Regular readers of this column know that August 1 is the official first day of the year on the Johnny Whitfield calendar.
That is, of course, the first day of high school football practice. It’s the day when the sweat really begins to pour and the hard work of building a successful season begins.
Seven-on-seven camps are done. Lineman now have their own camps. Those, too, are finished. Now, it’s the real thing – coaches hollering at players, wind sprints, running laps, learning techniques that have been drilled into your head since you were a Mighty Mite.
In a few days, the players will be able to don shoulder pads and football pants, and then they can begin hitting each other.
But those first few days are exhausting and exhilarating at the same time.
If you never played the game, I can assure you, it seems to the players like the first game is still off in the distant future.
But in less than a month, fans will be filing into to local high school stadiums on a Friday night to cheer their teams on.
The bands will be playing, and everybody’s shot at a perfect season will still be intact.
Still, that day’s nearly a month away. Thursday marks Day 1.
As my children have grown up, I’ve watched them get excited over upcoming events. Christmas thrills them, as it does any child. Our family Labor Day camping trip remains an insanely popular event every year. But no matter how excited they get, I somehow just don’t think their excitement matches the thrill I get for the start of football season.
When I was 10, my dad went to a grain convention in Charleston, S.C. Among the attendees was Jack Carter, the son of then-president Jimmy Carter. We sat in a bar at the hotel one night (I drank Shirley Temples) and I found myself in a booth with Carter and two other men. Even though it was basketball season, and we were in the heart of ACC country, I was talking to those men about the past season’s statistics for Minnesota Vikings running back Chuck Foreman.
I recall signing up one year to play Pee Wee football. There was a long line of boys at the field waiting our turn to sign up. I had already purchased my mouthpiece and taken my physical. As I waited in line, paperwork in hand, my dad was standing a few feet away talking to Jerry Newbauer, one of my coaches. Mr. Newbauer saw that I’d already had my physical and filled out my paperwork. He looked at my dad and said “He’s ready to go, isn’t he?” He was smiling at my dad when he said that, and I remember thinking to myself that I was more ready to go than he knew.
I had a child’s impatience then, and as a 40-something year-old adult, I still have that childlike impatience when it comes to football season.
College football games won’t start until Labor Day weekend, and that seems like an eternity.
Fortunately, I can go to East Wake most any day after Wednesday and watch the boys hoofing it around the field, watch them collide with each other, watch them do the repetitious stuff that is football practice. And even though it’s not a real game, it’s still football. And it still makes my heart race.