Missing My Son, The Football Player I Still Don’t Know
I miss my son, my only son.
He’s in college now, a freshman.
Seems like he’s been gone for 10 years.
He’s quite an athlete.
Watching him play high school football was like watching some kid I didn’t know, some slick athlete, a son of some other father. But he was my son.
Football became his passion in high school. In that helmet and underneath those shoulder pads was that little blonde-haired boy with curls and baby blue eyes to whom I had read Richard Scary picture books when he was five years old. We would giggle reading those books.
Underneath all that gear that little boy was there. But I didn’t know him, and couldn’t see him in his green and white high school football uniform. He was someone else when he played football. Another side to him came out, one he didn’t show at home.
When your son plays high school football, you never see him practice. Coaches forbid parents from watching. I wanted to. But I knew I couldn’t.
I wanted to because I wanted to see how he practiced. How someone practices tell you a lot about who that person really is. I wanted him to know how important practice is. As his father, there are few things I needed to teach him that were more important than the importance of practice. Practice is the secret to succeeding in life. What’s crucial are the hours you spend alone, sweating, grinding out the same drill you’ve already done thousands of times, and perfecting your craft.
For four years he practiced football and I never saw him do it once. I didn’t know what plays he was learning, what skills he was refining, what got him frustrated, how he interacted with his coaches and teammates, nor how much weight he could lift.
He kept telling me he loved football, everything about it. He loved to practice. He loved the guys on the team. One day I ran into his coach. He told me my son “wants to be great.”
I did not know that. My son is not the kind of guy who would tell me – or anyone — he wants to be great. He’s the kind of guy who just does everything he can to be great but doesn’t feel the need to share that.
It’s not him. He doesn’t talk about himself that way. He just goes and does things. He doesn’t inundate other people with his hopes and desires. It’s one of his several endearing qualities.
It stunned me when the coach told me my son wanted to be great. My son had never mentioned such a thing to me. I knew he wanted to be good. But great? That was news to me. I would not have been surprised had the coach told me my son wanted to be very good or worked really hard or was a good kid. But I remain surprised to this day that he told me my son wanted to be great.
My son had quite a high school football career. After scoring three touchdowns in one game, the coach was quoted in a local newspaper saying my son is a “great player.”
He was. I don’t know that there’s anything more you could want a coach to say about your son than that he was a “great player.” I already knew he was a good human being and great teammate and friend, and that’s all important. But rising to the level of a “great” high school football player was an astounding achievement, something I would never have predicted and remain in awe of even now.
My son achieved this all by himself. He was voted the team’s outstanding player and won numerous post-season All-Star honors
He wasn’t the fastest guy on the team, but he was one of the fastest. He wasn’t the guy who scored the most touchdowns, but he was among the team leaders. He wasn’t the guy with the most tackles on the team, but he was among the highest in that category.
He was, simply, the best all-around football player on the team. He did it all: a sure and rock solid tackler, soft and sure hands as a receiver, clutch under pressure, swift afoot, agile, never complaining, always making a big play to help his team win. He played linebacker, cornerback, safety, punt returner, kickoff returner, and wide receiver. And he played all these positions at a high level.
Most stunning to me of all was the way he tackled. Someone taught him how to tackle really well, with great fundamentals and force. My son would hit you. That little nice kid, so happy and easy-going, wrecked ballcarriers and wide receivers.
Stick after stick after stick.
There he was, game after game after game, some kid I didn’t even know. Some football player who was really good who knew what he was doing. All those practices I didn’t see, all those drills he did that he never told me about, all that sweating in the weight room, all of it – without bragging. He never drew attention to it. Never felt any need to tell his Dad how good he was.
At the games, he just played. And I watched.
And I still don’t even know who that kid was – and still is.
Now he’s a college football player.
He’s not telling me how hard he works or how good he is or wants to me. He’s not complaining. He’s not sharing any frustrations.
He’s getting ready for next Fall when football begins again, lifting weights, getting even bigger. He plays strong safety. I wouldn’t want to be a wide receiver feeling the crushing pain of one of his hits.
“I love football,” he told me recently.
And I love him.
- Possibly America’s best sports blogger. Sometimes relevant and insightful. Often funny and satirical. Mostly mysterious and unpredictable. Only mildly interested in the truth.