by Jim Buzzerd
It’s been 50 years since August 1 had any real significance to me, but it is a date that will always remind me of the first day of football practice. Monday marked the 50-year anniversary of the first practice of my final season of organized football on August 1, 1972. In total, I played just six seasons of organized football, so that equals six first days of practice beginning in August of the year I would enter the seventh grade.
I was anxious to play junior high football. There was a group of six to eight of us that had a helmet and shoulder pads and played a fair amount of backyard football. I could throw for touchdowns, catch touchdowns and, even though I was blessed with the speed of a slug, I even ran for a few touchdowns. Plus, I usually placed in Ford’s Punt Pass and Kick competition, making me think I was on the path to be a successful football player.
Then came that first practice. It was pushups, jumping jacks, squat thrusts and running, and more running and even more running. I had no idea what conditioning was and that it was important to play football in a setting outside of my backyard. Most of the eighth and ninth graders seemed to be enjoying the process, maybe tolerating would be a better word. Anyway, they were dealing with the grueling practice much better than I thought possible.
I went home that night determined that I would not be returning to football practice the next day. I did not get far into my reasons before I realized I was not going to be permitted to make my own decision on the matter. I was told in no uncertain terms that I would be at practice the next day and the day after that, etcetera.
The next couple practices were predominately more of the same conditioning routines, I don’t exactly remember when actual footballs were introduced to the proceedings. I did quickly come to the conclusion that my backyard foes had done nothing to prepare me for what was coming and that whatever my role was going to be, it wasn’t going to involve throwing, running or catching the football. The biggest barrier preventing me from being in position to handle the ball in any capacity was my lack of speed.
I learned a good bit that first year, though I was never a threat to see the field in a game, I was beginning to learn blocking and tackling techniques as a lineman on both sides of the ball. Still, I was pretty much a tackling dummy for my first four seasons of football. I mean I became a starter in the ninth grade, but for some reason if the varsity coach noticed me making a couple plays in our practice, he would drag me to the other end of the field and pit me against three seniors in a hamburger drill. I don’t think he liked me.
I lobbied hard before August 1 preceding my sophomore year to get out of football. My reasoning was solid this time, I thought. I had grown six inches and had shown more potential on the basketball court than I ever had on the football field. It just seemed to make sense to put extra time into a sport I liked better and played better. Once again, I was not given a choice in the matter.
As the next August 1 approached, I put up some token resistance to going out for football, but I was sure I was going to see the field as a junior, so wasn’t trying to convince anybody of anything. It’s just that August 1 was a signal that it was time to argue about going out for football, so I obliged.
The final season was different. Six years after beginning football I was finally looking forward to playing. I knew what was coming and I knew I could compete. Still not fast, but I had improved in that area. I got to catch a dozen or so passes, and we usually ran a play a game that I threw a pass. Not impressive stats, but at least I had one enjoyable year playing football. The downside is we were only 2-7-1 with a sophomore laden team.
I tend to think about those six years of football around August 1 every year and I’m happy I wasn’t allowed to give it up.