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October 2, 2005. 7 a.m. the alarm clock rang. I popped out of bed, excited and nervous. The first thought on my mind, “Today is the day, my first official football game.” I’ve played before but not like this. Not in pads, not with a helmet on my head. My heart started racing, beating faster with every beat. I had only been up for five minutes.
I got up and looked out the window. The day was calm. The sun was shining. I thought to myself, “ a perfect day for football.” I took a shower and as the hot water ran down my body, I began to daydream about what I had to do in the day’s game. I made breakfast. The usual sausage, egg, and cheese, with a cup of Tropicana orange juice. After eating, I looked at the clock. In big red numbers, it read 8:10. It was time for me to go. I had to be at the field by nine. I grabbed my things and headed for the door yelling out “bye” so my parents knew I was leaving.
The whole time on the bus, I felt sick, nervous and I was sweating. I wasn’t even hot. The ride was long. The bus was packed. I got off the Q6 at Sutphin and Archer, and then transferred to the Q65. This was my route to school every day.
Finally, I reached the field. It looked beautiful, with the red, blue and white J on the 50-yard line. Too bad we weren’t playing a home game. It was an away game versus Campus Magnet. Most of the team was already there getting dressed so I joined. Putting on that white number 7 jersey for the first time felt great. I felt like football was my destiny, my calling. This is what I was made to do.
The bus came. The cheese bus, we called it, because it was the same color as cheddar cheese. We all got on with our shoulder pads and helmets in our hands. By the look on our faces, you could see who played before and who didn’t. To me, it felt like war. I was a fresh soldier going into battle. The ride was quiet. Coach James told us not to talk. He said we should think and visualize what we were going to do. I visualized a lot.
I had this feeling. At that time, I did not know what it was. Now thinking back on it, it was fear. I was scared. I didn’t know if I could take a real hit or even give one. We practiced, but it was nothing like the real game. In practice, we took a form and thought about what we were doing, plus we all knew each other. In the game, you don’t know your opponent or his strength and you’re definitely not thinking. Everything just happens before you know it was happening.
Finally making it to Campus Magnet High School, we all got off the bus and in two straight lines we walked into the field house. Passing the football field, I remember thinking to myself, “ there’s the battle field.” My coach called it the place where you separate the men from the boys. After everyone entered the field house, we padded up, waiting anxiously for coach to tell use to come out and warm up. That time came, and it came fast. I wasn’t sure if I was ready, but I wasn’t going to back down.
We jogged out to the field and did our game time warm ups. Some of us couldn’t wait to play, jumping around and yelling. Others stood still on the sideline waiting for direction. The referees came out. We knew what this meant, GAME TIME! I was one of the captains so I went out for the coin toss to see which team would get the ball first. Campus Magnet won the coin toss. They chose to receive.
“Starting D”, coach called. That was me. I was on the starting defense playing the safety position. We went out onto the field and got into a huddle. “Eagle stack, break on three, 1, 2, 3”. We all clapped and yelled break falling back into our positions on the field. The other team lined up.
“Here it is, my moment of truth”.
“ This is really happening!”
“Red 90 set…”
“Gotta make the tackle”
“ Set hike.” And the game was on. I tracked down the ball carrier and ran full speed. I lowered my shoulders and with all my strength and rammed myself into his side, knocking him down and at the same time knocking the fear out of me. I stood to my feet and realized what I had done. I’ve made my first tackle. I was living my dream. I was playing football. I felt renewed. That tackle changed me. It gave me strength. It gave me heart. It gave me confidence. It gave me the desire to go on.
We won that game - 48 to 6. That year we went undefeated. Beating every team on our schedule. I was rated the best wide receiver in our division.
P.S.: Do not be conquered by fear, but conquer fear with strength, heart, confidence and desire.