I settle down at a table with three different hats on it, ready to announce my college commitment. “This was a difficult decision, but I’d like to thank all the schools that have recruited me and believed in me enough to offer me a scholarship. After a lot of thinking and analyzing I will be continuing my education and football career at…” No. That will never happen, none of it.
As a kid, I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to play football. Growing up with older brothers who played, and a dad who coached, I was always immersed in the sport. Even at age seven, I spent hours on the grass fields at Meadow Park bear crawling, tackling red dummies, and playing catch with my dad. I darted down the sideline as he hollered “Go long, Beetle!” I’m not sure I ever caught one of those passes, but observing those practices on the muddy grass fields sparked my interest in football.
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Once I started playing through the youth program, I enjoyed it even more. I loved hitting people while playing defense and shooting through gaps in the offensive line to thwart opposing running backs. On top of that, I gained the skills necessary to play receiver. The combination of snagging touchdowns and hitting kept me hungry for more.
Basketball was the other sport that consumed my childhood. Being taller than most opponents I faced, basketball came easily to me. I had no perimeter skills; however, my dad taught me some basic moves, such as the drop step and baby hook, that improved my inside game. Aside from that, my repertoire was very limited. Turnovers haunted me. I caved in tight situations and turned the ball over due to my lackluster ball handling skills.
Entering high school, I was terrified of dribbling the ball up the court or touching the ball outside the three-point line. I recognized I needed to change this to achieve my goal of playing in college, but I also realized it would be even more challenging if all my time was taken up by football.
When I started playing in high school, I presumed I would continue for all four years. I hated freshman football, and seriously considered if I wanted to keep playing. I hated practicing. I hated conditioning. I hated having no time. I hated being tired all week. I hated being hurt. My body constantly ached. My joints felt like those of an 80-year-old man. After practice each night I encased my knees and ankles with ice. It was the only way to relieve the pain. Sprinting hundreds of yards caused my legs to become like Jell-o. I would wobble around rolling from class to class regularly massaging my joints. This pain and dislike apparently didn’t show to others around me, however, even my coach.
Many students at my school are wary of the varsity head coach because he comes off as intimidating and demanding even though I know he cares about his team and players above all else. When he dragged me out of class to discuss my future as a player, I wasn’t scared; I was honored because it proved he believed I could be a valuable asset to his team.Do I even have a future on the football field? I was honest with him: “I don’t know if I’ll be playing next year. I love basketball, and I think football will get in the way.”Weeks flew by, and I was nowhere close to making up my mind. The Friday before a long weekend, coach ripped me aside during passing time and administered somewhat of an ultimatum, “I need to know your decision this weekend. Here is my number, text me what you decide.”
When I went to bed that night, I tossed and turned. Football or basketball? Will I regret not playing? Is he just saying this stuff to get me to play? Where will I play basketball? These questions bounced back and forth in my head as I contemplated my decision.
I woke up the next day and still had questions swirling around. What if I get hurt? What if I get a football scholarship? What if I’m eliminating basketball opportunities? What if this? What if that? My phone buzzed twice tearing me from my deep thinking. Dad: “If you like football, keep playing. If you don’t, stop.” It was such a simple text, yet it was so impactful in making my decision. It was later that evening, and I was pondering that text again. I didn’t like football anymore. I burned out.I yanked out my phone and typed one of the most formal texts I’ve ever sent:“After thinking it over, I’ve decided I will not be playing football.” Being the competitor he is, coach claimed my decision was “unwise” and that I should “strongly reconsider playing.” I wasn’t having any of it. I made up my mind and was ready to move on in life without football.
With all this free time I trained tirelessly to eliminate my weaknesses. To polish my ball handling, I completed two ball drills and dribbled with a ball three times the weight of a regulation ball. These enabled me to control the ball better and become stronger with it. After school, I would shoot 400 shots from all over the court. With the development of my jump shot, I became a threat from anywhere on the floor. I started blowing past defenders, swishing jump shots over them, and occasionally dunking on them. It was the first time in my basketball career I didn’t feel limited. I still have a long way to go, but looking back on it, the choice I made proved to be the most beneficial.
From an athletic and personal standpoint, the decision was the right one. I’ve seen improvement every year, statistically and in my confidence. I cut my turnovers per game in half, doubled my points per game and increased my shooting percentage by 15%. I’ve developed all aspects of my game and grown into an all-around player as opposed to the purely one-dimensional player I was when I entered the basketball program. In 2015, I was selected to 3rd Team All-Metro which was an affirmation of the work I’ve put in. As I head into my final season, I look forward to continuing my education and furthering my basketball career at a four-year university. After having lived with this decision for three years, I can say with certainty that basketball is and will continue to be a positive influence in my life.