OFF THE BLOCK
The smell of fresh cut grass fills the air as the sun breaks through the clouds on the gold jerseys with black numbers. If you’re from the city of Detroit, chances are, you already know what I’m referring to when I say black and gold. Those are the colors of the Martin Luther King Jr. Senior High School Crusaders football jerseys. There is quite a legacy at 3200 E. Lafayette. An address that proves to be historic in the city and rings bells nationally now.
Field of Dreams
It was the summer of ’94 and I was walking onto the practice field for the first time. Unlike many of my soon to be teammates, I’d never played little league football. So, for me, this would be my introduction to the gridiron. I was 15 years old, a sophomore eager to play football. I am not sure if it was because I truly wanted to play or if it was because my friends played and suggested that I play as well. Whichever the case, here I was. Not a clue as to what to do and a nervous wreck inside, while trying to conceal my fear with a tough exterior. But, enough about football. That’s not what this is going to be about. In fact, the lessons I learned at 3200 hardly involved the game of football at all.
1st and 10
The first summer practice was horrid. I’d never ran so much or been yelled at so loudly a day in my life. I was ignorant to organized football and had not once even put on a helmet. However, after enduring the summer workouts and finally making it to the season, I’d actually become a decent football player. As a sophomore with zero experience, I found myself on junior varsity. A few of my friends were on the team with me, so it turned out to be pretty fun. The coaches saw my potential as a defensive lineman, so that is where they placed me. After getting trapped and blocked a few times, I wanted to quit, but that’s when it happened. Between the team camaraderie and the coaches efforts, I fought on and eventually became a starter for the rest of the junior varsity season. I even was the lucky recipient of a fumble that I returned for a touchdown. It was then that I was offered a chance to run the ball for the offense. I was really excited then because I was a fan of Jerome Bettis and thought that I could be him one day. So my first lesson learned was to fight through adversity and overcome obstacles and you can achieve your goals.
2nd and 10
The following summer, I’d been working out with seniors and some college freshmen so I was really feeling myself. Although I was working out all summer and getting ready for my junior year, I literally hated going to practice. I missed quite a few practices and tried to blame it on my summer job. Honestly sometimes it was the case, others I’d just be too lazy to go to practice. Finally it was the day before we were going to receive our helmets and I decided to come to practice. Coach Reynolds, my head coach at the time, told me that if a man doesn’t want to come to practice then a man doesn’t want to play on his team. Right there, he told me to go fishing! Yes…go fishing. This is the term he would tell kids who were being kicked off the team. My heart sank. It was my junior year and I was going to be on varsity for the first time. But because I was too lazy and not focused, I’d lost my opportunity to shine. I pleaded for another chance and got denied. Now I was going to miss my entire junior year of football due to my own foolishness. I understood then that o matter how good you think you are, there are rules for a reason and when you don’t follow those rules, you are subject to failure. Lesson learned.
3rd and 10
The following summer, just before my senior year, I came to every practice. I studied the playbook and watched films of great defensive linemen. Before the season I’d earned the 3rd defensive tackle spot. While there were two starters, this meant I was second string, but our defensive line rotated so often that I knew I would get playing time. My aggressiveness and heart earned me much more playing time than I imagined. I was even able to start in a few games during the season. I didn’t have division 1 recruit stats, but I contributed to a winning team defense that was one of the tops in the city my senior year. Going to war with my teammates was an undeniable adrenaline boost and an experience I would not exchange for anything on this earth. It was after that season that I learned the invaluable lesson of accountability. There is a level of achievement that must be met when others hold you accountable. And the accountability of your teammates in the game of football is immeasurable and must exist for you to succeed.
4th and Goal
Following my senior year, I went on to college. I played two years of college football at Adrian College. Well, I was on the team for two years, saying I actually played would be a complete fabrication. But it was the lessons that I learned through the game of football at 3200 E. Lafayette that prepared me to score in the biggest game…the game of life. RIP to Coach Harvel, my defensive line coach at King High, you taught me a lot. HIT SQUAD!!