An Exercise In Masochism - 07.20.98

While the title may lead you on to other conclusions, I'm sorry to say that this essay is about my trials and tribulations during the two years that I went out for high-school football. I'll save the good S+M stuff for another time.

When I was a younger kid, and even through part of junior-high, I somehow managed to stay as big as the other kids. I was always tall for my age and when I was young, most everybody was scrawny anyway. About halfway through junior-high, though, things started changing in some of those around me, while I managed to stay as thin as a twig.

While in junior-high, I played all the sports that it was possible to play in our small town. I was out for football in the fall, basketball in the winter, and baseball during the spring. I had a good time doing these sports and generally managed to do fairly well individually speaking.

When my first year of high-school rolled around, I naturally thought that I would be going out for everything again. Before school had even started in late summer, I signed on to go out for football and joined everyone in two-a-day practices full of running and simple play learning. This was the part of football that I could handle. The running wasn't too bad, even though it was hot and I memorized most of the plays in the book after one night of looking through it.

The problems started when equipment was handed out and the coaches started introducing some contact. For some reason or another, the things I got never seem to fit correctly, so either my pants would be way too short or my helmet would rattle around uncomfortably on my head.

To make matters worse, it seems as if I would always be lined up against someone way larger than me, who would inevitably smash into me harder than I thought was humanly possible. I'm not sure whether most of the other people on the team had aggression problems, but it sure seemed like it after being pummeled day after day. My first year was filled with bruises after almost every practice, and very little playing time at all, even on the reserve team. Throw in a freshman initiation of sliding face-first through a large mud puddle in cold weather (that led to a nagging upper-respitory sickness), and the fall athletic season just wasn't very rewarding.

Looking back, I'm not even sure why I went out for a second year. I think that it was partially because I didn't want to just give up on it. At the time, I felt like I would be sort of a quitter if I didn't give it at least another chance.

The second year rolled around, and although my equipment fit a little better, the pummelings continued. Granted, there were a new batch of freshman (some smaller than I), but it wasn't very often that I was paired up against then. Maybe because I was tall, the coach didn't think it was fair to put me up against kids a lot shorter than me. Instead, I got lined up against older guys that were closer to my same height (but had about 60 pounds or so of a weight advantage).

That year, I even managed to squeak into a couple plays during varsity games (usually when we were behind by 30 or more points). I didn't make any outstanding plays, but I did manage to get run over several times while trying to make tackles (including a time when I somehow tripped up a guy who would later go on to play professionally). That was my highlight reel until the last reserve game of the year.

In that final game, we were behind by about 20 points, when my coach put me in at running back with about 25 seconds left to go in the game. I had only ran the position a couple times during practice (I usually played end), but I knew all the plays well enough to really play anything the coach threw me into.

We set up the play, the ball was snapped, the quarterback flipped the ball to me, and I ran around the left side of the offensive line. A couple good blocks were made, and I jumped over one guy who had fallen and was trying to trip me up. At this point, I poured everything I possibly could muster up into running. I managed to barely escape the grasp of three other players, and suddenly, I was off on my own. I still had 50 yards to the endzone and all I could think was that someone was going to flatten me from behind.

Instead, I heard the announcer say, "He's off to the races!" enthusiastically, and managed to keep up my pace ahead of the pack until I had scored. My team came up and congratulated me, even though we were still behind by 14 points, and it was there that I had my first notion to not continue the next year.

I had just made my only big play of the year, but it didn't even really mean anything to me. It was too little, too late, and I wasn't about to go through another year of non-justified ass-whoopings to try to experience the same thing again. It was fun while it lasted, even though the sport now bores me to tears.