Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Things Made Whole

The field was littered with brown clumps of dirt left from a recent aeration. The sprinklers had been on last night, and it was 6:00 AM on a Fall Saturday in Rexburg, Idaho. The temperature was barely above freezing.

And I wanted to give up. I'd forgotten how hard football could be. Sitting there in tryouts for the BYU-Idaho football, league carrying another lineman on my back, doing whatever torture the coaches dreamed up I thought I was a foolish man chasing windmills. I'd walked away from a unglamorous sub .250 football carrier at the end of high school. Personally happy with my effort, but frustrated that I never had the experience of truly being part of a team. (if you haven't I suggest you read about it below before continuing.) But in the Summer of 2000 Gordon B. Hinckley gave me another chance. He announced that Ricks College would become BYU-Idaho, and they were getting rid of intercollegiate sports and instituting intra-collegiate sports. In other words the teams could compete within the university. I was on my LDS mission at the time, but it was then that I knew, I would play football again.

I had given up on football when I walked off the field after my 1 and 8 senior season in high school. A lineman doesn't really have many opportunities to perform his craft. Blocking without pads, and a backfield to protect isn't even close to the same. If you don't have an offer to play collegiality you don't have any future. But President Hinckley's announcement had given me hope.

At 6:00 am its hard to feel hope. When you're soaked to the core, doing the bidding of some sadist coach, performing the monkey roll in the mud, its easy to just walk away. Each day of tryouts the group got smaller and the vomiting became more frequent.

The BYFL has a no cut policy. Tryouts are there to weed out the weak and uncommitted. If you make it through tryouts you'll be on a team, but that's a big if.

My first year in the league I was placed on the Titans. Our quarterback was a former jr. college QB that was finishing up his schooling in Rexburg. That year was great. A unofficial team goal was to never punt, and we didn't have to. ON the rare occasion we didn't convert on 4th down, our defense could stop them. I remember one game giving the other team the ball on our 20. Our defense held them to 4 and out.

We had a perfect season winning the league championship.

One of things that makes the BYFL different is the focus on becoming better people. All our practices began with a prayer and devotional, and the league had weekly devotionals. It was so different from high school and I loved it.

My second and final year in the league I was drafted onto the Knights. With black and silver uniforms we were the most menacing team in the league. I almost didn't come back for a second year. I'm glad I did. It gave me some of my best memories.

-Our quarterback was a natural leader on the team. When he told you a way to improve, or when he told you you needed to get your job done better, you wanted to do it, and you would.

-I got stats! I thought I was fine with not having any official stats to track what I did in the game. But our coaches let me go out for two passes. The first one was a touch down pass. I was playing left guard and ran a five and out. Dax lofted it up there. But my cursed lineman's body wasn't fast enough, and the ball bounced indifferently off the endzone grass. Later in the playoffs, our coaches called the play again. I went three yards and out, turned, thankfully our quarterback knew how slow I was, caught the ball, and was promptly tackled. But I got three yards receiving, and that was enough for me.

-We were a team. Before games we would all gather close together, while Danny would say in almost a wisper, "who's that talking 'bout beating them knights?"

We'd all respond,"who that, who that say what." He then would call again slightly louder, with us repeating, all while in a tight huddle, and jumping up and down. This would continue until until near tumult levels

I'm sorry if I get a little personal here and apply this to life. Like the NBA says, "its just a game, right? But sometimes is so much more than that." Football was my sport, my brothers had basketball and track, and football, but football was really the only one where I excelled. But in high school I had been given a pathetic team with unconcerned coaches. I wanted football to be my sport, my life, but my team had never even won more than one game in a season, never bonded as a team. I wasn't bitter when I walked away at the end of high school, but I was empty and unfilled.

But God gave me a new chance with football at college. Not only did he let me play again, but he put me on two teams that were the exact opposite of high school. Two league championships, one undefeated season. Teammates and friendships. I have to believe that if God in his mercy gave me a second chance at football, and gave me more than I have ever deserved. He will give us blessings that far out weigh the trials we have experienced in this life. Children who are taken while young will be reunited with their parents, the abused will receive the love and caring so sorely missed. Those who long for families, and whose hearts ache from sometimes decades of being alone will have that intimacy so long denied them. Those and all the other tough times, set backs, and things left unfilled, will be rectified with blessings that far and beyond compensate us for the injustices suffered. If God will do that with a simple thing like football, I know he will do it with all the trials in life, for those who remain faithful to him. It may not be until after we think the opportunity has passed, it may not even be during our current lifetime, but it will come.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Charlie Brown Ain't Got Nothin' on Me

Charlie Brown ain't got nothin' on me. In case you don't remember each fall everyone's favorite blockhead would firmly resolve to kick the football held by his arch tormentor Lucy. Every year, she would promise this year she would hold the ball for him to kick, Good Ol' Charlie Brown would protest, but eventually she'd convince him and he'd run with all his might to kick that ball. And for over 40 years, each and every time, Lucy would yank the ball send poor Charlie Brown straight to his back.

We might feel badly for Charlie Brown, or we might consider him a fool. Why on Earth would he keep trying to kick the ball? Or we might admire his steadfastness.

Charlie Brown's football experience reminds me of mine. My football team was bad. Our practices and games were exercises in futility. During my 6 years playing with this team, never did we have more than one win in a season. On the rare occasions where we were ahead near the end of the game we would self destruct. Now if this was a Disney movie we would have at least come together as a team, but we had no unity, we fought amongst ourselves more that the other team, however one teammate did tell me how hot my mother was. Our coaches on more than one occasion would come to practice under the influence of Captain Morgan and the glory days. Uncle Rico was Joe Namath compared to these clowns. (note these were my little league coaches, in high school the coaches were better but we were a lost cause.)

Now why did I stay with it; I'm not sure at first, but over time I came to love football. But for me winning was almost a lost cause. That happens to a kid after records of 1-9 year after year. I must have been a glutton for punishment; coming back year after year, losing so much; being a alone with teammates I couldn't identify with.

I can to realize pretty early in life that it sucks sometimes. But you can't control the outside influences, all you can control is yourself. Are you doing what you're supposed to be doing? I was the center. I had two jobs; first hike the ball, pretty easily, secondly keep the nose guard or linebacker from getting to the quarterback. Any you know what I found great satisfaction from knocking the defense on their cans. The joy of seeing a blitzing line backer, pretending you're going to hit him high, then at the last minute hitting the shins and sending them sprawling to the ground. Or the sweetness of holding a guy 5 inches taller and 50 lbs heavier than you off from getting the quarterback on a pass rush for an entire game.

Now it was hard work to become a lineman. I remember late nights with my dad and older brother doing board drills, outlawed for use in actual practice because of the danger of injury, these drills were key to learning how to get lower. I remember when my older bro got me put up on varsity as a sophomore and it was hard going against people two years older than me, but that year is when I gained the skill that would carry me to my senior year.

By the time I got to my senior year, only three kids my age had stuck with it, everyone else had quit, dropped out of school, or was incarcerated. The year below us has some great talent and I wondered if this year we'd finally win a little, maybe even break .500. The first game of the year we lost to our cross town rival in a somewhat close game. That stunk but coming up next we played the team ranked #2 in the state. And we beat them. Man we were high on the hog, especially we seniors who had never really had success. We started to dream of possible winning our conference, and getting a berth in the state tournament. But we lost the next game, and the next and the next and the next. We lost every other game that year. My final chance to have success. But you know what, as much as it hurt to lose all those games, for my team to experience the same futility as Charlie Brown did with Lucy, after each loss I was able to look back, know I was knocking my guy on his can; I was keeping my quarterback safe; and I could block any defender in the conference. In fact I was named to one of the all district teams, a pretty good accomplishment for a guy that plays a position no one pays attention to on a 1 and 9 team.

I believe that sports teach you lessons you need for life, and I learned some with football. While most people learn how hard work brings wins, and the importance of working with teammates for a common goal, I learned that when adversity comes that you can't control, you just focus on doing your job the best you can and let everything else work itself out. And you know what, that is one of the key things I've need to know in life.