How high school athletes should approach their last season

It’s that magical time of year again.

It’s a brand new high school sports season across the great state of Michigan. For people everywhere in the state that can be mapped out to a stranger by simply showing our hands, it’s a time to rejoice.

For communities, it’s another year to pull for their school, their team and the young men and women who wear the school colors with pride. For coaches, it’s another season filled with highs, lows, stressful nights, doubt, success and, to be 100% honest, do it all while never getting the recognition they truly deserve.

But for the athletes, it’s a special time.

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

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

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

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

First of all, you are never getting these moments back. Please, I beg you, take time this season to take in any and every environment you enter. These memories will stick with you forever. Make them good ones.

For example, I will never forget week four of my senior football season. It was our first road game of the season that just so happened to be our opponent’s homecoming game. Our bus rolled into town a tad early, we wound up accidentally being the end of the homecoming parade.

We were cussed at, called a few bad names and told that the home team “was going to kill us.” As someone who heard every word that was said on the street and had their younger brother making his varsity debut, I couldn’t help but laugh hysterically on the inside from the parade until we loaded the bus after beating their doors off with a 40- 0 win.

Second, once you hand in your jersey at the end of the season, it’s over. Sure, a few of you may go on to play at the collegiate level, but no matter what end of that spectrum you fall on, keep in mind that the communities you represent will forever speak of what your team does this season. Whether you’re best friends or bitter enemies with your teammates, you and your teammates will forever be part of your town’s history.

People continue to talk about our week six game against Pittsford to this day. They were the one team in our conference that could match our physicality, on top of a burning desire to beat us. It was a fourth quarter touchdown from Kirk Gibson, not the one you’re thinking of, and an extra point that gave us a 7-0 lead. Pittsford drove down to score with 11 seconds left, but our stonewall of a defensive line stuffed them on the two-point conversion.

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

Third, understand your worth to your community. Back home, high school sports games were our big ticket items. We didn’t have professional sports teams nearby, but we had the lights shining brightly on Friday nights.

Big cities have big name professional athletes, but the towns in this area have you, the high school athlete. You may not realize it yet, but you have a tremendous impact outside of school.

Football games in my hometown weren’t just any occasion. We tailgated two to three hours before kickoff. Hell, one person even parked their RV outside the stadium days before a playoff game just so they could get a seat.

But one moment stands out tremendously to this day.

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

But what I found out a few years later was how much that moment meant to Dominick which makes me misty eyed writing this. Once I left, Dominick’s smile spread ear to ear and didn’t wear off the entire night. After our encounter, he went running to his dad with a ludicrous amount of enthusiasm while shouting “daddy, daddy, I met a football player!”

This is what you mean to your communities. This is how deeply they care about you win or lose no matter how big or how small your role is. Don’t ever forget it.

So as you prepare to lace up your footwear for the first practice for the last time, don’t forget to enjoy the little things that high school sports have to offer. But most of all, don’t forget to have fun.

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