Friday Night Lights. To some that is just the title of a movie or TV series. To those who have played football or still play football, it’s moments that we dream of. High school football is a defining moment in a young football player’s life. Those Friday nights could lead to earning full ride scholarships to play football in college. Playing on Saturday nights, dreaming of winning the National Championship. Dreaming of playing on Sunday nights, dreaming of winning the Super Bowl. To me, it was everything.
I didn’t start playing football until I was in 8th grade. A lot of my classmates had been playing since they were five years old. I had a lot of work to catch up. My coaches loved it when I came to talk to them about joining the team because I would have been the biggest lineman in the conference. When I signed up, I was just under six foot tall, and weighed in at 215 pounds.
When I got home that afternoon from talking with the coaches, I walked in the house and asked my parents if I could play football. My mom always said, “Is this something you really want to do? You know our rule about signing up for a sport, you start the season, you finish the season. No quitting in the middle of a season.” Looking back, I never really wanted to quit a sport in the middle of the season. I was always anxious for the next season once it had ended. I loved sports!
My dad had the happiest look on his face when I asked him and my mom if I could play. Now he could tell his one and only son about his football playing days. I had always seen my dad’s pictures of him playing football, but I never really did ask him about it much, he just said, “When I was in high school, we had 3-a-day practices, and I would go to work in between practices.” I didn’t think about that much, because in middle school we only had after school practices. I was still a little fit from wrestling and track just a few weeks before practices started for football, so I wasn’t exactly out of shape once I was able to practice.
It was the state rule that football players had to have 3 full practices without pads on before they could strap up their pads and have full contact. Now I had never really been hit before in my life, so I didn’t know what to expect. So on that first day I could practice at full contact. I fell in love with football. It got this feeling that’s hard to explain. I just fell in love with the sport. I struggled to remember the plays, but my coach mostly told me, “If you know the ball is going one way, push the guy across from you the opposite direction or get in his way. Our running backs will know what to do.”
Throughout my high school football career, I battled a lot of injuries, bullying from some of my teammates because I was injured all of the freshman season, where we were the first freshman in our school’s history to win a conference championship. My dad was right there along side of me as my #1 fan. Even though I didn’t get to play at all that season due to having to have bone removed from my foot, he was still at every single practice and game. My sophomore year was different. The head freshman football coach asked me to play down so I could get some playing time before I moved onto playing varsity my junior and senior years. I told him I would have to think about it and I talked to my dad and he said I should do it. So I told my coach that I would go ahead and play for the freshman team. He said to me, “Alright Bagg, I’m starting you at left tackle and nose guard. You’ll be playing both ways. Do you think you can handle that?” I told my coach, “You put us through conditioning drills for a reason coach. So yes I will be ready. I just hope I don’t let you down.”
So it’s game day, my first game that I was able to play in since I started high school football. We decided to kick the ball to start the half. So I had to go in on defense as the nose guard. The first play I busted through the line and sacked the quarterback. It was an exhilarating feeling. My first ever play on defense in my football career and I sacked the quarterback for a loss of five yards. After that, they kept double teaming me and I had difficulty getting through the line. I didn’t sack the quarterback, but I got one of their running backs. My coach was so thrilled to see me play on defense, he took me out for a play or two so I could catch my breath so I could get in there on offense and block for our guys in the back field. First play on offense of my high school football career, I opened up a hole big enough you could fit a semi truck through it. Our running back was really fast, all he had to do was beat the opposing teams defensive backs and he was in for a touch down. My coach said that we’ll keep running that same play until it doesn’t work anymore. Well it worked for the whole game, but we still came up short and ended up tying the game. At the freshman level they wouldn’t let us go into over time so we had to settle for a tie.
My dad was at that game. When he picked me up from the locker room after we got back from the game he said, “You gave the team momentum in that game. You were unstoppable.” I just smiled and I said, “I was only doing what coached asked me to do.” My dad just smiled and laughed and said, “You played one hell of a game. I’m so proud of you.” That was the first time I heard my dad say he was proud of me. The second time was when I graduated from high school. And the last time I can remember hearing him tell me he was proud of me was when I got accepted into Central College. I just wish he was alive long enough to say it to my sister and I when she and I both graduate on May 14th, 2016. I know he’s going to have the best seat in the house, sitting right next to my sister and I.
To kind of fast forward to high school. I had struggled to perform well because I had surgery on both of my feet at the end of wrestling season, which, at the time, I had no idea I was going to have several surgeries to fix a birth defect in my feet. But none-the-less, I came back each season to play football. I had several concussions, twisted ankles, busted my shoulder and I always had bruises. But, by the time of the summer before my senior season, my head coach saw potential in me, he said, “Bagg, this is your year. What college do you want to go to?” I thought he was joking, so I said, “Ohio State coach!” He got a giggle and said, “Alright, I’ll give their scouts a call.” Well, sure as shit he did. But they didn’t give me an offer, they gave my back up an offer, because in one game I fumbled one snap where it was the quarterbacks fault because he called the play from the shotgun and I couldn’t feel his hands up under me, so I snapped it like we were in the shotgun. Right then and there, I knew my football career was going to end in our final game of my senior season. I would never put on those pads again and never again step under those lights on a Friday night.
You see, my dad was always there to watch me play football. He loved the game because it brought him back to some memories of when he watched football as a kid and when he played for the Indians, just like I did, when he was in high school. My senior year he was very disappointed in the coaching staff because I had made it to every single off season practice without being told I had to, I got up and went on my own. I was at every single practice during the season. Up until I got sick and had to miss three days of school, doctors orders. That season, I only wanted one thing out of it. To work my hardest to help my teammates try to get to the playoffs for a chance at going to state and winning the title. But most of all, I wanted to win the Iron Man award. It was the smallest of all the trophies I had ever received, but it meant the most. Because it was a personal achievement award, something that I could win for myself and not the team.
One day after school, Coach Avery called me into his office after the awards ceremony that had taken place a day or so before. He said, “Bagg, I’m really sorry you didn’t get the recognition you deserved during awards night to receive this trophy. But, I understand this means a lot to you.” I looked Coach Avery in the eye and said, “I didn’t care about the recognition coach, I just really worked hard to receive one. The recognition doesn’t mean anything to me.” He looked at me with confusion and asked me, “What do you mean?” I looked at the trophy and then back at him and said, “This is the only trophy I worked really hard for. Putting in extra practice at home, taking snaps with my dad after 2-a-days. I have a lot of bowling trophies where I won first place, wrestling medals that I took first place in a tournament or two. But this trophy means the most because not only was I making a commitment to myself to be hear day in and day out to help the team, I was doing something for myself. I know that might sound selfish, but I never do anything for myself. I always do for others and don’t expect any recognition for it.” He got teared up after I said that, walked around his desk and gave me a hug and said, “Bagg, I never had a player with as much heart as you to ever play for me. I’m going to miss coaching you.”
To some, Friday Night Lights is just a phrase you say before a Friday night game, or a title of a TV show or movie. To others, it’s what we dream of. Being able to go out under those lights on a Friday night and show the community what we’ve practiced all summer for, to prove that we are worthy of winning the state championship. To show the community that we can perform well in college as football players. To try to get to the big game. To play the game we love so much, until we no longer can. Clear Eyes. Full Hearts. Can’t Lose!!!