I was a pretty weird high-school kid. I was quiet and kept to myself. Didn’t speak unless spoken to. I wasn’t passionate about much, but I lived for football. Playing football, talking football, or watching football was all I wanted to do, every moment of the day. So, while it was just a given that I would be at football practice every day, it wouldn’t be easy for a football coach to connect with a quiet and awkward kid like myself.
I don’t recall a lot of one-on-one conversations with our head coach, but I do remember him teaching us the lessons of respect and hard work that so many coaches try to impress on their players. I also remember that he gave me chances to make the most of my scant talent. Due to my knowledge of the game, the coaches experimented with me at quarterback. That failed experiment was very short-lived. My football hero was Jerry Rice, so my real dream was to play wide receiver despite my mediocre speed and lack of height. However, there were always better and taller receivers on our high school team. When I was a senior, though, our best receivers had graduated and I was second-string behind a player who had a few inches on me. Multiple times throughout the season, coach gave me a chance to earn the starting role for that week’s game by beating the #1 receiver in a game of “root hog.” This competition pitted two players head to head in a battle to get your pads lower than the other player and push him out of the circle first. I was shorter, so I should have had an advantage. However, I could never win. Coach gave me a chance.
However, I’m not writing a thank you note to my coach for what he did on the field. It was just over a month after the end of my senior season when my dad died. A few days later, my coach came to our house alone to pay his condolences. It must have been difficult to make this visit. He didn’t really know our family. Plus, I wasn’t the most talkative kid in the best of times. Still, he came to offer his support to our grieving family during the roughest days of my life. “What could I say?” he might have thought to himself. That didn’t matter, though. There was really nothing that anyone could say during that time to help me feel any better. When you’ve lost a loved one, it is just the presence of others that means more than anything. Though I was too much in a fog to remember any specifics of the visit, I will never forget the boldness it must have taken to offer his kindness. I am grateful for that visit.