How high school athletes should approach their final season

It’s that magical time of year again.

It’s a brand new high school sports season in the great state of Michigan. For folks all over the state who can be mapped to a stranger by just showing our hands, it’s time to rejoice.

For the communities, it’s another year to draw for their school, their team and the young men and women who proudly wear the school colors. For the coaches, it’s been another season filled with ups, downs, stressful nights, doubts, successes and, to be 100% honest, doing it all and never getting the recognition they truly deserve.

But for athletes, it’s a special moment.

For freshmen — well, a large portion of them at least — it’s the dawn of their high school athletic careers. But for seniors, it’s the beginning of the end.

It’s a feeling I understand all too well. This is exactly where I was 10 years ago.

At the time, at Climax-Scotts, I was nicknamed “The Hulk”. According to my football coach, I was a mild-mannered young man at school, but once I threw the pads away, I “unleashed the fury”. It’s cornier than the state of Nebraska, but people back home still call me that today, and I still smile when it happens.

Anyway, the main point of this: To those seniors who are about to embark on their final year of sports, please heed my lecture.

First of all, you never get those moments back. Please, I beg you, take the time this season to soak up all the environments you enter. These memories will stay with you forever. Make good ones.

For example, I will never forget the fourth week of my senior football season. It was our first away game of the season which turned out to be our opponent’s return game. Our bus arrived in town a bit early, we accidentally ended up at the end of the return parade.

We were sworn at, insulted and told that the local team “was going to kill us”. As someone who heard every word that was said on the street and watched his younger brother make his college debut, I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically inside the parade until as we load up the bus after beating their gates with a 40-0 win.

Second, once you return your shirt at the end of the season, it’s over. Sure, some of you may go on to play at the college level, but no matter which end of that spectrum you’re at, keep in mind that the communities you represent will forever talk about what your team done this season. Whether you’re your teammates’ best friends or bitter enemies, you and your teammates will forever be part of your city’s history.

People keep talking about our week six game against Pittsford to this day. They were the only team in our conference that could match our physique, plus a burning desire to beat us. It was a fourth-quarter touchdown from Kirk Gibson, not the one you think, and an extra point that gave us a 7-0 lead. Pittsford rolled to score with 11 seconds left, but our stone wall from a defensive line stuffed them on the two-point conversion.

After that game, our team chemistry cemented, essentially won another conference championship, and earned another victory in an intense rivalry. But more importantly, it gave my community not only a reason to drive four hours round trip to the game, but also a sense of pride.

Third, understand your value to your community. Back home, high school sports games were our big ticket. We didn’t have any professional sports teams nearby, but the lights were bright on a Friday night.

Big cities have big name professional athletes, but the cities in this region have you, the high school athlete. You may not realize it yet, but you are making a huge impact outside of school.

Football games in my hometown weren’t just any occasion. We hounded two to three hours before kick-off. Hell, one person even parked their RV outside the stadium a few days before a playoff game just so they could sit down.

But one moment stands out hugely so far.

It was before our third home game week. I was talking with one of my aunts before going into the locker room to get ready, until a 4 year old boy named Dominick passed by. My aunt introduced us, I gave her a high-five and got ready for the game which turned out to be another blowout.

But what I discovered a few years later is how much that moment meant to Dominick, which makes my eyes watery as I write this. Once I left, Dominick’s smile spread from ear to ear and didn’t dissipate all night. After our meeting, he ran towards his father with derisory enthusiasm, shouting “daddy, daddy, I met a footballer!”

This is what you represent for your communities. It’s how much they care about winning or losing you, no matter how big or small your role. Never forget it.

As you prepare to tie your shoes for first practice for the last time, don’t forget to take advantage of the little things that high school sports has to offer. But above all, don’t forget to have fun.

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