My short-lived football career was a lot of fun. I was not tall enough to play quarterback, so I ended up being a smallish lineman, offense and defense. I especially loved playing defense – I thrived on the challenge of stopping the opponents’ offense. I never was anything outstanding, but my three years of football (7th – 9th grades) were certainly memorable.
Different football memories are triggered as I go through my days. This tackle or that tackle, this practice or that practice. One game in particular comes to mind today.
It was a sunny, crisp, autumn game in northwest Colorado. We were playing our rivals, Steamboat Springs, and I mostly played defensive tackle that day. We won the game, but no thanks to me.
The Sailors began a second-half series near midfield. We were all lined up, ready for the ball to be snapped. WHISTLE!!!! The referree threw a flag and announced the penalty: “Encroachment, defense, number 72. Five yards.” I was disgusted! As I looked around for number 72, I realized that that was my number! Apparently, I had lined up too far forward, slightly in the “neutral zone.” Well, I gave the opponents five yards, but I was ready to try it again. So, we lined up again, awaiting the center to snap the ball to the QB.
WHISTLE!!!! “Encroachment, defense, number 72, five yards.” “What in the heck???!!!” I thought. I did my best to align myself with the rest of my defense, but I was apparently too far forward – again. Great. I just gave the Sailors a first down! Well, graciously, my coach left me in. Although I gave the offense ten free yards, I had a chance to make things right. Maybe I’d get a sack. Maybe I’d bring down the half back. I was ready to help my team, not hurt them.
Being careful to line up correctly, I looked intently down the rest of our defensive line. According to my perspective, I was not any further forward than the nose tackle to my right. We were set for the next down.
Yeah. The whistle and the yellow hankey came out. . .and, yes, it was me. Again. 15 yards in three consecutive plays. That’s a good chunk of real estate in high school football. I believe that was my last series of the game. For good reason.
I did not mean to encroach, to camp out in the neutral zone. But I did it repeatedly. And it cost my team. My coaches talked to me. I was embarrassed, and I was angry with myself.
I look back at the last handful of years, and I can clearly see the penalties that I’ve wracked up. I’ve cost my team countless yards in this game we’re playing. Right now I feel like I’m riding the bench because of it.
My Coach is a forgiving coach, but he is also a relentless perfectionist. He doesn’t remind me needlessly of my past penalties, although the lost yards in the game aren’t easily earned back. Coach lets me know what He expects, and He has designed daily practice to help me develop discipline, to help me become the member of the team He wants me to be. Because I’m on the team, He’s committed to sharpening who I am. Practice isn’t pleasant at the time. But, after the championship has been won, I know I’ll be thankful for every painful drill and exercise.
I’m grateful the outcome of the game is already determined. But I want to play to win; I want to get off the bench. I want to line up with my teammates, and win this thing together. I need to get my head in the game.