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Knights of the Gridiron MAG
It was the first week of my junior year,and my nerves were shaking like Jello with the season-openingvarsity football game against Fenton High School. Even thoughI wasn't in the starting line-up, I still felt nervous. I wasa back-up lineman and the only chance I had to play was if oneof our starting linemen got injured.
We were coming offan embarrassing 0-9 season and were the laughing stock of theschool. When our opponents looked at their schedule and sawthe Prospect Knights, they counted it as an automatic win. We,however, had much higher expectations for this year with manyreturning seniors with varsity experience.
The fieldwas as green as the Chicago River on St. Patrick's Day and thegrass so soft I felt like sinking in. The temperature was85degrees and so humid I broke a sweat doing jumping-jacks.The night sky was a clear blue with no stars; the lights werebright on the field. The stands were a sea of blue with mostof the students plus parents, alumni and the band wearing theschool colors. This was nothing like sophomore football, wheremost of the fans are parents and games are played during theday.
During warm-ups, myteammates were yelling, screaming and barking like dogs to getpumped for the game. At the same time, the look on their facesshowed they were afraid of missing a block, pass, kick ortackle. It was impossible to stand still during the nationalanthem as the adrenaline rushed up and down our bodies. Thecrowd was standing, anxious to see what their team would belike. We were playing for us, our families, the students ofProspect High and the city of Mt. Prospect.
It was timefor our coach to make his pre-game speech. "Today is likepayday," he said. "Think back to all the hard workyou've put in since last November. If you win, you get paid.If you lose, you did all of that work for nothing. Go outthere, give it everything you've got and havefun."
That speech made meremember the hard work and dedication our team had put in.From November until summer, we had lifted weights four days aweek. We worked so hard the windows steamed up so you coulddraw pictures with your fingers. With summer, we had no break- we learned the strategic plays and complicated formationsduring three weeks of mini-camp. Then, we went through fiveweeks of weight-lifting and conditioning to get in shape forthe season. Then we had "doubles," two gruelingpractices each day for two weeks during the hottest part ofthe summer which required the toughness to practice in padsduring 90-degree heat, the desire to run one more sprint whenlegs felt like they would collapse and team unity as wepracticed each play until we got it right.
"Ican't make it through another practice," said oneexhausted player. "Hey, don't give up," respondedthe senior captain. "You have to find the toughnessinside. We need you."
It was amazing how all thehours of hard work came down to 48 minutes. The fans were ontheir feet and all the players were clapping, a footballtradition for the kick-off. The crowd let out a roar thatsounded like an airplane over the field when we returned theopening kick-off to the four-yard line. They all jumped upwhen our returner broke through the swarm ofdefenders.
We scored to take a 7-0 lead. Consistentplay increased our lead to 14-0 by the end of the firstquarter. My teammates were patting each other on the back andencouraging one another even if they made a bad play. Watchingthis made me want to be out on the field. But then we gotsloppy and let them back into the game by missing tackles,dropping passes and making mental errors. Fenton scored twotouchdowns but missed both extra-points, so we went intohalf-time with a 14-12 lead.
"Come on, guys, wakeup," shouted the starting quarterback. "We had themdown and then we let them back into thegame."
"Yeah. We're a much better team and weshowed it in the first quarter," added our running back."We need to step up the intensity and play like we did inthe beginning."
The second-half started out theway the first-half ended. Fenton scored two more touchdowns totake a 27-14 lead. Then it was the fourth quarter; it wouldtake a miracle to win. The sea of blue in the stands wasstarting to turn the color of brown bleachers as disappointedfans left. Those who stayed were as quiet as people at afuneral.
With less than five minutes, our coach sent inthe back-up running back. He ran as powerfully as a truck,breaking tackles and sprinting through holes. His hard-nosedrunning opened up the passing game, with the defenseconcentrating on stopping him, which led to a perfect 65-yardpass for a touchdown. Our receiver caught the ball with softhands at the 20-yard line and ran like lightning into the endzone. This swung the momentum and got the crowd back in thegame. The score was 27-21 with less than two minutesleft.
Our only hope was to recover an on-side kick,which we did. Watching from the sideline, my stomach was inknots. More inspired running and a key fourth-down conversionled to a ten-yard touchdown completion with less than 30seconds remaining. The score was tied at 27, and all we had todo for the win was make an easy extra-point. When I saw whathappened after that, I felt like dropping dead. Fenton,showing they hadn't given up, blocked our extra-point attempt.Regulation time was not enough to decide the outcome of thiswild game and it went into overtime.
In high-schoolovertime, each team has four plays to score from the ten-yardline. We won the overtime coin toss, receiving the ball last.Fenton didn't waste any time as they scored a touchdown ontheir first play. Then they made a huge mistake, the same onewe made just moments before - missing their extra point. Onthird down, we scored a touchdown to tie the game and earned asecond chance at an extra-point attempt to win. Our players onthe sideline were holding hands and praying. This time, ourkicker put the ball right through to seal the win.
Wecelebrated by jumping on each other. The fans who had leftearly would be sorry! Those who had stayed witnessed one ofthe greatest comebacks in Prospect football history, andcharged the field to congratulate us. The sight of thescoreboard reading 34-33 was glorious. We shook hands withFenton and then sang the school fight song.
Winning afootball game is like nothing else. I had a tingling feelingin my gut, a combination of happiness, laughter, love and afeeling of accomplishment. In the locker room, many of uscried.
We ended the year with a 3-6 record, much betterthan the previous year's 0-9, but still disappointing.Although I didn't get to play in that first game, I earned astarting position for the last two of the season. Of all thefootball games I have played, my first varsity footballexperience will be one I will always remember. It showed mehow hard a team has to work and how dedicated they have to befor one win, and the feeling of accomplishment that followswhen that win happens.