It was the tenth and final game of the season, the fourth quarter, two minutes to go in the game. We were up 20-0 and had the game in hand. As I stood on the sidelines watching my teammates put the game away, I thought I heard my name called. Grant! Grant! The coach WAS yelling my name. I hustled up to my coach and looked up at him, afraid to even think it. Coach McDermott looked at me and nodded toward the field, “Get in there at left corner.” I sprinted out and yelled at the starting corner, “Summerville! I’m in for you.” He gave me a slight smile and jogged off the field. I lined up in my position as the Bergan Trojans broke the huddle. I felt like Rudy. I was in the game!
Now why would I be so excited getting in some mop up duty for two minutes? Well, it was the first time all season that I had been put into a game. Yep, tenth game, fourth quarter, two minutes to go. I had not played one down of a game all season. I was in my first year of organized football, my freshman year at Woodruff High School. You’re probably thinking that I must have been really bad. Maybe I was but I didn’t think so. Actually, I was a pretty decent little athlete. LITTLE being the key word. I was about 5’ tall and weighed 95 pounds. I guess the coaches figured I was too small to put in a game. I never asked them. I knew I could play if given the chance.
One thing I could do was tackle. I would stick my nose in there and get in on any play that I could. I had a little quickness but wasn’t as fast as most of the bigger, stronger players. I was able to outrun all the linemen but not most of the other backs. My fun came being on the scout team in practice. I always lined up in the secondary against the number one offense. Every Tuesday and Wednesday I got to play defense. Heck, to me, football was football and I looked forward to playing on the scout team. I never got one rep on the starting offense or defense so this was my time to PLAY. As I said, I could tackle. My technique was to stay low (which was easy for me) and hit ‘em at the knees. If the initial hit at the knees didn’t bring them down, I hung on around the ankles with all the tenacity I had until they finally tripped up or the reinforcements came to finish them off. Every night I would bring down our biggest and best. The coaches would all chuckle and smile and point at me. One would usually say, “Nice tackle, Grant.” I was always hoping my work would get me a shot. I went to practice every day, never missed a one and was never late.
When the first game came I was so eager to play. As the game went on I stood near the coaches waiting to hear my name called. We won that first game 20-0 but I didn’t get in. The second game I again waited excitedly to hear my name called as the game wore on. I don’t recall the score but I didn’t get in. This continued through games three, four, and five. By game six I no longer waited to hear my name called. I just became a spectator and tried to enjoy being a part of the atmosphere. I was still having fun in practice, I told myself. Tuesday night I would get to play against the starters. By that tenth game I had no thought of getting in at all. I was in my routine of being a spectator and watching us get that 20-0 lead. With two minutes to go I was probably thinking of what I would do the rest of the day. There was always a good college game on TV.
I was startled out of my daydreaming by the sound of my name. After reporting in to Coach McDermott, I was headed toward the field. I hurried in and joined the huddle. The call was made, we broke the huddle and I readied for my first play. Bergan broke the huddle and I looked at their alignment. No wide receiver on my side so I tightened up. As the quarterback started his cadence I was thinking, “I don’t care where this play goes but I’m getting in on the tackle.” The ball was snapped and it was just like practice. Here they came, right at me. It was a sweep right and the ball carrier was running right at me. I stepped up to meet the play as I saw things develop, set up in my low stance as he got closer and at just the right time – BOOM! I lowered my shoulders into his knees and down he went in a heap. My teammates were all slapping me on the back yelling my name, the coaches were laughing on the sideline and I was feeling like an all American. The next play here they came again. Same scenario, same play, and I was confident it would be the same result. As I hit his knees, I could tell I didn’t get a good hit. It was a glancing blow. I missed. I never missed! I couldn’t believe it. I scrambled up quickly and pursued the ball carrier down the field. My heart sank as he crossed the goal line. Time had pretty much run out. I think they kicked off to us and that was the game. I had mixed emotions. I had made a solo tackle but given up a score on my side. I waited a long time, but I got in.
Years later, when I became a high school football coach, do you think I figured out ways to get kids playing time? At the varsity level it wasn’t always possible but at the lower levels I made sure that no one was going to wait until the last game and the fourth quarter. Thanks once again to www.chiefpigskin.com for letting me tell my stories. Good luck to those of you still playing in the playoffs.