The Death of a High School Football Player

Michael OleszekAnalyst IOctober 23, 2008

I am dead in this world.


Not dead in a literal sense, but dead meaning no longer a part of something that is bigger than I am.


I was a high school football player.


I have left the playing fields behind and turned my pads in back to the comfort of the equipment room.


In four short years, my playing career has started and finished.


At 18 years old, my body was sore and tired like an old man. Four seasons of selling out under Friday night lights will do that to you. For myself and most of my teammates, this was the pinnacle of our athletic careers.


I would do it all over again in a heartbeat, knowing full well that I will never be good enough to earn a scholarship.


You pay your dues on ninth-grade and JV teams, getting beaten on by the varsity during practices.


Working out everyday in the hot summer sun with my buddies, running ladders and short sprints, lifting weights in a cramped weight room with the music blaring, counting down the days until practices start.


I want one more hell week, more commonly known as two-a-days, which would start at 7:30 a.m. on summer days where you can actually smell the humidity. The coaches would yell and scream as we sharpened up towards that first game.


I would give anything to do an Oklahoma drill.


Those days filled with up-downs, gassers, pass skeletons, 7-on-7’s, and one final scrimmage under the lights before the season started. 


I’ll never forget the feeling of the coaches telling me that I’ve earned a game jersey, and the right to wear the school colors.


I had made varsity.


The season was here, and school was the placeholder for time not spent on the football field.


School was an afterthought. Most students looked at football players like Roman gods, as we walked through the halls on Fridays, wearing our game jerseys. Teachers wished us well and assigned no weekend homework. They knew we needed a break. 


Game days were the culmination of a week’s worth of practices.


I would like to be able to eat another pre-game meal with the boys, full of pasta, fruit and salad, in the eerie quiet in the hours before going to battle.


The locker room was a constant buzz before warm-ups. Rap and metal playing so loud you can’t tell what’s what. Guys were getting dressed, pulling on those jerseys that had been laid out for us, to go along with the shiny pants, and a helmet that only had the scars from a month of beating on your teammates.


Then the voice came: “Line up!! One hour until kickoff!”


It was time for warm ups.


Warm ups were a blur and it was back to the locker room.


The voice would come back: “It’s time!” and then there would be a speech about our opponent, how hard we worked, what we deserved, and how we should get there.


You develop a tunnel vision when you walk into the stadium; ignoring the band, the cheerleaders, the fans lined up to watch you walk in, the national anthem, the coin toss, everything.


Friday night was right now.


I would look up in the stands before kickoff, always looking for my parents, making sure they made it to their seats. They were the ones who drove me to workouts and picture day.


They made sure I ate right and offered unwavering encouragement.


They were the ones who sat in the rain and the cold because they loved their kid, and now it was finally my time to shine.


Win or lose, it didn’t matter. Nothing was bigger than I was at that moment.


Weeks and weeks went by exactly like this, over and over, until one day it was all over.


I turned in my pads, my practice gear, and lastly my helmet. My helmet was my pride and joy—beaten and scarred from a season on the varsity, filled with scrapes and grooves from the hitting, and opposite colored paint from an enemies helmet.


Instead of collecting offer letters, my helmet allowed me to collect stickers. A helmet full of stars and skulls - stars were for the big plays and skulls were for the big hits.  


And was done.


I was dead in this world.


I was a high school football player.