The bus was silent as we approached the field. I methodically and monotonously went over the plays and their corresponding routes in my head. Topeka, Kansas: ten-yard post, Cincinnati, Ohio: ten-yard out, Honolulu switch: the wide out and I switch positions and I run a flag. I was ready. Suddenly, the bus stopped. Without a word our coaches stood up and left the vehicle; we followed soon after. We boldly marched onto the field, ready to claim it for ourselves. At that moment, I vividly remembered all the work I put in over the summer: The running until I puked. The weight-lifting until I couldn’t move. The comradery I built with my team, my family, my brothers. I was a part of something bigger than myself.
Fast forward to twelve seconds left in the fourth quarter. We were down by five points, and a touchdown would win us the game. Our team’s star player had just been injured and a spot on the field was open, calling my name. This was my chance. My big moment. The “opportunity” coach always talked about. I made eye contact with him. I began to feel the potential adrenaline flow through my body as I anticipated him calling my name to score the game winning touchdown. Sweat cascading down my face, I began walking towards him. Just like that, all of my willpower evaporated as he called someone else to fill the open position on the field.
The entire bus ride back I was flustered. Negative, self-denigrating thoughts began racing throughout my head. Did I do something wrong? Did I not know the plays as well as I thought I did?
When we arrived back at my school the coach waited at the door of the locker-room, shaking each player's hand, congratulating them on a job well done defending their school’s honor. I shuffled over to the door only to be greeted by a line of players at least twice my size. When it was finally my turn to shake the coach’s hand, I was nervous. His hand enveloped mine as he towered over me looking me straight in the eye, simultaneously crushing my hand. “There’s always next week, huh?” He chuckled. I worked up a faux smile and proceeded to enter the locker-room. It reeked of sweaty, dirty uniforms. Cleats tinged a repulsive yellow, similar to the sight and smell of a canary bird’s corpse rotting in the sun, littered the floor. Disgusting.
The very next day, at the end practice, while the gargantuan star in the sky began to retreat into the night, we were told we had one more task: run from one end of the field to the other, seven times. The team, including myself, lined up in the end-zone. We all leaned forward, anticipating the blare of the whistle. After several suspenseful seconds, coach finally blew his whistle. We ran as hard as we could. I heard loud, obnoxious grunts in the beginning, but it soon began to fade. As I crossed the line into the other end-zone I turned around. I finished first. As I trotted back to the one yard line, mildly out of breath, I felt a damp hand pat my back. “Impressive running, you should do track with us this year.” I swung my languid body to the left to reveal a small pack of my teammates. I returned the compliment with a genuine smile.
With that simple act of kindness, my faith was not only restored in the team, but more importantly myself. They truly were my brothers, and they wanted the best for me. After football season ended, I swiftly signed up for indoor track. I’ve never turned back since.
Every challenge I face, I endure with hardihood and resoluteness, knowing a brother I have made along my trek of life is waiting, ready to catch me if I fall from my tall ambitions.