I like Coach Chuck Gannon. He says exactly what he means. He doesn’t give a flying rip about being “politically correct”, hip, “in tune” or up to speed on the latest fashion or buzz words. If one of the kids on this year’s edition of the Sharks football team didn’t do it exactly right, he pointed it out immediately, forcefully and very directly. And maybe, sometimes……loudly!
He loved our children enough to make them do right. I’m telling you right up front, not enough adults are doing that these days. There are too many in the appease mode. “Let’s be their friend. Let’s not hurt their little feelings. Let’s not make any waves.” Your children get enough of that “kum-ba-yah” junk! By high school they need some real guidance and direction.
Coach Gannon looked them right in the eye and told them life doesn’t owe them any favors. It’s tough. He fretted that some, in their present state, were ill equipped to handle it. And you can be well assured he explained it to the boys in terms they could readily understand! He also set about to adjust some thinking. He didn’t tell them it was time to grow up or “come on fellas, let’s act like men”…….he made men out of them!
I put on my ball cap and went out to practice every day to see how the kids were going to handle this. I looked around the first day and thought “if these guys can win four or five games, it will be a heck of an accomplishment. I wasn’t doing the ole Bear Bryant “woe is us” speech. This wasn’t my first rodeo. I have an inkling about football teams and the competition around the league. I’m telling you, five wins would be great!
Every football team is an entity of its own. It consists of some older guys who have a clue, some middle of the pack guys who haven’t quite made up their minds if this game is right for them and some young guys who are wondering how they got into this mess. We had them all on this year’s team.
Of course, I didn’t figure on the Johnson boys. I don’t know which is which. But they were always smiling……except during those wind sprints and the high knees at the beach! “Coach,” I’m not sure if it was “Cell” or “Quez” grinning up at me, “How old are you?” I couldn’t tell if he was just curious or afraid I might die before the Bay High game! But both of them are football players, plain and simple. They came early and worked hard. It was amazing how they grew during the season. Of course, I could say the same about JAYcobie, UUUMMM, Myleak, Will, Jasmin, Clayboy, Jak, John and every guy on the team.
Several seniors were out for the first time. Usually that doesn’t work. It’s just too much ground to make up in one year. But Drew had a little sense and was eager, Bryce filled in admirably and we sent Antonio and Cory down on kick-offs. We would not have had the season we had without them. Dwayne, another senior, transferred in. The word on him was he was somewhat selfish, a prima donna, who did things his way. I think Coach G musta had a pre-season talk with him. Listen, he said nothing to me except “yes sir, no sir and thank you, sir”. What a model young man……who could also catch and throw and punt and tackle. And did I mention run like the wind!
44 played hurt. You can’t underestimate that. Chad didn’t hardly speak to anyone, but you should see this young man’s smile. Reggie tweaked my vocal cords at times. AP worried me some. He is young and carefree……but he is also a football player. Natrone got hurt in the Jefferson game. What a loss! And yet our guys never missed a beat. Carter, who is a mite undersized, got hit in that game about as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen. When he staggered to the sidelines I asked him if he was alright. “Yes sir, I’m small coach, I’m used to getting hit hard.” That’s some “life stuff” you can’t learn drinking a coke and thumbing on your iPad.
And here’s some good news. Our young seventh, eighth and ninth graders are growing. They had some tough Mondays, let me tell you! I don’t think they were in love with the chutes, ropes or the sled. But they are making the adjustments. Keith, a first timer, Robert and JB stayed with me every day after practice for a “little more work”. I told’em they were terrible when the season started. They have improved to just bad. That’s progress!
Shoot, Stringbean and Du were the best managers in our division.
Winning eight games was a great accomplishment. And these guys will be 2013 District Champions FOREVER! But that was only a small thing in a bigger picture. I saw young men grow in grace, stature, behavior, humbleness, character and outlook. We laughed more than we cried. We triumphed more than we stumbled. We hugged more than we fussed.
We were, in the end, a team.
And, along the way, they were exceedingly kind to an old coach who applauded their accomplishments, took encouragement from their efforts and appreciated their friendship. For that, I will be forever grateful. And guys, I will never forget a single one of you. Thanks for the ride.