For those of you who have followed me on twitter since at least September you know that I spend my Friday evenings watching high school football. I don't go to my old high school, East Meck's games. No, I go watch the Charlotte Latin Hawks because, while I love East Meck I don't necessarily have a dog in the fight with regards to my old high school. With Latin my best friend's little brother is the starting quarterback and in the last two years I've grown to enjoy watching him as well as the rest of the team play and mature over the season.
This past Friday was their first playoff game, hosted at Providence Day the Hawks took on the Chargers and Latin got the win. However, there was something that resonated much stronger than the success of the team I was rooting for. That something was post game, seeing players' seasons and careers come to an end. One player in particular stood out.
That player was Josh Covington, running back for the Chargers.
After losing the game Covington sat, alone at midfield. Colton Walls of the Hawks stopped by to tell him good game. Some of his own teammates, fans and team parents stopped by to try and console him. Covington's coach talked to him.
And still the running back sat there. Staring at the empty stands. Staring into the lights. Staring as that last whisp of high school football expired.
As happy as I was for Latin seeing Covington struck a chord with me, for I too had lost my final high school game. Like Covington I'd gone out fighting hard, pouring every ounce of what I had into the game and at 10-7 watching the time expire and the sinking feeling coming with it being over. The disbelief I felt as 0:00 approached was quickly replaced by anger, disgust and failure.
Anger at the offense. We played our asses off, watched as one of our defensive linemen was carted off on the spineboard and yet we still kept fighting, giving them chances to score.
Disgust that I, that we, as a defense could not score. We couldn't get a fumble to scoop and score, run back a punt, force an interception for a touchdown.
Nothing we did was enough and that was when failure set in; we were not good enough. Not on that night.
And yeah, I cried. I cried as the clock hit zero. I cried as we shook hands. I cried as my coach tried to console not just me but the core of guys who had made our bones getting blasted on varsity as freshmen and sophomores. I cried when my teammates, in what is one of the nicest gestures in my life, thanked me for being their captain and their leader. I cried as the opposing coaching staff commended us.
But then there were no more tears, not because it didn't hurt but because with the exhaustion from the game and the dehydration from being on the field all night we were all cried out. We walked off the field, that core, together. Too exhausted and hurt to do it alone, we leaned on one another the way we had for the previous four seasons.
I give you that moment, etched into my memory forever, not because my defense in high school was stone cold (we were), but because it is my way of saying the end doesn't come easy. No one is ever ready for the end, for as beautiful and exciting as the opening of the football season is the abrupt end that comes is infinitely more painful.
Not just the scoreboard but the finality of it all. Knowing the seniors are leaving, that you'll never play with these guys again. The end of football careers for most kids and the return to being a student. Even if you're going on to play in college as many do, you realize by August that college football is a different animal from the high school fields you walked off of on that crisp November night.
For coaches, coach them up. This is your last dance with this group and let them know it; let it all hang out. No point in saving a play for another day if you're locked into a dog fight.
To parents, family members, fans oughta root like hell. Be loud, be encouraging and most importantly be there because this is as beautiful as it gets. In victory be excited but remember those boys across the line from your son and be humble. In defeat be understanding but also understand there might be nothing you can do. I'll never forget the way my mom and dad's eyes looked after a loss; helpless and just wishing they could take the pain away from their crying teenaged son but never realizing that just being there to hug me was enough.
Those of you that don't play a lot give your support. That means calling out run, pass, ball for your defense, letting the team know down and distance, making sure you give what you can in your moments and from the sidelines.
Finally for the players, fight hard. Whether it is the first round of the championship, pour every ounce of yourself into the game. I can imagine there is no feeling worse than thinking "I could have done more" as the clock hits zero and you're the guy without the soaked and stained jersey, exhausted from the game. Go out there and put on a show, go hard, not just for yourself but for the brothers beside you that you've been bleeding, sweating and grinding with all season.
Ultimately it will come to an end but going out together, fighting as brothers will leave a better taste in your mouth than seeing your career end wondering what might have been. It is going to hurt no matter what when it comes to an end at least walk away from the game knowing you gave football and your teammates all you had to give.
As for Josh Covington, I hope nothing but the best for that kid. He fought hard and is a hell of a football player, whoever signs this young man is going to get a good one. Close to an hour after the game Covington finally walked off with his coach, family and teammates families quietly congratulating him on a good game, career and wishing him well. I know this because I stayed as well, just to tell him good game and good luck in passing.
The guy's a football player. So am I, and I think he deserved that respect.