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Orange Right 50 Hi-Lo MAG
“We need ten yards for a first,” I said. “The corner has been soft on the left side and the safety is playing pretty far out.”
We were down by three with three minutes to play in the fourth quarter, and it was fourth and ten on our own 30-yard line. We would have to get at least a first down to sustain the potentially game-winning drive, or at least get in field goal range to tie it up and go into overtime.
“Do you think you can get over the top of the backers?” Coach asked.
“Yes,” I said confidently; I had controlled my corner up to that point and saw no reason why I couldn't continue when the whole game was on the line. I ran to the huddle and relayed the play to the quarterback, who repeated it to the team. And so we lined up.
Though typical football plays last about five seconds, they always feel like a lifetime; this play was typical, lasting five seconds. Second one: The ball was snapped and I got a great start off the line. Second two: I faked left and cut back across the right hip of the cornerback. Second three: At 10 yards, I cut sharply across the field as the quarterback put the ball up high enough to scale the outstretched hands of the backer. Second four: Using all 32 inches of my vertical jump, I propelled myself into the air and made a one-handed catch that players only dream of pulling off. They couldn't guard me; I was going to win the game.
But that was just the fourth second.
Unfortunately, I wasn't the only one who had made a great play. The offside safety had read our play perfectly and was about to ruin the highlight of my year.
Second five: I was essentially a target floating in the air, just asking to be drilled. While I was in this state of vulnerability, the safety delivered a bone-crushing hit to the left side of my helmet. I landed nine yards from the line of scrimmage: one yard short of what we needed. I had failed my team, my school, and myself. But I didn't care – because I didn't know. I had been knocked out, sustaining a severe concussion.
It's ironic that the play was called Orange Right 50 Hi-Lo, because what took place in only five seconds would affect a million seconds to come, and plunge me into a roller coaster of highs and lows that I was unprepared to face.
The lows started the next day. I woke up with the worst headache of my life. It felt like someone had raised me from my slumber with a sledgehammer to the head. But that was the least of it. That day I received the news that I would be unable to play football for months. I felt numb, lost, and hopeless. Was there even a point in getting out of bed for the next three months?
But things only got lower. Concussions have a detrimental effect on most people – and I was no exception. Over the next six months I experienced something I never had before: difficulty in school. Education had always been the most important thing to me, even more than football; and until that point I had always had a genuine love and excitement for learning. However, during the weeks following my injury, I became frustrated and irritable in class. I couldn't focus. Before, I could learn new concepts with little effort; now it was painfully difficult just to read and understand a paragraph, let alone absorb its knowledge. I became “slow,” which I had always feared more than physical paralysis – now I was facing both. Education, the love of my life, had become a painful, frustrating, distasteful chore.
It seems unlikely that this concussion could result in any highs at all. And for the longest time I found none. Not to say they didn't exist; I just refused to look for them. I was determined to see only the bad, and everyone except me was to blame.
Fortunately I wised up. I began to see that my injury provided me with a chance to grow and learn. The first eye-opener for me came gradually, as I sat on the bench for the next three months. As a former starter, my new status as a benchwarmer presented very real challenges. See, there are rules in high school football that extend beyond the field. They include the following:
1. Your ego must be bigger than your talent – regardless of how big (or small) your talent may be.
2. If you are a starter or a borderline second-string player, you do not associate with third- and fourth-stringers. Violation of this rule will result in solitary confinement.
3. You must be too cool for school. Forty absences and a 2.3 GPA – now that's cool.
4. You must do “the walk.”
5. You must, in general, be a complete jerk.
While I was only a halfway covenant member of the religion of football, I did adhere to some commandments: particularly commandment number two. I was a starter, and I did not associate with third-stringers, but suddenly I found myself sitting on a bench surrounded by them. At first I did my best not to get too close, as though my talent might rub off on them accidently. My condescending attitude lasted only so long, however, because they were all I had. What business did I, a cripple, have making fun of people who could at least wear a helmet?
What began as distaste eventually morphed into respect as I got a first-hand view of how the other half lives. I gained a new respect for those who, though perhaps not as talented, had an accepting nature toward all. These were the players who made our team a team. Despite my former disregard for them, they had always been my biggest fans on the field, cheering for me at every play, and they were cheering for me now, even when I couldn't play. I realized that I had alienated myself from some of the best members of the team. This was when I began my apostasy from the church of football.
My second transgression from football doctrine dealt with education. Technically, I was always in violation because I loved learning, but then, I had never really needed to work hard, so I could still brag about how little I cared even though I got good grades. Either way, I began to re-discover my former love of education. With that sin, my excommunication was imminent.
Still suffering from nausea and headaches every time I opened a book, I had a very difficult path ahead of me. But my injury provided me with an important lesson: how to work hard. Hour after hour, I scratched and clawed and bled and wept and wailed and gnashed my teeth in an attempt to obtain meaning from the complex sentences I was reading. I realized that I needed to approach brain recovery in the same way as muscle recovery: hard work, revitalization, and rest (my personal favorite). After weeks, I began to see an improvement. One day, I read without getting a headache; two weeks later, I began to grasp new concepts again; and after six months, I was nearly healed. Though I had lost six months of mental proficiency, I had gained something greater: a work ethic that could be applied to school, sports, self-improvement, and every part of my life.
A day after my injury, I thought my perfect life was over. Now, two years later, I can look back and realize that it made me a better person. By losing three months of football, I gained respect for my teammates. By sitting the bench, I learned what it really means to be part of a team. By bruising my brain, I finally learned how to learn. Everything bad taught me something good, and everything painful led to future joy.
The days got shorter, the leaves turned brown, and the familiar sound of colliding bodies filled the air – it was football season again.
We were one play away from a championship against one of the best 7-on-7 teams we'd played so far. Coach called for Orange Right 50 Hi-Lo.
Why am I so nervous? I asked myself as I lined up. Oh yeah, last time I ran this play I got knocked out. Too late to turn back now.
The ball was snapped, and I took off from the line. As I ran, I flashed back to that fateful play, reliving how I ran the route, the way the defense moved like sharks looking for blood – my blood. I snapped back to reality in time to see the real-time quarterback throw the ball.
Muscle memory took over as I caught and secured the ball, then waited … and waited, bracing for the impact.
But it didn't come. Something else did: the sound of celebration. I was afraid to open my eyes for fear I would wake up in heaven.
I looked down; I was in the multicolored portion of the field. I looked at the referee; both his hands were raised. I looked to the sideline at my team; they were celebrating. We had run the very same play, but this time, it was a touchdown.