As the world’s worst photographer, I have to admit, I got lucky with the shot just above this column. I snapped it as the defending state champion Deerfield-Windsor Knights were running onto the field for their first contest of the 2009 season.
Take a good look at this photo and you will understand what high school football, and DWS football in particular, is all about.
On the day leading up to the moment this picture was snapped there were violent lightning storms moving through our area. It was a very turbulent late August afternoon. If you look at the sky behind these boys you can see the wind stretching “Old Glory”.
You may be expecting me to tell a dramatic story of a come from behind last second victory, but that is not what happened. That first game was interrupted by yet another turbulent storm. Play was stopped and the team, referees and a few fans waited around until after midnight to finish. The game went on.
The storm eventually passed and “Old Glory” was still there.
The characters in this photo tell a story. Number 34 on the far left is our junior middle linebacker Rhett Cooper. The team was walking out slowly through the smoke in unison until Rhett could not stand it anymore. He broke free to run onto the field so he could kill someone. The look in his eyes says it.
Number 7 is Reggie Brown. He transferred to DWS from a local school that has won two games in three seasons. That team may have 50 fans at their games on a good night. He had never played in an electric atmosphere like this where the fans line up for the players to run through banners, streamers and smoke. He has never been on a team where winning and excellence are expected, and he loves it. Look at the smile on his face. It says it all.
Number 21 is Walker Lanier, a junior defensive end that does what is asked of him on every play. Somebody needs to tell Walker he only weighs 160 pounds, but if you did he wouldn’t believe you. Walker has been at DWS since he began going to school. It is his home. Notice how he is locked arm in arm with his new team mate Reggie, who at the time of this photo, had only been enrolled at DWS for a few weeks.
Once play resumed in the game, our guys got beat up by a physical George Walton team. We lost the contest 16-6. The next week we rebounded and beat our long time rival Tatnall Square 39-21. Then we lost another game to First Presbyterian for a 1-2 start to the season.
Everyone that has ever played this game has heard a coach talk about how “football is like life.” As a teenage boy, those words go in one ear and out the other. That old crusty coach doesn’t know anything when you are 17, but those words will become clearer to these young men in time.
If football is like life, learning to handle adversity is one of the more important lessons it delivers. Most of these boys don’t have the worries of a failing economy or getting laid off or having to lay people off. They don’t yet know of the pressures of providing for a family or the constant worry and concern for their own children. They have not yet experienced sleepless nights with the World tugging on their cape.
At the moment this shot was snapped, these boys were ten feet tall and bulletproof. They were worried about catching the pass, making the tackle, and being a good team mate. Their time will come for heavier burdens, but at this moment, as they run under our flag, they are football players.
After the storms cleared, the game went on. The storms came back, and subsided again. The game went on. Such is life. The wind may carry you from New Orleans to Albany. It may take everything you own, but the sun will rise again. Are you going to whine and cry about the past, or buckle it up and fight for today?
With that 1-2 record it would have been easy for these boys to quit, and let the adversity dictate their season. It would have been easy to point fingers and let jealousies get in the way. It would have been easy to take concern for the path of the individual over that of your team. It would have been easy to let the storm wash away your ambitions. Fighting back is harder.
So rather than let the turbulence end a promising path, our boys created their own Lightning and he bolted for over 2,000 yards. From the outside one might conclude that DWS football is all about Tony Zenon. He is no doubt the heart of our team, but he would also be the first man to tell you there are 51 other players that contributed to the season.
After all, a heart needs arms and legs and a brain to have any purpose. Lightning creates thunder and I can hear the rumble of Quinton Adkins, Justin Webb, Banks Kinslow, Reggie Brown, Davis Moore, Michael Michas, Trent Brown, Jordan Funderburk, Parks Pace, Ben Guillebeau, and Ian Porter rolling across the pine tops. They create the threat that opens the field, and you can feel the tension building in the atmosphere. A crack, we all watch eleven defenders chase the ghost again.
They didn’t stand a chance.
I can hear the clack as Rhett Cooper puts a hat on some poor soul, only to be followed by the sound of another, then another. Gaughf Ivey, Cooper Shoemaker, Walker Lanier, and Matt Miller all want their share. They take it personally.
Those moments were delivered to you courtesy of long hours in the heat with the cob squad getting treated like the tackling dummies they are. The price to pay for the chance to one day be on the field when they too will have a chance to create something special.
The picture was taken prior to a 16-6 loss on opening night to George Walton. Life is rarely symmetrical, and second chances are priceless. When given one, create your own lightning.
Written by Mike Flynn.