High school has hit like a tornado. Even expected and planned for, it's still a natural disaster.
I am involved in the Drama Club. I run track. I watch the Celtics. I shudder under the weight of Red Sox history. And I still play soccer.
I still play left fullback. I am still slower than everyone else and I still can't kick very well with my left foot even though I'm left handed. I am what coaches call "an effort guy", meaning I have no innate skill but I simply TRY harder than everyone else. I am intense on the field to a degree that sometimes simply unnerves my more talented opponents into frustration. I also am not against kicking you while the refs aren't looking or tackling you extra hard when I have no chance of stealing the ball. I can't out-play you but I can sure as hell make sure you think twice before you come into my area.
I am a starter on the junior varsity team as a sophomore. I'm ahead of a couple of juniors on the depth chart and feel a valued member of the squad.
Junior year starts and I look forward to possibly moving up to Varsity level. I'm in good shape. I am ferocious.
Tryouts begin before school starts. On a Saturday afternoon all the hopeful show up to the rutty field adjacent to South Kingstown High School. We go through drill after drill designed to weed out the have-nots. This is a team that has a State Championship as its goal so there are some obvious slots on the roster that are filled. As I said, I'm gunning to be a reserve on the Varsity squad.
The drill that ends my soccer career is a cone drill. Cones are laid out roughly ten feet from one another in a grid, two cones parallel, ten feet, two more cones parallel...
Offensive players enter the grid from the top and face one player per square. Practicing one on one offensive/defensive skills.
I can't remember the player I was facing but I do remember that he was one of the top players on the squad. There was a buzz as he entered the grid because his footwork was so good that you knew you'd get to see quite a show. I was determined to stop him even if it meant knocking him over. Again, I'm determined to be on the Varsity and if that means bruising a senior starter, that's what I'm going to do.
He jukes the first two guys in the grid and then comes at me. He is really fast but I have figured out his trajectory before he gets to me and I rush at him. As usual I don't use guile because my skill-set doesn't contain it. I ambush him head on. The ball ricochets out of the grid.
Somehow his foot pins my ankle to the grass. My body keeps going forward. There is an audible pop as my foot stays behind.
I get up quick and hustle back to the back of the line. I've still got two more chances in the grid. But before the drill comes back around to me I know something is wrong. There seems to be a space between my ankle and my foot. It doesn't hurt which is actually kind of disturbing. There is simply a blank where the connection ought to be.
I step out of line and let an assistant coach know that I have hurt myself.
Shortly thereafter it becomes difficult to put any weight on it whatsoever. I've damaged a tendon. 6 weeks of therapy before I can even think about playing soccer. I am on crutches.
I am crushed. The season is over for me.
I halfheartedly go about my rehab, which there is no hurry on since it won't get me back on the field in time for any of the season. Senior year I try out and do not make the squad. My enthusiasm is not enough to make up for the step I lost with the injury. I was already borderline too slow. Rabid hustle won't help you catch a guy who has already blown by you.
I would never play a team sport again.
I dove into cross country running and brought my psycho brand of competition to the woods, elbowing other runners and shouldering them into trees, but it just wasn't the same for me. I loved the race, the rush, but nothing compared to being part of a SQUAD.
Which brings me back to the title of this post. I think I still harbored childhood fantasies about my athletic talent. My desire was so great that I had not yet been faced with the fact that my athletic career was going to end in high school one way or another. The ankle injury gave me a quick preview of what was to come. So in an odd way I'm grateful to that grid exercise for softening that terrible blow.
I stopped that mo-fo, though. Damn straight he didn't get by me.