by Ross Stewart
Ever since I was little I’ve both played and watched football. In first grade, my first test of organized football, I was in the YMCA flag football league. I didn’t really understand the concept of flag football because I wasn’t supposed to hit or tackle or anything that made the sport entertaining. But I was determined to get some “oos and awws” anyway. I was removed from every game. (Other kids cried fairly easily after being hit or tripped or tackled!) My parents thought it might be best to hold me out of playing football a few years until about fifth grade, when I was old enough for padded full-contact little league football.
That’s when I really figured out that this was my thing. I played about four years of little league and then junior high sports. It may come as a surprise after reading the first part of this story, but I didn’t shine or really do well at all in junior high football. I never started a game, got in, made tackles or anything. It was the first time I ever had to work for a starting spot and I just didn’t get it, I guess. I got in the mind set finally as a freshman in high school that if I wanted to play I would have to work hard for the playing time. So with some sweat and determination I earned a starting spot on the freshman team.
I wrestled in the winter and threw shot put in the spring and worked hard in the summer time. The next year I was up with the big boys. I was only a sophomore but I was starting on jv on scout team (as a practice dummy) and getting a few reps here and there on varsity. At the end of that year I had achieved my goal; I was one of only three sophomores to earn a varsity letter.
The next summer lifting weights was my full time job because I knew I had the ability to compete for a starting varsity spot. It was two-a-days and I came to practice ready to work. The starting defensive tackle spot became mine, I earned it. The hard work from the summer had paid off. As a junior in high school I stood 6’ 3” and weighed 245 lbs. The size I had gained gave me confidence. I lived for hearing my name and running through that tunnel on to the field. I was a big guy but never the biggest, pretty quick, but never the quickest. What made me a good football player was that when I strapped my helmet on I was no longer a nice guy. I was strong, aggressive, and, most would say, mean. But to me that’s how football is supposed to be. My dad always told me that you should be a nice guy the other 97% of your life but on the field you can be as mean and nasty as you want. I believe in this philosophy. I will tell my boy or boys, if I ever have any, the same thing my father told me. I will never apologize for the cussing, spitting way I played football.
By my senior year of high school, I was another year bigger, wiser and stronger. Still 6’3”, this year I weighed 260 lbs. That year had some of the best times of my life so far. And to this day the nineteen guys I ran onto the field with on Friday nights would drop whatever it is that they’re doing to help me, and I would do the same for each and every one of them.