It’s funny how those pacts made with friends while sitting in an empty parking lot after your last football game seem to fade away so quickly. We were once little kids eating our popcorn and looking forward to the days when we would play football on Rod Lundberg Field under the lights. After we played our last high school football game ever, we begged and pleaded to be given just one more night on that field. I’ve never seen my friends cry before until that night. We were seniors, but it felt like we were just kids drawing plays in the sand during recess. All that we have now are yearbooks collecting dust in our closets and letterman jackets to show our children someday.
The time has come and the season is about to begin. You have put in the work this off-season in the weight room and are ready to have the best season of your life. This is it. This is your last ride. I know that your buddies who don’t play football are still enjoying the remaining nights of summer that they have while you’re at practice, but don’t pay any mind to them. No matter how many times they try convincing you to skip just one little practice: Don’t. No matter how many times they try convincing you to “just come have one beer with the boys this weekend”: Don’t. You made a commitment to your teammates, your coaches and your town. You are setting an example for the underclassmen and they will try to emulate everything that you do. Set a good example for them.
While you are practicing on those long hot days the first few weeks of the season, take a deep breath and soak it all in. Take in the pop of the pads, the smell of the grass and the smiles on your teammates faces after you’ve made a great play together. This season isn’t going to be perfect by any means and you are going to have your bumps in the road along the way. It’s easy to start pointing fingers at every one else, but you need to look in the mirror and find out what you can improve upon. You are a leader of this team whether you are a captain or not. Go hard until the whistle blows because you never know what play could be your last.
When you are walking through the halls with your jersey on, take pride in that. You have earned the right to wear that uniform. You’ve put in the time and sweat. Wear your number proudly. That number probably means something to you and to the guys who wore it before you. I know you most likely have your number stickered on the back of your car and there’s nothing wrong with that. Do it justice with each and everything you do, whether that’s on or off the field.
Be sure to pull that underclassman aside that seems to be struggling. Talk to them and get to know more about them. Leave an impact on those younger than you and don’t be afraid to go out of your way to make them feel more like a part of the team. Be the person you needed when you were in their position.
Thank the people who have organized and who have served your team meals. They think the world of you and want to see you succeed on and off the field. They have probably watched you come up through the system and have watched you grow into a better football player and a better man than you could have ever imagined. Don’t let the people behind the scenes go unnoticed.
Thank your parents. Thank them for driving to your games and sitting in the metal bleachers while rain graced their jackets. Thank them for feeding you during the season, because God knows you eat like a king right now every night after practice. Thank them for buying your fundraiser items even though they probably didn’t want anything. So. Much. Cookie Dough. Thank them for supporting you through the tough losses and the epic victories.
Now, when you hop on that fire truck to parade through town during Homecoming, take all those moments in as well. Your town backs you and believes in you. The young kids with their faces painted in your school colors believe in you. The old men, the working class, and the recent high school graduates see themselves in you and long for the glory days back. I know it can be a lot of pressure, but cherish it. Every. Single. Moment. Because when it’s time to walk off that field for the final time and they turn those Friday night lights off once and for all, you don’t want to be thinking about the “what ifs”. You’ll have moments in your life that will bring you joy and excitement, but there’s nothing that will make you feel like you did when you played under the lights in front of your hometown. Keep the lights on as long as you can.