As I sit here at my desk looking over practice plans and season schedules, I can’t help thinking about the fact that I am not alone - I am one of thousands of coaches doing the exact same thing this morning. Checking scouting reports, watching video, pulling up the radar map to see if the rain will hold off until after practice. Like many of my fellow coaches, my life is centered daily on the game of football and all that goes into our weekly routines. It’s easy to lose yourself in these routines and the endless preparation, especially on a dreary day like today.
What draws me out of my well-established routine this morning is the same thing that drew me into coaching in the first place – our players. They put in just as much and in many cases more than we do. They give up their summer vacations to lift and run in the Texas heat. They stay up late finishing homework and projects that their classmates finished in the early afternoon hours. They go home each night with the heavy legs, sore necks and bruised bodies. They put themselves on the line each week for this game of football.
Why play? Why coach? Why sacrifice so much for a game?
It’s a simple question that begs a complicated answer. And that answer starts with Texas.
Here in Texas, football is king. By my rough estimates there are over 1200 public schools that compete in football under the University Interscholastic League. From the Rotan Yellowhammers of 6-man to the Allen Eagles of 5A, almost every one of those 1200 schools will play regular season games this week. That’s more than 9,000 coaches and 60,000 players taking the field across the state this week. Most of these players and coaches come from a heritage that includes football. Their fathers played as did their grandfathers before them. The players new to football this year will begin a tradition they will most likely pass on to their sons someday.
On the football field, we are not individuals – we are parts of a coaching staff, parts of a team. We wear our team colors, we sing our school song. We have earned the right to compete as one. We have sweated and bled together. We've laughed and cried together. On the field of competition, we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Less than 2% of the players taking the field this week will play again after their time in high school is over. Time is of the essence.
As the end of this week approaches, these 60,000 players will walk in the doors of their school knowing that they will soon wear their school colors into battle. They will take the field as the sun sets, warm-up as fans filter into the stadium and run through paper banners as the lights come on. They will meet their opponents at midfield, shake hands and notice how familiar the man in the other team’s colors seems to them. They will sing the ageless words of our national anthem with their hand on the shoulder of their teammate. They will huddle quickly to receive last minute reminders about assignments before breaking out together. Twenty-two will take the field and wait anxiously as the sounds of the crowd grows steadily louder, louder, louder and then all at once silent.
They are not individuals now. They are Bulldogs. They are Spartans. They are Mustangs. They are Highlanders. They are Tigers. They are Texans. They are football players.