*This column was originally published in the Petaluma Argus-Courier and on its website.
My television viewings are pretty bland — a ton of sports and re-runs of Seinfeld, Friends, The Office, and The King of Queens. The one show I watch religiously is ESPN’s documentary series, 30 for 30. Each short film explores a different person or event, mostly controversial, or flat out exciting.
On Nov. 11, one of the athletes that transcended my childhood was in the spotlight. The former star receiver who coined the phrase, “Straight cash, Homey,” and became an adverb for a receiver making a leaping circus catch over a defender — “Moss’d” — was having his troubled past examined, which made it almost impossible for us to take in greatness. What the highly controversial, yet off-the-charts talented Randy Moss said about high school football in the 30 for 30 documentary, “Rand University” made me pause for a second and instantly agree with the man.
“When it comes to the game of football, you will experience nothin’ like high school football. That’s Friday night lights, man,” Moss said while footage of the receiver dominating his high school competition was shown.
On Dec. 4, 2009, tears rolled down my cheeks after being defeated on Durst Field to end my football career. After going a perfect 10-0 in the regular season to win the Sonoma County League championship, and winning our first two North Coast Section playoff games to tie the school record of 12-0, our perfect season came to a crashing halt. Soma Vainuku, the All Pac-12 fullback at USC, gave me and the rest of my teammates the ending we never envisioned for the last time we would represent the Petaluma High School Trojans football team.
For myself, all of that changed this year. After spending four years playing college baseball, I was surprised, but happy, to hear that Petaluma High head coach Rick Krist wanted me to help out with the defensive backs when I got home from college. At the time, I wasn’t so sure what I would do. A part of me still had that athlete mindset of wanting to continue playing baseball and pursue it professionally. Another part of me was the freaked out college kid that only allows themselves to hear three words after graduation: “Debt, money, broke.”
I agreed to help out during spring practice, but I still had to keep my options open. In my eyes, that was the mature answer. Right from the get go, I fell back in love with the sport. I knew I wasn’t leaving and I was here for the ride with the rest of the players and coaches. There were numerous times during my freshman year of college when I dreamed about still playing football, and it became clear why.
A football team is a family. It takes a commitment that you must find deep within yourself to work, struggle, and prosper through the summer heat and then every day after school for just one game a week, where you take enjoyment in bashing each other’s bodies. Quitting is easy, staying the course is not.
Before our first game against Santa Rosa High School on Aug. 29, I felt easily as nervous, if not more, than any game I played in high school. I was facing a different beast. The control was out of my hands, and I could only hope that my nervous yells and hand signals made sense to our defensive backs. When we stopped the Panthers’ attempt of a two-point conversion to win the game, I went nuts, just like I did when we stopped Rancho Cotate High School at the half-yard line to win our first game in the NCS playoffs in my senior year.
As the year went on, I became less nervous and more confident, but the butterflies never went away. If they did, I had failed. Although they are always seen as a negative, every athlete knows those butterflies. No matter how heavy or light they feel in your stomach, they are a positive.
Whenever one of our players, and selfishly for me, a defensive back, made a big play, I might as well have been wearing my No. 20 purple jersey again. I wanted to be the first one to congratulate him on the sidelines, and not because my coaching paid off, but because his hard work and commitment to his brothers paid off.
Our team experienced ups and downs, injuries and jubilation. We hugged, we laughed, we yelled and in the end, plenty cried, because it was the end. The beauty of it all is that the end is far from over.
In 2010, I was coach Krist’s teacher’s assistant for his ninth grade PE class. A year earlier, I hugged and cried with my teammates when our season was over. I thought Friday night lights were over for me as a Trojan. I was wrong. Instead, this year, I was running down the sidelines on the other side of the out-of-bounds marker as a Trojan again on the now-named Ellison Field. Almost all of our coaching staff are former Trojans, and my teammate from that championship season, Braeden Ross, is the head coach of the junior varsity team. We cry because we think it’s over, but the lights never turn off on Friday nights.
Friday night lights last forever.