I like to tell people that Football is the largest religion in the south. You might be Baptist, Methodist, or catholic but everyone is a fan of football. So much so that, LSU games shut down the interstate highways in Baton Rouge and Southern University generally has the best football game attendance of any FCS school in the country. We get baptized in football at a very young age and most of us play Pop Warner as tykes.
I didn’t play Pop Warner because my dad didn’t want us involved in too many sports. Dad didn’t want us thinking we were athletes when we were students. He often relayed the realities to us that we wouldn’t be athletically gifted because he wasn’t athletically gifted. I never expected to be able to dunk a basketball, hit back flips, or even dribble a ball through my legs without looking. It took me twenty years to dribble like that, and im still not very good at it. What my dad did seems a like a little too much, but I can see the difference that it made back then.
When we got to high school, Most of our friends had dreams of playing in the NFL or NBA. Two of them got to the NFL while the harsh reality set in for most of them around junior year. Me and my brother always wanted to do something academic. My brother wanted to be a lawyer, and I’ve always been interested in the political life. Because of this, me and my brother viewed sports and coaches different than our teammates did.
Now lets get on with this life story:
I was one of the biggest 8th graders in my class. I grew 5 inches in 7th grade and I was 5’8 200 pounds. I played baseball in 7th grade for the middle school team, and the baseball coach was the middle school football coach as well. His name was coach Buu. The first time I met him in seventh grade he asked me to play football for him the following season. I told him that I would think about it. I loved football, and I specifically loved the Dallas Cowboys. I also knew that there was a learning curve because I never played. I dreamed of playing tightend. I used to watch Jason Witten look unstoppable at tightend and I felt we had the same body size.
The middle school football team was good. They went undefeated my seventh grade year and they only lost two games in the previous 5 years. My brother would be coming to the school the next year. He would play on the team with me. James was a good friend of ours and he was coming with my brother as well. My brother played football his last year of elementary school. Jeremy Hill, who is now the starting running back for the Cincinnati Bengals, was also coming the following year. He was unstoppable on the field even as a kid.
So, I went out to play football. When I announced that I wanted to play tighend, everyone laughed. I remember coach Buu saying, ” I think you might be too big to play tightend David.” Jason Witten was 265 pounds so to me this didn’t make sense. I thought I was the middle school equivalent of Jason Witten. He saw how determined I was and he gave me a shot. He gave me a fly route in practice, and I did not haul the pass in. I remember him saying, ” you got hands like feet.” I played one snap at tightend that year, and it was in a blocking situation.
I spent most of my time in practice playing offensive guard and tackle. Our defensive coordinator was a police officer named Joey. Joey was particular about his defense, and he pretty much had his starters picked out before the season started. I practiced hard, but I just didn’t have much experience. I wasn’t in the team’s starting lineup, but I was second string along the offensive line. I assume with many of the offensive linemen playing on defense that I would get a chance to play. Playing on both offense and defense was tiring, so I believed that was my ticket to the playing field.
Depth is important in football because you don’t want your best players tired towards the end of the game. Buu and Joey didn’t believe in that philosophy. Most of the players who started on offense also started on defense. All of our starters were winded by 4th quarter. Jeremy Hill stood next to me at practice once and said, ” its tiring to start on offense, defense, and every special team.” I could only imagine.
I didn’t get much playing time at all. I played in what they called the 5th quarter. The 5th quarter was extra time after the game for players who didn’t get to play. The score didn’t count towards the actual game score. I always dominated in the 5th quarter. It never felt sweet though because I knew I was playing against 6th graders who weren’t big enough to play with 8th graders. This was embarrassing . One of our cheerleaders said, ” I think David plays in the last quarter after we all leave, hahahha.”
On top of being embarrassed, the whole situation was frustrating. I understood that I wasn’t good enough to start, but I wanted to be a top sub. That year our team was terrible. We were sub mediocre which to me meant that the coaches should have made some changes to personnel. With the records from previous years, I doubted that it was a system issue. Still, the coaches persisted on playing players both ways (offense and defense). We continued to get beat with a future NFL running back who was unstoppable.
One home game we played a team called Live Oak from from out in the suburbs. They were an all white team with some pretty big kids. We had the talent and athleticism advantage by a mile, but they were well coached. The game started out as a close game, but that didn’t last long. The thing about losing is that it throws everything off. The players lose faith in coaching because the team isn’t winning. The players lose faith in each other because they think certain players are weak links. That makes the locker room and sidelines toxic.
That game my teammates came to sideline after every drive cursing at one another and bickering. I would just sit on the bench watching the next wave of players run on. Coaches were upset because players weren’t executing. This was normal that season because we sucked. When I heard my name being called to come in and play guard in the 4th quarter, I looked around to make sure he wasn’t calling my younger brother. He got more playing time than I did. He was talking to me, but I looked at the scoreboard. We were getting beat 41-6, and the game was long gone. So, I told him no. He and every other player on the team looked shocked.
The coach ordered me in the game again and I told him,” im not going in the game, im just going to wait until the 5th quarter”. Several of my teammates came running up and starting pleading with me to go onto the field. The pleads were stuff like, ” come on mane, listen to the coach bruh, stop being stupid bruh.”
SN:That wasn’t the last time I had a run in with the coach, and my teammates always responded the same way. Athlete mentality will have players thinking that coaches are deities that cant be challenged. The coaches’ authority should never be question to person with athlete mentality.Players with athlete mentality will rip players without athlete mentality as a way to kiss up to the coach.
Soon word spread and almost every player came up to me begging me to come in. Some of the players gave me props for not going in. They were saying stuff like, “fuck that shit, im with you bruh, they need to finish taking this whipping,.” Some of the players were asking me why I didn’t want to go in and I responded with , ” This game is out of reach, he should have put me in when we had a chance to win, I want nothing to do with this loss now.” Still, the majority called me stupid and said I was going to get kicked off the team. I couldn’t think anything but how they were fucking kiss asses who didn’t stand for anything. I didn’t understand how far the word of my defiance would spread.
There is a gate that separates the bleachers from the field. My dad came up to that gate and I was shocked. He said, ” Dave, go in the game”. I tried to ignore him, but my friend said ” bruh your dad is behind you.” I turned my head to him and he said, ” Dave, listen to the coach and go in.” I shook my head at him, and he walked back to his seat.” I knew I was going to be in all kinds of trouble at home but I didn’t care. At 13, whippings didn’t hurt psychically. They only hurt psychologically when I didn’t agree with the punishment.
The game ended and we lost 41-12. The fifth quarter came and I played with the people I intended to play with the bench warmers that I usually played with. After the game in the locker room, there was no talk about the ass-beating we just got. Everyone was talking about how I refused to play. Just like during the game, many disagreed and some agreed. I packed my things and waited for my brother. We got to the car and my dad was there. He was upset with me but he wanted to talk to the coach about my playing time situation.
We met with the coaches in their office and we began discussing my playing time issue. My dad basically asked why I wasn’t playing more. The coaches fell back to their typical coaching answers, ” Oh we’ve seen a lot of improvement from David, he practices hard, if he continues to work hard and learn the game , he’ll see the field.” They talked about the things they needed to see from me and there were apologies on both sides. After the handshakes, we left.
I thought my dad was going to kill me for making him look bad in front of other parents but his reaction was the opposite. He said, ” Dave, im proud of you, you stood up for yourself and you weren’t about to put up with that bull shit, you stood up to your coaches and you stood up to me, Im trying to raise you to be a man, not a boy.” He then said, ” I still have to give you some licks for not listening, its nothing personal just principle.” I wasn’t worried about that. Like I said earlier, whippings physically didn’t hurt. I didn’t have a problem with it mentally because he told me he was proud of me.
After that game, I played much more even though I wasn’t a starter. I still played in the fifth quarter but I got to play throughout the game. Our team wasn’t much better, but I felt like I was a real part of the team for once. This extra playing time allowed me to get better at the sport which was good for me going into high school.
I often reflect on that year of football. Coaches will have kids on a team and wont care. It wasn’t until my dad stepped in that anything changed. Football coaches want to run things their way regardless of how it makes a kid feel, regardless of whether its fair, and sometimes regardless of how well the team plays. Football coaches are mostly ego when it comes to coaching. They want to do things their way, and parental involvement interrupts that. Parents for school kids are like outside unions. They can come in and make sure football coaches don’t screw over kids. Coaches hate that. They hate the parent that hangs out at practice just to watch. They hate the parent that calls to see why their kid isn’t playing. They hate the parent that raises hell right outside of the gate at the game because their kid has lost a position.
The coaches treated the most talented players with favoritism and other perks to separate them from ones who they screw over. Putting a selected few over the whole makes it seem as if there is something wrong with the player who calls foul on the coaches. This also separates the players who are really the same. My grade school football days were insane because of this. The selected few talented players whom the coaches favored were pawns and they never realize it.