me and my defensive coach.
Can I tell you how much this man means to me?
He saw me in the hallway before we went out to stretch. I was starting to get really nervous, in my head too much and thinking about things, letting my composure break. I’d never done anything like this before. I’ve never played a team sport, never played a sport for a school period; I’d tried out for things but never made it, but I had made this. I’d done it. And I was getting scared.
I didn’t want to mess up. I didn’t want to do a wrong play or make my coaches disappointed or make my players throw their hands up on the sidelines. I was scared.
“Come on, come walk with me.”
He saw this, and even as my lip began to quiver and I knew if I spoke I’d lose my composure, I didn’t want him to know I was scared. I really didn’t. We walked out to take our defensive flag onto the field, him and I, waiting for the player meetings, the wind picking up the black flag as he taped it to the fence. It was silent between us as the wind whistled, and as he stood he put his hand on my shoulder.
“I’m going to try and get you some plays,” He told me, looking at me with such reassurance, it was incredible. It was more like fall weather than the hundred degrees it had just been a few days ago, and the wind was enough to make me shiver. “But if you don’t want to come in, you just tell me or coach Myers. If you’re in and you only want to play one and come out, just tell him you’re done.”
I wish I had my helmet on. I did. You can’t see someone’s face under their helmets, it’s hard to tell when they’re crying because you can’t tell if it’s sweat or tears. But he could see me crying, the last thing I had wanted. I didn’t want to appear weak.
“…Because you look really scared…”
I’d let myself break down and lose my composure like I’d never done in front of my coaches or my other players, and no matter what I told myself it couldn’t keep my nose from running or anything. I wouldn’t even admit it to myself that I was scared. I kept telling myself it was nerves.
“But you have worked too hard to stop here. You deserve this.”
I lost it there, pulling my jersey up to wipe at my nose. Why had I let myself get so frazzled? It had started hours before the game, this dread and fear in my stomach that seemed to continue as I got dressed and I had to get a bigger size of pants, struggling to get my pads out of them and worrying about time. When I was moving, I was fine, but as I stood outside with him, too worried about speaking, I started to cry. But as we walked back into the building and I got into the boy’s locker room for the team meetings, I blew my nose and composed myself and vowed I would do the best I could tonight.
And when it came down to it I did get plays, I got three out of the thirty or forty we had total. I told myself I would tackle harder and run faster than I ever had to make my coach proud, to make sure I never came across as that weak again, to prove I could handle it. I didn’t take or make any tackles, no one came at me, but I was in and on the field, and when I came out he was waiting for me, his hand stuck out. When I made it to the sideline he wrapped me up in a one-armed hug and, looking back at it, I wish I would have hugged him back, but I hadn’t. Because in that moment as he looked down at me, his attention solely on me and the weight of his arm around my shoulders, I realized just how much he really cared about me. He cared so much more about me and my well-being, so much light in his eyes.
“Did you do what you were suppose to? Counter, bootleg, sweep, reverse?”
“…I didn’t talk.”
“That’s okay. That’s okay, we’ll get it next time. Was it everything you dreamed it would be?”
I’m not sure he could understand past my mouth guard, but I’m sure he could tell by the look on my face as tears started to well into my eyes again, this time not from fear and anxiety but the fact that it was.
It was everything I had thought it would be, and this is only the beginning of my season.
I love you, Coach Lee.