Before the beginning, after the end…

August. Summer. Two-a-days.

For any red-blooded southern male that has ever buckled a chinstrap and lined up in a three-point stance, those words quickly evoke a cascading barrage of visions and sense memories.

Of all the things I can remember, one of the most resonant recollections I possess is the first day of practice my freshman year.

As we began our calisthenics, I let my gaze wander out toward the sun rising over the tree-line out past the eastern entrance to the football stadium. Each glimmering sliver of sunlight brought a grim harbinger of a long morning’s toil.

The moment was punctuated by the loud gruff voice of my coach informing my teammates and I that, because our efforts were particularly uninspired, he would compel us to offer an encore performance.

I recall that he made many such requests over the next four years.

Another aspect that remains close at hand are the smells… the slippery leather of a well-worn practice football, the fetid stink of sweat and liniment in the locker room, and fresh-cut grass dappled with morning dewdrops.

In the course of my duties for the newspaper, I paid a brief visit to the morning practice session of my alma mater.

Though I confess, my interest in this year’s team did prompt me to give more than a cursory glance at the proceedings therein.

Recently, I spoke with my wife about this curiosity. It seems strange that an extracurricular activity should continue to hold my attention in the many years since I matriculated into higher planes of human existence.

Surely, it is not out of any absurd attempt to recapture my wastrel youth, for I am well-rid of the puerile teenage ambitions that racked my sensibilities in those seeming halcyon days. Whatever deeds of glory might’ve been accomplished, meager though they were, I have long left such days behind me.

Neither is it for any nepotistic gain of my own, for my connection to both the school and the players is only tangential at best. Both of my sons are still far too young to don the colors of my hometown, and remain yet indifferent to the idea at their still young age.

I have lived well in the decade-plus since my last day on a football field as a competitor. I have experienced much of the world and expanded my mind with ideas of unfathomable depths… yet come the first week of August, my thoughts begin to be consumed with the goings-on of a high school football team in rural Rusk County.

While I would certainly not trade what has occurred since that time of my life, I hold fast to the times for what they were and what it was like to be young and completely thoughtless for the concerns of the wide world.

Memories both sublime and repugnant pour out of my consciousness. Old friends and times past. The agony of our few defeats eclipsed only by the thrill of remembering our many victories.

Oh, and the heat… always the heat.

So what is it, precisely, about this sport that so ingrains itself into the young men who partake? Especially for those of us in Texas, and even more so for those of us in East Texas?

It remains elusive for me, but if I ever figure it out I’ll be sure to let you all know.

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