Friday, August 28, 2015

Hey, you guys, high school football season starts tonight!

I have an unhealthy love for high school football.

In my life I have played it, written about it, and watched a whole lot of it. When I was a newspaper sports journalist, the vast majority of my attention from mid-August through the state championship games in late November was devoted to high school football.

And now, I am a parent of a player.

Well, sort of. I mean, I happen to think Jared is a high school football player, but some would disagree because he's "only" the kicker. He also plays soccer at Wickliffe High School, but beginning tonight and for the next several Fridays, he'll put on the shoulder pads and become a football player.

Jared has made one tackle in his career, and it was the last game of last season, when he only handled kickoffs for Wickliffe (and not placekicks). A kid on the other team fielded Jared's kickoff at about his own 15-yard line, darted up the middle, avoided three or four of our tacklers, cut to the right sideline and was off to the races.

Jared had been doing kickoffs all season, but he had yet to get involved in any meaningful contact. Until that moment.

As the returner sped down the sideline, I realized the only thing standing between him and a touchdown was my son, the kicker. Kickers aren't known as proficient tacklers, and truth be told, no one had ever taught Jared how to go about getting someone running full speed down to the ground.

But to my immense pride, The Boy took exactly the right angle, put his shoulder down, and knocked the returner out of bounds at the 6-yard line. True, the other team would go on to score a few plays later, but it wasn't because of my son. My son made a tackle and helped his team.

Which brings us to this season, when he is the clear #1 kicker, handling both kickoffs and placekicks for the Blue Devils, the same team for which I served as a running back almost 30 years ago.

I realize that in the grand scheme of things, the results of these games are meaningless. But this is my son, playing for my team, engaging in a sport with which he has only one season's experience. Every time they announce his name I honestly almost tear up, even if it's just when he's coming onto the field to execute one of the many squib kickoffs the Wickliffe coaching staff loves so much.

But beyond The Jared Factor, I also love high school football for the sights, the sounds, and even the smells (crisp fall air, greasy concession stand food, stinky shoulder pads, etc.) The deeper we get into the season, the colder it gets. But no matter how wintry it is, no matter how the team is performing, the Wickliffe faithful come out to watch their team, both at home and on the road.

And I'm one of those fans. I also serve as the PA announcer for the band, and it should be noted that Jared grabs his saxophone and plays with that band during every halftime, as does my trumpet-playing freshman daughter Melanie. If nothing else, Terry and I had a lot of kids to ensure that various Wickliffe teams and organizations would be well stocked into the immediate future...

Anyway, game #1 is tonight, as Wickliffe travels west to Rocky River, Ohio, to take on the Lutheran West High School Longhorns. I can't wait. Go Devils!

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