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Nothing Is Promised
School was fairly average today. Nothing out of the ordinary happened during classes. However, like every Friday, I was not thinking about what we were learning about in Algebra or Chemistry, but rather, I was focused on the only thing that was important...football. It was gameday and I had been waiting for this day since my freshman year when I first strapped on the pads and buckled my chin strap.
I remember looking at the seniors and thinking they were the biggest and baddest kids in the school. They were the kings of the schoolyard. As the seasons changed, and I grew older, they seemed smaller and smaller, and I began to realize that I was becoming one of those guys. Sophomore year didn't go so well in terms of my football “career”. I can say however that I was indeed a starter on the junior varsity team; a waterboy but none the less, I was a starter. That year I grew tired of being invaluable to the team, even when I spent countless hours of my life dedicated to being apart of it. I came to the realization that if I spend so much time going to practices, working out, going to preseason clinics, and all the other team events, I should put everything I had into those things so I could be a starter and a valuable component on the squad.
Going into junior year my attitude changed drastically. I invested myself into the team and the experience so that looking back on it, I would have no regrets and actually see some accomplishments that I had. After spending the whole summer on the football grind, I secured a spot on JV as the starting quarterback. This was definitely a step up from being the waterboy. I spent the whole season looking up to the varsity starter and learning from his successes, but more importantly from his mistakes. This year was a building year for my skills in the sport so hopefully I would be walking out onto the field on Friday nights with the spot as the QB and a football in my hands.
Time flew by and before I knew it, the season was over and it was almost summer, which for most meant a time to relax with friends and family, going to the beach and just wasting time doing absolutely nothing. This was not the case for me. Summer meant the football season was approaching and it was time to put in the work. I couldn’t even explain how much time and sweat I put into the pre season, with the hopes of being prepared for a successful senior year. In the entirety of my relatively short life of only 17 years, I had never felt better or been in better physical condition. Coach handed out the pads and helmets when the first real practices started and it was time to start hitting. Even practice was a blast for me and my friends on the team. The week before the season opener, I was throwing the ball on point to say the least. My mechanics were absolutely perfect and I had done everything in my power to be as prepared and ready as I could be, so that when I stepped out onto the field friday night at 7:00, I would be ready to win a football game.
The last week of practice leading up to the first game flew by and before I knew it, I was jumping out of bed after hitting the snooze button as hard as my offensive linemen hits their opponent. Like always, I started off by staying hydrated and ate a healthy breakfast of eggs and toast with a banana, which became a routine every morning. I flew into the school parking lot and was basically running to my first class so I wouldn't be late. My teammates and I of course were wearing our jerseys in the hallways and people would come up to us and wish us luck or cheer us on, like we were some sort of high school celebrities. The last bell of the school day meant that from that time until kickoff, I had to stay focused and get ready for the game. I got some food in my stomach and went into the locker room to listen to my music and “get in the zone” as they say. The team slowly filled the locker room and began to suit up in their gear. It was the first time we would wear the new jerseys that were just unveiled that week. There was no better feeling than representing the school by wearing the colors onto the field.
I tightened the straps on my shoulder pads so they were just right and buckled the chin strap on my helmet. There was always a period of time before the game where we would just sit around and get mentally prepared for the battle ahead. Then, Coach walked through the locker room door and all noise went away; the music stopped, the chatter ceased, and everyone stood still in a circle with the coach in the middle. He delivered one of his famous pre game speeches, and with every word, my heart beat faster and I could feel the adrenaline rush through my veins. He spoke about family, community, and watching the back of every single person on the team, or in our football “family”, because we really were that close to one another. After the speech, everyone lined up in rows of four behind me and my teammate and we lead them to the entrance to the field as the newly selected team captains.
As we got closer and closer to the field, the sounds of the fan section grew louder into a thunderous roar. It was the biggest fan turnout I had ever witnessed, playing any sport in high school. There was a special feeling that engulfed my being as I watched everyone jump up when they saw us coming onto the field. The band was playing, music was booming, but miraculously the fans were even louder. The cheerleaders were making a path for us to run onto the field and after being announced, we sprinted onto the freshly cut grass with newly painted lines.
Once at our sideline, the referees called for the captains for the coin toss, and that is when I walked out to the fifty yard line with my co-captain. Our opponent called tails and it was tails. They wanted to kick, which meant I was getting the ball to start out the game. After shaking hands with the other team’s captains, I turned and ran to the sideline and our entire team jumped up and huddled together. I quieted them down and began to speak to them as I felt I should have. I told them to give it their all, play like there was no “next game”, do it for each and everyone of the people on the team, and when the game was over, have no regrets or an ounce of energy left over. We broke it down and said, “Family on three. One. Two. Three. Family!”
Everyone was hyped up, and I could feel the energy in the air. The weather was absolutely perfect, not a cloud in the sky and just a slight breeze that cooled me off as it blew down my back. We took off our helmets and stood for the playing of the national anthem. Listening to the Stars Spangled Banner put me in the right mood to play a game. I knew it was a true honor to be able to play on Friday nights and was going to appreciate it. With the closing lines of the song, we all raised our helmets in one hand and saluted the stars and stripes blowing on the flag pole.
With that, the kick returners ran onto the field and got into position. As soon as the kicker made contact with the ball and sent it flying in the air, I felt hypnotized by the perfection of the moment. Everything became still and silent as I looked all around me. It was such a surreal experience. The daze I was in ended, when I heard my coach yell my name. I ran over and he told me the first play call. It was a play that I can brag in saying that I mastered it. We ran over it more than one hundred times before the game. My offense ran out onto the field with more confidence than ever.
As I walked to the huddle, I could smell the earthy aroma of the grass and the leaves blowing around nearby. It was a perfect fall day for for a high school football game. Everything was just right. I read the play name to the boys and before we broke the huddle, I told them to just have fun and get the win. Everyone lined up and I walked up to be in position. Standing behind the offensive line, I scanned the defense before I snapped the ball and made sure I knew where there might be a weak link. I found one, and with that, I yelled, “Green 19, set go.” With that, the ball came shooting back towards me. When it hit my hands, I adjusted it so I had the perfect grip. Simultaneously, I looked down field to look for an open receiver. The wide receiver broke away from his defender and I recognized this but at the same exact time, I saw a monster of a man running full speed at me. He must have blitzed and gotten through the line. Nonetheless, I took a step, c***ed my arm back, and let the ball sail out of my hand towards the receiver. I saw the ball in the air for maybe a quarter of a second before returning my eyes to the defender coming at me. He was so close that I could see the pupils in his eyes and the drops of sweat rolling down his cheek.
I felt absolutely defenseless and it was too late to move. I knew this would hurt, so I just closed my eyes and bit my mouthguard hard. I hit the ground hard and upon meeting the grass, a loud crack sent a ringing through my ears. Looking back, I can say truthfully that I had never and have never felt a more excruciating pain in my life. Out of anger, I screamed and cursed, partially because I knew for a fact that I had just broke my leg and I was done but also because it hurt so bad. I layed there on the grass and all the noise went away. The fans became silent and I knew everyone was just watching. A burning sensation rushed up my legs and through my body. I tried to move it, which was definitely not the smartest move. The lower part of my leg just dangled out of place and I could feel the bone loose within the skin of my leg. After about ten minutes, not that I was even remotely worried about time, an ambulance rolled over the lines in the grass and pulled right up to where I lay, broken. The EMT got out and wheeled the stretcher over. With the help of my coach and one of my teammates, he hoisted me up onto the stretcher and they strapped me in. I got one more glance of the field and they put me up into the ambulance and closed the doors. The EMT drove around the field in a big circle and for a few minutes, all the pain went away. It was replaced with a sense of love and care that was shown towards me when the entire stadium lit up in screaming and chanting my name. I could see through the small windows in the back of the ambulance that everyone was standing and going crazy.
As I was driven away from the field, I knew that I would never step foot on that field again to play a game and the thought brought tears to my eyes. How could this be possible? Why me? Seriously, the first play of the season? These were all questions I had and knew would never be answered. I had put in six long and hard years of my life towards football and specifically to get where I was, and I lost it all in just over three seconds. I was in more pain just contemplating the situation and wondering why that would happen than from my actual broken leg. I felt like it was the worst thing that had ever happened to me. It was all over.
One Week Later
It had been seven days since I broke my leg and felt like my life was over. It was Friday night, but it just didn’t feel the same. I wore my jersey to school that day and kept it on all day. I still did the same routine that I always did. After the coach's speech, I lead my team up to the field like I always did. The strange thing was, this week, the fans screamed even louder. When I was finally close enough I realized they were saying my name. This made me feel so warm inside because I knew that so many people cared about me. When we got to the gate, I turned around and told my team, “Boys, you all don't understand how much I wish I was playing with you tonight. One thing I have taken from this is that you got to cherish what you have. Take nothing for granted man. I thought I had the world and in an instant it was taken away. Nothing is promised to you in life. Nobody owes you anything, If you want something then go get it, but you have to be willing to risk it all in the process. Go out there and play for each other. Play for all the people who wish they could be out there with you. Tonight, be all in. Now, let's go kick some a$* because we have a game to win. Let's go!”
I turned back around and lead them across the field, only this time I was in a wheelchair.