September 12, 2011It was a Monday morning. I had started my period the night before and was cramping really badly as I drove into the senior parking lot. I parked in my usual parking spot, between Hollie Meeks and Savannah Josey, my two best friends.
“Why are you always late?” Hollie said as I got out of my faded black 2003 Toyota Camry.
“Because I don’t wake up until 6:15, I get dressed in 30 minutes, and eat breakfast at about 7. Then, I leave the house at 7:15, drop off Gunner and Bailey at their schools and then I come here. I’m not even late yet.” Then I pointed to both Hollie and Savannah as she came around the back end of my car to prop up against it. “You two just happen to get here earlier than I do.”
“Well, let’s get going before we are all late.” Savannah said.
We walk in behind a mass of nerds as the debate team captain is telling everyone around him that there was a serious debate meeting regarding the coaching position and that they all had to do a poll on which teacher would fill in for Mr. Hechum because of his fractured fibula.
“Who cares about Mr. Hechum?” Savannah said from behind me. “He has always freaked me out.”
“I know, right. He is just a weird guy.” Hollie said as she empties all the metal stuff out of her pocketbook as we get ready to go through the metal detector.
“Yall stop being so mean.” I tell them as I take my belt off and put it into an empty Rubbermaid container. “God, I can’t wait ‘til May when we graduate then we will never have to see another metal detector again.”
“Hallelujah!” Hollie said.
Once we finally get through the metal detector we head for our table in the cafeteria while we wait for the first period bell to ring. I look around and see that the nerds are all huddled around one table talking, I assumed, about the coaching situation for debate team.
Behind them a group of basketball players, with their lettermen’s on, were eating cereal and talking about the new freshmen that had tried out and were really good.
On the other side of our table, the football players were all together but still separated among eight tables. Our football team was unlike any other “traditional” football team. They all have jobs at local restaurants, not many of their fathers played football around here, and (the big one) none of them dated cheerleaders. A good majority of them were straight-A students; one of Coach Starks’ rules: no one could have a C average on a progress report or report card. They were all very nice guys- I had at least 2 in each of my classes. They acted like brothers, they were always together, doing something or another.
The bell rings and I make my way to first period. Hollie and I have first hour and lunch together. We make a quick run to our locker before heading to Mrs. Foster’s classroom.
Brent Starks and Trevor Young were the only two football players in that class and Hollie has had a major crush on Trevor since I came to the school in eighth grade. He wasn’t a very attractive guy. He had curly black hair and pretty dark skin. Probably because he is one sixteenth Chippewa. She had never taken a second glance at any other guy because she was certain Trevor was going to ask her out one day.
We were learning about logarithms and things like that in class. No one really understood it but we just let Mrs. Foster teach herself and we talked amongst ourselves. Hollie turned to face me - I sat diagonally backwards from her – and we started talking about the football team and our predictions on how they were going to do this year. Brent sits two seats in front of me and Trevor sits on the other side of me- Mrs. Foster is very strict about her seating chart- and sometimes I think Hollie turns around to talk to me just so she can see Trevor.
“What do you think about the football team this year?” This, not surprisingly, caught the attention of both Brent and Trevor and they both turned to face me.
“I don’t know,” I started. “I mean, every year Harris Creek is supposed to be the ‘team to beat’ in the preseason, but, come November, they would have only won one game. I think, because of Coach Starks, they are always over-rated and don’t live up to expectations.” I don’t even think she was listening to me, because she was staring right past me at Trevor who was nodding his head behind me.
“Yeah,” he said, “I totally agree. People put us on too high of a pedestal and after we lose a game, we fall right off and no one even cares about us anymore. I would rather be an underdog and win games people thought we would lose than lose games people expected us to win just because Gary Starks is our coach. That man is getting old and his prime has past.”
“Yeah it has,” Brent admitted. “He’s my uncle and everything, but he is not as good as he once was, that’s for sure.”
“So, guys,” Hollie said, “what do you think of the team this year.”
“Well, after Friday’s loss to Mason Bluff, with it being a close game, I think the only thing we need now is a quarterback that can actually throw the ball. Someone like you, Stephanie.”
“Me?” I asked.
“Yeah, you.” Brent said. “That powder-puff game last year was amazing. You can throw the football better than I can.”
Trevor laughed. “Yeah she can.”
“Trevor Young,” Mrs. Foster said. “Turn around and stop talking.”
At lunch, my cramps were at an all-time high. I was not in the mood for games nor was I in the mood for what would happen next.
Mrs. Foster had called me into her room before lunch was over so that I could see my grades in her class. I had made a 96 on a recent test and an 83 on the quiz we had taken the Friday before. My average was 94. I walked out of the room and headed back to the cafeteria when the bell rang. My pocketbook and book bag were in the cafeteria so I had to go get them before I went to my next class. The halls were crowded and I didn’t get to my class on time. I was about 5 seconds late. Mr. Verner, the school discipline officer, was standing right outside of Mrs. Hartley’s classroom, my sixth hour teacher. I went to walk in the classroom-she always left her door open- and as I went to pass Mr. Verner he stopped me and said, “Do you have a tardy pass?”
“No, sir.” I said.
“Well would you like me to write you one?”
“Mr. Verner, I am not even ten seconds late.”
“Ten seconds or ten minutes, you are still late.”
“Just let me go to class, please.”
“Right after you take this from me.” He stuck his hand out and offered me the tiny post-it note that had my name, Mrs. Hartley’s name, and the time on it.
“I don’t want to take it.” As I said this I had one hand in my pocketbook digging for something and didn’t even realize it as I took out a tampon and threw it at Mr. Verner’s face. “You need to take one of these because I swear you are PMSing.”
He just stood there with a shocked look on his face. He finally took a deep breath and said, “Ms. Simpson, I am going to need you to come with me.” He stuck his head inside Mrs. Hartley’s door and said, “I have Stephanie.”
I had only been to the discipline office two times, and one time was because I was used as a witness for a fight and had to answer questions. This time, though, it was worse than the other two times. There was a picture of a black guy sitting with his back propped up against a building that said in big capitalized letters, “You make your own choices”. On the floor beside Mr. Verner’s desk was a box labeled “Lost and Found” that was full of jackets and gym shorts. Across from the picture on the other side of the room was a coat rack with some sets of keys dangling from it.
“Sit down.” Mr. Verner instructed me.
I sat down in the beat up red leather chair across his desk. I studied the top of his desk, which had two bobble-heads – one of Derek Jeter and one of Kobe Bryant, one of those desktop calendars with specific dates highlighted in red, and this years’ football schedule with an L and the numbers 17-13 beside the Harris Creek-Mason Bluff game written in red pen.
“I am not as mad as you think I would be. I understand you females have problems certain times of the month and I am taking that into consideration as I think of a punishment for you.” He said.
“Okay.” I sat there, waiting.
“Here is what I’m going to have you do-since you are not a bad student and you make good grades, you only have one day of in school suspension. But I also need you to do one more thing for me.”
“What’s that?” I asked, curious to see what he had in store for the rest of my punishment.
“Coach Starks has asked me to find him a quarterback. The team really needs one and we would win more games if we just had a passing quarterback. He told me to talk to you because he saw how good you were at last year’s powder puff game and asked me to talk to you. You know, see if you would consider at least trying it out for a few days?”
“But I’m a girl. Does he really want me to play on his football team?”
“Coach Starks is desperate. He doesn’t want to have another losing season. He is getting too old for this job and there is not a lot of quarterback talent around here. He needs someone like you on his team, to be a leader and a winner.”
“I don’t know if I can do all that, but I’ll give it a try. But only one day of ISS, right?”
“You can just go sit in there for the rest of today if you just try out the quarterback thing, okay?”
“Okay. When do I start?”
“After school today if it is at all possible for you.”
The day before I had worried about what I was going to do today after school, because Hollie has to baby-sit and Savannah’s brother is coming home this afternoon and she had to be home for that. “Yeah, today is fine.”
And I walked out of his office and headed to the ISS room.
That afternoon I went into the girl’s locker room and changed into the clothes I had used for weight training that day. It was the only time I had ever changed in the locker room entirely by myself. It felt kind of eerie. Once I had gotten on my t-shirt and basketball shorts (no short shorts were allowed in weight training), I went out to the practice field.
I could hear Coach Martin White, the offensive coordinator and my weight training coach, yelling already.
“You’re not supposed to throw it to the linemen, you throw it to the receiver. Mike is your receiver. Throw it to him. Or Chad, he can catch it too. Just don’t throw it to the big guys in front of you.”
I listened to him yell at Vince Garrett, the current quarterback, and, apparently, soon to be my backup, as I walked up to Coach Starks. I knew him pretty well from church but I almost never saw him at school unless he happened to walk into the weight training room (the field house) during third hour. Then, I’d only catch a glimpse of him. He never really talked that much, he usually said what he needed to and left it at that - nothing more, nothing less.
Now, he wasn’t saying anything at all, just watching. So, I decided to speak first.
“I heard you wanted me to come try out.”
He didn’t break his gaze as he said, “I don’t want you to try out-I know how good you are or how good you are capable of being- I want you to play.”
“I’ll try my best.”
“That’s all I want, is for you to try your best. Could you do that for me?”
Something in his voice told me that I was in good hands with him. He wasn’t going to push me to be great, he just wanted me to be good.
“Good.” He reached for something behind him and handed it to me. “Here’s the helmet and here’s the shoulder-pads. Go put them on and see how they fit and if they work I’m going to let you start stretching and warming up.”
“Okay.” I walked to the field house, changed into the helmet and shoulder pads, and walked to the mirror. I definitely didn’t look cute but they both fit and I walked back out to the field.
“Well look at you,” Coach Starks said. “ You know, I think that is the same set of shoulder pads your brother wore.”
“They might be but they are killing my….um…..chest.” My boobs weren’t huge but they weren’t tiny either. They were just big enough that the shoulder pads were squishing them into my ribcage.
“Oh, yeah.” He said. “You can get some shoulder pads for you online so that they don’t hurt you as bad. I can give you some time tomorrow to go in my office and buy some so they will be here by game time Friday. I think that would be best.”
“Yeah that would be good. I can’t wear these for too long.”
“Well, you have to wear them for now. Get out there and let me see what you know.”
As I trotted onto the field Trevor saw me and started clapping and saying, “Yeah! Here she comes.”
He wasn’t the only guy that commented on the fact that I was out here ready to practice with them and become their teammate. Most of the comments were good. Honestly, the only bad comment I heard came from Vince as I walked up to Coach White and told him I was ready to help.
Coach White smiled at me then looked at Vince and said, “Go take a break Garrett. It’s time to see what the estrogen can do.” “The Estrogen” would soon become Coach White’s nickname for me.
Since it was my first practice and I didn’t know too much football lingo and none of the plays, Coach White just told me what route the receivers were running and who my primary and secondary targets were.
We were in a three-wide set, Chad Peterson was the only receiver on my left and he was my primary receiver. He was going to run a slant route to the 30 and I was supposed to look to throw to him, or where he was going to end up, once he crossed the 25. To my right, Gerchavion Lewis was in the slot and Jesse Miller was to the far hash mark. Gerchavion was primarily used to get defenders covering him and getting them away from Jesse, who was my secondary receiver. Gerchavion was going to run a quick out and Jesse was going to run a deep in.
I walked up to the line of scrimmage and suddenly realized that I would have to put my hands under some guys butt. I hesitated as I bent down and wondered who’s huge behind I was having to get so close to. Blake Carter turned around from under me and smiled. I had no idea his butt was this big. I guess I never paid that much attention. I had two classes with him this year and three with him the year before, when he first came to Harris Creek. He wasn’t your typical football player when he first got here. He played tuba in the band at his old high school. He started playing football halfway through the season last year and loved it, to his parents despair. He claims he had never had a girlfriend before he and Shelly Green started dating this summer, but he has a lot of female Facebook friends who were “in a relationship” with him last year. He was a good football player and he loved playing center. He says that knocking other big guys down is too much fun to pass on.
Now, as I squat down behind him, I shout the play call.
“Down,” Blake was yelling something and pointing at Will Grimes, the middle linebacker, as he showed blitz.
“ Set,” Now Terrence Thomas, the free safety, was lining up, man-to-man, with Gerchavion.
“Hut,” The count was on two and nobody moved.
“Hike.” Blake stuck the ball in my hand with a force I had never felt before. It kind of jerked me back as I continued into the 5-step drop Coach White told me was so important. Will had dropped back into zone coverage so I knew that I had to throw the ball over him if I wanted to get it to Chad. I took a glance over to Gerchavion and Jesse. They were both covered too well for me to stick the ball through those defenders. So I turned my concentration back to Chad. He had just passed the 20 yard line and I watched as Will Grimes broke his zone coverage to blitz. He was about seven yards from me when Ty Morrison comes out of nowhere and wipes him out. I look back up to Chad, he is at the 25 now. I throw the football- not the best of spirals- and think, “Well, this is it. My first pass as a football player.”
I watch the ball as it descended down into Chad Peterson’s arms and as he turns and gains a couple more yards after the catch.
From behind me, I hear Brent, the full back, clapping. He is joined by the rest of the team who all clapped and started gathering around me. Coach Starks was pushing his way through two big defensive linemen, Ian Lattimore and Nathan Davis.
“You,” he said to me, “are amazing. I thought you were good, but you are great. Can you play for me? For this team? Can you be the leader I need you to be?”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Fellas,” he said to all the boys around him, “we have ourselves a quarterback.”
I don’t know what made them happier, that I could play quarterback or that they now had someone to rely on, but they were happy either way and I wasn’t going to ask.
We ran a few more plays and then ran around the track a little bit. Coach Starks gave me a schedule and a playbook and told me to memorize it- front to back. When I got home, I placed the playbook and the schedule on top of my bedside table and put my helmet and shoulder pads in the closet.
I ran back downstairs and sat next to my daddy on the couch.
“Guess what!” I said enthusiastically.
“What?” He was watching some show on animal planet about cheetahs and jaguars. He didn’t seem as enthused as I was.
“I got in trouble at school today and guess what my punishment is?”
His eyes were locked on the television. “What?”
“I have to play football!”
This got his attention. “Wait, what?”
“Coach Starks wants me to be his new quarterback and leader.”
“Why you though?”
“Because he saw the powder puff game I won last year and wanted me to play for him. Vince, their current quarterback, sucks and he isn’t a good leader. He’s only sophomore.” We were making our way into the kitchen now. We could both smell the chicken Alfredo my mama had cooked from the living room.
“So you are going to play quarterback?”
“Not only am I going to play, but I’m going to start.”
Daddy turned to mama and said sarcastically, “You hear that, Jenny, we have a Harris Creek Crusader quarterback on our hands!”
“Well, isn’t that nice.”
Daddy turned to me and said, “Are you sure you want to do this? It takes a lot of time and practice to be a quarterback. And you will get hit and likely get hurt in every game.”
“Yes, daddy, I want to play football. I can play football. And now I’m being asked to play football. I just want to help Coach Starks out. He came to me and asked me; well, he didn’t but he got someone else to ask me.”
“Jenny, what do you think of this decision?”
My mother had always been open to suggestions. “Whatever Stephanie wants to do is fine with me, as long as she knows the consequences.”
“Okay, we’ll see.” My daddy said. “If you get through this Friday night alive, we will consider you playing for the rest of the season.”
“Thank you!” I exclaimed.
Once supper was done, the dishes were in the dishwasher, and Boomer, our boxer bulldog, had been fed, I went up to my room and sat on my bed thinking of how my life has changed in just one day.
While taking a shower, I thought of how bad I could get hurt and how many hospital visits I would have to make in the next few months. I thought of who we have to play and who we have to beat in order to get to the playoffs. I thought of how my Friday nights will change from sitting on the couch watching movies to suiting up in my blue and orange Harris Creek Crusader football uniform and playing for the legendary Coach Starks. I thought of how my family would be sitting in the stands cheering me on through the good plays and bad plays I make in games. I thought of how my friendship with the football players would change either for the good or for the bad. I thought of how I would have to get a lot of pickles and bananas and an ice tub.
When I got out of the shower, I put on my pajamas and got in bed and memorized the schedule. The first game, the game last Friday, was against Mason Bluff. The game this Friday, September 16, my first game, is against Charter County, last year’s division champions. They lost their starting quarterback, strong side linebacker, and left tackle to colleges around the southeast and their best wide receiver transferred to a school in Florida so I think this will be a good game.
I walk over to my computer and go to their school website. I find their athletics page and look for their football schedule. Last week, they played Druard, and lost 24-14 at home. With the game this Friday at our field, I feel that we have a really good chance of winning.
I climb back in the bed and go to sleep, now, as a member of the Harris Creek High School Crusaders football team.