On September 14, 2015, I received a phone call at school. “Ty, Coach McGuire here from Washington State. We watched your tape and would like to give you a full-ride scholarship.” The call ended soon after, as the only words I could find in my disoriented mind were, “Thank you, Coach.”
I didn’t sit back down at the lunch table, and dozens of eyes followed me as I darted out the doors of my high school. A bad case of ADD combined with the recent news left me no chance of sitting through Mrs. Lucero’s lecture on Shakespeare. It began to set in. The 10-plus years of dedicating my life to football had finally paid off. And this was only the beginning.
I continued through my junior season with nearly each game bringing me a new scholarship offer. Coaches from across the country presented me with the opportunity to attend their universities for free. I was on a high, and I never wanted to come down. My performance was everything. How I performed on Friday nights usually determined whether I’d receive a phone call the following week. The coaching I received during the week began to morph into rambles. I knew what I needed to do. How could a coach who never played past high school know more than I did, right? I didn’t find out how wrong I was until we drove seven hours to El Paso, Texas, for the second round of the Texas High School Football
Spit flung across the few people dumb enough to sit front row during one of our head coach’s conventional pregame speeches. I wasn’t listening (as usual); I had already reached what I like to call the “realm.” This is essentially a point beyond return: the state of disregarding anything and everything until the final seconds on the scoreboard tick away. This frame of mind had grown stronger as the season went on. My disdain for my coaches developed into disdain for my whole team. But it didn’t matter. I had a game to win.
As I walked onto the field that night, butterflies were playing their own football game in my stomach. I placed my heels on the 10-yard line and began surveying my competition. I always looked for the weak link in the chain of players. I would imagine how I wanted the play to go before it happened, and it always ended with me in the end zone. The kicker began his approach and booted the ball my way. It flew end over end until it hit my hands. The game was underway.
Our opponents were vicious. Every tackle was delivered with ruthless force, and neither team could move the ball down field. Ignoring any assignments, I rushed downhill every play to debilitate their aggressive run game. The war continued, each play discarding seconds off the clock.
The fourth quarter was coming to an end, and we led 17-14. They had the ball on their own 30-yard line. The game was practically over. Unless a miracle occurred, our opponent’s deficit would stand, and we would advance to the third round. The ball snapped, and I followed the quarterback’s eyes as he stared down a receiver running a shallow route. I left my zone and pounced on the receiver hoping to intercept the final pass of the game. But the quarterback suddenly eyed another receiver – the receiver that had entered my assigned zone with nobody there to cover him. I watched as the ball spiraled through the air and hit its intended target. The clock had already reached zero as he trotted effortlessly into the end zone. Final score: 17-20.
I was punted from the “realm” by the reality of my failure – for myself and my whole team. I sat on the field and watched as all the seniors cried in their parents’ arms, knowing that this was the last time they’d get to play the game they had been playing all their lives.
The feeling of guilt was inconceivable. How did I let greed get in the way of my team? Our season-ending loss was the result of months of selfishness. If I had only fulfilled my role, my brothers would have had another opportunity to play the game they love in the Texas High School Playoffs.
Conceit can often obscure one’s role. Recognizing the difference between conceit and pride in your own accomplishments is crucial in understanding your role on a team and in society. Being proud that I had received a scholarship wasn’t conceited; however, allowing that pride to affect my role on the team was. We all have a natural instinct to strive for success. But it was conceit that made me leave my assigned zone in hopes of making a spectacular, game-ending interception. I cost my team the game by placing my personal interests above the team’s.
Just like in sports, our society is a team whose progress depends on its players, with each player having an individual role. If self-interest obscures this role, the team suffers. Life is constantly throwing passes our way. Understanding what is best for the team rather than just yourself will bring a satisfaction that truly is winning.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.