after the game that he did finally get in to block (read: punch in two different spots) the guy on the last play they had on offense - which was good. I declared him the winner. We also won the game, 21-14.

Afterwards, Coach L talked and then allowed each of us assistants to say a few words. While he was talking, I felt a little tear start in my right eye, and tried to make like it hadn't happened. I'm sure I was busted because when a few of the boys who played in the secondary came into the office to say thanks for the season, they called me out. I felt a little better (and worse) after the varsity game when I saw Coach W with his tears. Football is an emotional game. The end.

I had so much fun coaching the boys this year, and I hope to see a bunch of them next week at the varsity practice - the varsity has one more game on Nov. 5. I'm excited to spend another week observing the staff and their techniques - trying to learn something every day isn't hard for me to do - and I felt that even this past weekend when I came in to see some film and planning.

My favorite moment after the game was when I saw T walking down the hill toward the bus.

I said, "Hey T, do you even remember what happened during the game?"

He said, "Nope." and smiled widely.

I said, "It's good to win, right?"

He looked at me and nodded.... an even bigger smile on his face. I like to think that in a storybook ending, that will be his turning point, but the truth is, these boys have come so far and learned so much - but it's all just the beginning. T will make more mistakes. AO will be cut by a strong defensive lineman again and have to push through the pain. NS will hopefully have another chance to start.

I'm just glad I was able to help them, and provide some guidance on this path. Whether they play football for a lot longer, or just a few more years, I truly believe this game will teach them how to be better people - and I hope they'll keep taking on leadership roles, more challenges, and come out at the end with success.

I learned a few weeks ago that DK, one of our receivers, keeps a journal and writes what he needs to work on and what he remembers from football games/practice every day. I think that is so mature and responsible, and practical. As a player, I have no clue what happened in games except what I screwed up. Still, watching film, I take notes and study mistakes to be sure to make the change.

His dad films our varsity games and has told me in the past that DK has commented that I'm his favorite coach. I'm humbled - the same feeling I felt after our win when AO's parents came up to me and thanked me for coaching him during the game.

I'm thankful for each and every funny story, each kid and the opportunity to help them work out the details of football. I can't wait to see where it leads them. When I sat down before that game to write them all notes about the year and words of encouragement to keep playing, I wondered what would happen to each of them. I know not all have the perfect situation or family setup, but I am optimistic that each of them will find his way in the world, as I have found mine.


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