Though I was still very much a tiny fish in a huge pond of veterans, I was surprised at how quickly I settled into the swing of things. Whether it was scout team duties, individual drills, special teams, or leaving to eat before coming back for the second practice of a two-a-day, staying on schedule and being where you were supposed to was a workout in and of itself.
One ridiculously hot day in August, the starting offense was practicing against the scout team defense on the upper field. I was called in to take over at middle linebacker, so I jogged over to the huddle where our defensive coordinator, Scott Pelluer, was going over the upcoming play.
Coach Pelluer pulled the three linebackers together and began giving us our assignments.
“Will and Sam, I want you to show blitz and then drop into coverage,” he said while pointing to the two players to my right and left.
He turned towards me.
“Mike,” he said, “I want you to-”
“Coach,” I interrupted, “My name is Evan, not Mike.”
Blissfully unaware of the fact that, “Mike, Will, and Sam” were nicknames for the middle, weak side, and strong side linebackers, respectively, I wasn’t sure why a hush had fallen over the huddle.
After a few uncomfortable seconds, Coach Pelluer laughed, tapped my oversized shoulder pads, and explained everything that I needed to know for this play. I knew right then that he was a fantastic coach, one that I’d prefer NOT to give an aneurysm.
When we broke the huddle, I went to my position and got ready. My job was to carry out my blitz up the middle, getting to the QB (to tag, not tackle) by any means necessary. At the snap of the ball, I took off running. If there was one thing I was really good at, it was running fast, so I wasn’t surprised when I flew past the offensive linemen.
The real surprise, however, came when I realized that the offense was running a screen.
As I closed in on the backpedaling quarterback, I had no idea that the biggest player on the team, Cody Habben, was barreling my way. I was a split second away from reaching my target, and that’s when it happened.
Time slowed down as my body conformed to the lineman’s shoulder pads. I was driven hard into the ground as Jason Harris, our QB, passed the ball off to his receiver, prompting a whistle to end the play. Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I hopped right back up, only to be greeted by a wave of soul-crippling pain that is exclusive to the male gender. I had taken an accidental knee to an unprotected area, and the result was a full-bodied, nausea-inducing whirlwind of pain and obscenities. After a few seconds, the agony subsided just enough so that I was able to get back to the huddle, hobbling like Quasimodo impersonating a penguin the entire way.
Once back in the huddle, I was able to relax for a moment and get ready for the next play. Coach Pelluer glanced at me to make sure I was ready, something that may have come into question when I started breathing like a pregnant woman going into labor. Despite all of this, I remained in at middle linebacker, assuring my coach and teammates that I was good to go.
“Run it again,” Coach Pelluer said with an enthusiastic chirp.
I sacked the quarterback on the next play.
Next chapter coming soon…