Last week, we ran into an issue at football practice. We were short a few guys due to work and injury so I stepped in to play offensive guard during our team session. You want to know what — I think I still could play!
In the beginning, a defensive lineman on our team did not come up field to rush because he was on my side. I looked at him and asked why he wasn’t rushing. “Coach…come on now. You don’t even have pads on.” “I realize that, but you still need to get in your work and I want you to go full go — just don’t hit me in the face.”
The next fews plays played out like a real game. I would deliver a stunning blow and he would try to get my hands off of him. Using techniques that I wished I had employed when I had played I was able to hold my own for the majority of the practice. The defensive lineman beat me to the outside with a spin move, but a quick recovery allowed our quarterback to still find a receiver.
After everything was said and done, I felt that I could still go out there and play. I realize I am not All-American or would be a starter on my regular offensive line but if I was thrust into the position to play it wouldn’t be a catastrophe.
Feeling pretty good about myself on the drive home, dreams of putting the pads back on danced through my head. How can I get in better shape for next season? Could I be a player-coach? What position would suit me on my team?
All those questions were quickly answered the next morning when I woke up with sore legs. One of the things that I realized during the practice was that the stance of an offensive lineman was stretching my legs out. I haven’t played offensive line since 2003. I moved to running back/H-back when I played in college and hadn’t been consistently in a lineman’s stance since.
The next issue came with the knowledge that I had played the game of football with little injury. I had rolled my ankle a couple of times, sprained my knee and strained my rotator cuff diving on a fumble, but otherwise in the seven years I played football in pads I left relatively healthy. Working at the paper doesn’t necessarily require me to be bouncing off the walls and running all over, but sustaining a broken bone could make my work harder. Would I want to risk injury to put the pads back on?
Next thing that went through my head was my enjoyment of coaching. One of the hardest things for a player to do is coach former teammates. These guys know your traits and skillset from playing with them that at the end of the day, when asked to do something, most players will question if you would do it. In my years of coaching, many players have helped out while finishing up their degree and as much help as they were, it was too hard for them to move from player to coach. I could see the inverse happening if I decided to put a helmet on and run back on the field.
Lastly, I had to take my family in consideration. I know that my wife wouldn’t be for it as she is cautious with things. My children would think it was cool, but they also think it is cool that I coach.
After our game on Saturday, I realized that I can help more as a coach than I could as a player. As a coach, I can help control the game plan and be the go-between for the players to the head coach. As a player, I would just be another guy that maybe sees the field a few series a game. Not beneficial to the overall success of the team and the players.
I realize now more than ever that I enjoy the aspects of the chess game that is football. Setting up players in position to attack or counter the opposing teams moves is something that I thrive on. It is very special.
So, practice might be the only time that I decide to step in and “show them how it’s done!” I believe that my cleats and pads are firmly put away and will stay there. But never say never … .
Zach Stich is the managing editor of The Fergus Falls Daily Journal. His column appears Friday.