I almost headlined today's column “Story time with Grant,” but I thought that'd be a little too on the nose.
It is mostly about me, but I think it can jog some fun memories for the readers, too.
Today — not literally today, but when I wrote this — I sent out my Fall Sports Preview section questionnaires. The questions answered by Blair, Arlington and Fort Calhoun fall sports coaches will appear in that preview section once the season gets rolling here at the end of the month. Props, by the way, to Jennifer Fangmeier, Ginger Appel and Steven Gubbels, who emailed me back answers within the hour. Ya'll are the bomb.
Anyways, when I send out those emails, it usually means that the first day of practice is not far behind. Most, if not all, Washington County sports teams start preparing for the first games or meets of the season on Monday. That's exciting, but it can also be nerve-racking for the newbies.
Let me take you all the way back to August 2004. It's Humphrey, Nebraska, and the practice field tucked neatly behind Humphrey St. Francis High School isn't yet hardened mud that'll break the skin on impact.
The grass is green, the sun is hot and the church bell sounds at the top of every hour across the gravel parking lot. Everything seems like it'll be OK, right?
Listen, lil' freshman Grant Egger is thin, but he's not threatened by a little contact on the football field. He loves football. He only started playing two years earlier, but its a sport the uncoordinated, mop-headed 14-year-old is good at because he doesn't think twice about throwing his body at whoever's carrying a ball that he, himself, should probably never, ever carry.
That said, Grant is still a little bit soft. He hates the heat and only does hard work begrudgingly — just ask his dad.
If I remember correctly, my first high school practice was hot, but it was fine. We did two-a-day practices back-to-back, meaning there was about four hours of practice jammed into about 4 1/2 hours' time. If that's illegal now, I'm sure the statue of limitations has been reached, right?
Despite that length, I remember thinking practice was fine and dandy — until the end.
In HSF football, we had what was called the Triple Crown of conditioning. Each horse race name — the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes — was a different running-based exercise we completed at the end of practice. Without thinking too hard, I don't remember what each entailed, but I do remember a lot of back-peddling, bear-crawling on all fours and thoughts of quitting.
After the first day of practice in August 2004, our coaches had us run not just one race of the Triple Crown, but all three. Again, I don't know all the specifics, but I do remember the end.
The last stretch of our Triple Crown was a 100-yard bear crawl weaving between pine trees lining the north side of our practice field. With sweat running in my eyes, my arms aching and air becoming more and more difficult to come by, I didn't even notice the fallen pine needles digging into my bare hands.
By the time I was done, I thought I was done. I loved football, but, at that moment, just the easy junior high version.
Quitting, however, wasn't an option. My parents aren't “sports people” necessarily, and they never said aloud that I couldn't quit, but they had, somehow, ingrained in me that giving up on something because it was tough isn't the way to go.
So, that's my advice to freshmen starting practice Monday. Some, I'm sure, will find week No. 1 “too hard” or “not for them,” but may I suggest getting through one season? It's amazing how you go from hating things you do one time, to loving and learning from it two or three months in.
As my freshman season went on, and my conditioning got better, I started enjoying the challenges I faced. The team became my motivation, rather than flat-out getting out of practice alive.
Lil' freshman Grant was never a thoroughbred, but the ol' mule gutted out the Triple Crown and ended up grinning through it all, making sports a key component of his career until Leeanna and the Rhoades family decide I suck (which is unlikely, considering they love me).
So, go ahead freshmen, enjoy the good and bad times. They're all worthwhile. You've got this!