As our season ended earlier than we wanted my mind filled with memories of everything this team accomplished this season. I thought back to the games we won, the practices we had, and my time with the kids. I looked around at the excitement on display by the team that won, and the dejection on the faces of my team. I looked into the stands to see the band, the cheerleaders, the families, and the friends that all stayed until the end to send the boys home one more time. I walked to the locker room and listened to the coaches and the players say their goodbyes to the 2016 team and challenge the 2017 team.
While listening to each story and looking into the faces of the team and the coaches I realized the one thing each kid expressed that makes high school football great….the hurt is what makes it great.
High school football brings together a group of young men who will spend the better part of their year preparing their bodies and minds for the pursuit of a goal that only very few of the teams will achieve. These men will push themselves in the off-season and summer in ways that do not seem humanly possible. They will sacrifice their time that could be spent with family, friends, or studying in order to practice for each game. They will live and die by the results of their efforts on the field every Friday night, with a win creating an exhilarating feeling of invincibility, and a loss leaving behind the feeling of letting down your closest family member.
Some days you feel anger or hate depending on how you performed, what happened in practice, or something Coach said to you. Other days you feel pride and joy because of the effort you gave, the way Coach praised you, or by what the team accomplished. The emotions you feel from being a member of the football team, the football community, are real and on display each practice, each game, hell, every day you are a member of the team. These feelings, these emotions define you because you invest everything into being on the football team.
And being on the team, no matter your role, is really what it all boils down to. To steal from Bo Schembechler, everything you do is because of The Team. You show up to practice because of the team. You push yourself all off-season because of the team. You put everything on the line because you are a member of this team, and you will do everything you can to not let your team down. You’ve built relationships with each player and coach on the sideline during games, on the field in practice, or in the locker room every day that give meaning to the season no matter how it ends. You love your team and your team loves you, because you have gone through this experience together.
Love is why these young men come together, stay together, and fight together for the better part of their high school years. They start with a love of the game and finish with loving something bigger than them. They love their teammates, their coaches, and they love the entirety of The Team. They love so much it hurts….and when the season is over, when this team has played its final game together, it hurts…..and the hurt is what makes it great.