Friday Night Lights
By: John Compagnone
It's 3:15 on a Friday. The bell rings and immediately I'm starting to feel the tingle already. I know I have a football game in less than four hours and I've never felt as ready. After school, I take my usual trip to Subway and grab a sandwich. Then, the boys and I head back to the school and start getting ready for the game. Inside the palace there is a huge area rug and chairs set up on the gym floor, where the players can sit and get ready. Joey Klaus and Cody Lochner supply us with the huge sound system so we can start getting our blood flowing. All around me people are sitting in chairs, putting their pads in their pants and listening to their iPods. I usually get taped up about an hour before game time, and then I start to do all the things that the other players do.
As it starts to get closer to game time, I can see how anxious everyone is starting to get. By this time almost no one is sitting. Everyone is up and walking around. Coach Haines pokes his head inside the door and says, "We got three minutes till JV halftime, men. Specials, get your stuff on and start heading out." The only people left inside the gym now are the big boys. We sometimes will go over plays with each other while the specials are out on the field, but if we're not going over plays, then it is silent. Dead silent. You hear the door open, then close. Klick-Clat, Klick-Clat, Klick-Clat. That's the sound of everyone's cleats hitting the floor of the gym. All of the guys around me are talking about how we have to go to the baseball field for pre-game in less the 20 minutes.
Everyone gets their gear on, and we all walk over 2 by 2 with our coaches leading us. While we're out there, Murry is throwing balls to his receivers. Josh is practicing his cuts while holding his football in his hands like a baby. We linemen though, we do something different. We practice routes while Coach Bailey throws us passes. Being as big as we are, we usually don't get to catch a ball, so doing this feels pretty good. Pregame gets over with and then we get a team break. After that we starting heading over to the field. We go and sit behind the mobiles on our side of the field and wait for the coaches to come over.
All of us players sit on one knee with our helmets off. As I look around, I can see some people shaking and others smiling. Feelings before a game are always mixed. I sometimes start to think of how far I have come. All the long hours of practice, the lonely jogs early in the morning while everyone else is sleeping, and all the pain and suffering that I have gone through just to get to this moment. People may ask why it is that I go through all summer running and why I lift during the offseason. It's one simple answer. I want to be better than every single thing I go up against. Football is not just a sport to me, it's life. No matter what I do from now on in life, I will be prepared for everything. I will never quit at anything I do, and I will try my hardest at anything that is thrown my way.
Coach Haines comes to us and everyone looks at him. He then proceeds to give his amazing football speech. The two words that he is most known for this year is "Man Up". It's not just a saying. It's a way of life. You man up when times get hard. You man up when you have to go to practice twice a day and it's ridiculously hot out. After the speech, we all stand up and start walking towards the field 2 by 2. As we stand there fans go out onto the field and make a human tunnel with a Manteno banner in the middle for us to run into.
The smoke by us starts to get heavier and heavier and then we hear the tornado sirens over the PA system. Then Coach Haines start's to scream. "ARE YOU READY FOR WAR MEN?" I then reply with a united chorus of "YES, SIR!" We then start to run out and our hardcore music starts to play. As I pass the smoke, I see close to 100 people who are making up the tunnel. They all scream and shout at me in excitement, and then I explode through the Manteno sign and run to the middle of the field. We all start jumping up and down. I then make my way into the middle of the huddle and we start our game chant. The players repeat after me and that really gets their blood flowing.
I look around into the eyes of everyone who is in our huddle, and I can see the fire in their eyes as they wait for me as captain, to say "OK BOYS, PANTEHRS ON 3!" I get the last call, and we head to the sidelines. They call out captains to the middle of the field. Stroud, Michael and I all walk out to the middle holding hands. We talk to the other players, do the coin toss and head back to our side. While the National Anthem is playing, my stomach starts to hurt. I'm more nervous than ever. But I can't show it. The game progresses from there on. Mouth dropping plays and big bone crushing hits. I can hear Coach Bailey yelling out the plays before their offense even runs them. Some players think he is the real Darth Vader because he is never wrong with guessing their plays. My body starts to ache and I see that it's still only the 2nd quarter. I can feel my lungs gasping for air because I'm so excited. I realize that I need to calm down and focus. The first couple plays decided the tone of the game. As soon as I hear our quarterback say, "Go." I take my right steps and put my hands on the guy in front of me. I can feel Alan Knol's hands on the guy as well, and we start driving him back. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Josh Simeur going up the sideline and taking off to the end zone. Immediately I have a sensation of joy and I start to jump up and down while still running up the field.
I then go to the sidelines and grab a drink of water. I look up from where I am and see all the fans in the stands. This shows me know what it is I work for all summer, the feeling of being a somebody. Most kids will never know the feeling of playing under the lights at a football game. But I do, and I will remember it until I am lying on my death bed and the heart monitor stops. Then, I finally hear the siren go off and it's off to the locker room we go for half-time. While in there, Coaches talk and try to figure out what is going on and what we need to do to succeed. We then run back out and get our stretches in followed by our version on jumping jacks, panther jacks. Then the whistle sounds and it's time for the second half to win. While the second half is going on, players from both teams can only think about one thing, winning the game. I start to get tired by the start of the 4th quarter. But I think back to our summer practices and think of Coaches yelling and telling us to "man up." Those thoughts there give me the edge I need to finish out the game. Usually, the game ends well and we can all celebrate. We run into the locker room cheering and hollering. Then slowly it quiets down, and I realize I'm the only one left in the locker room. I get undressed take off all my tape and head home. While in bed that night, I start to think about how lucky I am for being able to play and I starting smiling because I know that I only have a week until I get to do it all over again.