The field was littered with brown clumps of dirt left from a recent aeration. The sprinklers had been on last night, and it was 6:00 AM on a Fall Saturday in Rexburg, Idaho. The temperature was barely above freezing.
And I wanted to give up. I'd forgotten how hard football could be. Sitting there in tryouts for the BYU-Idaho football, league carrying another lineman on my back, doing whatever torture the coaches dreamed up I thought I was a foolish man chasing windmills. I'd walked away from a unglamorous sub .250 football carrier at the end of high school. Personally happy with my effort, but frustrated that I never had the experience of truly being part of a team. (if you haven't I suggest you read about it here before continuing.) But in the Summer of 2000 Gordon B. Hinckley gave me another chance. He announced that Ricks College would become BYU-Idaho, and they were getting rid of intercollegiate sports and instituting intra-collegiate sports. In other words the teams could compete within the university. I was on my LDS mission in West Virginia at the time, but it was then that I knew, I would play football again.
I had given up on football when I walked off the field after my 1 and 8 senior season in high school. A lineman doesn't really have many opportunities to perform his craft. Blocking without pads, and a backfield to protect isn't even close to the same. If you don't have an offer to play collegiality you don't have any future. But President Hinckley's announcement had given me hope.
At 6:00 am its hard to feel hope. When you're soaked to the core, doing the bidding of some sadist coach, performing the monkey roll in the mud, its easy to just walk away. Each day of tryouts the group got smaller and the vomiting became more frequent.
The BYFL has a no cut policy. Tryouts are there to weed out the weak and uncommitted. If you make it through tryouts you'll be on a team, but that's a big if.
My first year in the league I was placed on the Titans. Jordon, Our quarterback was a former jr. college QB that was finishing up his schooling in Rexburg. That year was great. A unofficial team goal was to never punt, and we didn't have to. ON the rare occasion we didn't convert on 4th down, our defense could stop them. I remember one game giving the other team the ball on our 20. Our defense held them to 4 and out.
We had a perfect season winning the league championship.
One of things that makes the BYFL different is the focus on becoming better people. All our practices began with a prayer and devotional, and the league had weekly devotionals. It was so different from high school and I loved it.
My second and final year in the league I was drafted onto the Knights. With black and silver uniforms we were the most menacing team in the league. I almost didn't come back for a second year. I'm glad I did. It gave me some of my best memories.
-Our quarterback was Dax Wells. He was a natural leader on the team. When he told you a way to improve, or when he told you you needed to get your job done better, you wanted to do it, and you would.
-I got stats! I thought I was fine with not having any official stats to track what I did in the game. But our coaches let me go out for two passes. The first one was a touch down pass. I was playing left guard and ran a five and out. Dax lofted it up there. But my cursed lineman's body wasn't fast enough, and the ball bounced indifferently off the endzone grass. Later in the playoffs, our coaches called the play again. I went three yards and out, turned, thankfully our quarterback knew how slow I was, caught the ball, and was promptly tackled. But I got three yards receiving, and that was enough for me.
-We were a team. Before games we would all gather close together, while Danny Vanstinkus, would say in almost a wisper, "who's that talking 'bout beating them knights?"
We'd all respond,"who that, who that say what." He then would call again slightly louder, with us repeating, all while in a tight huddle, and jumping up and down. This would continue until until near tumult levels
I'm sorry if I get a little personal here and apply this to life. Like the NBA says, "its just a game, right? But sometimes is so much more than that." Football was my sport, my brothers had basketball and track, and football, but football was really the only one where I excelled. But in high school I had been given a pathetic team with unconcerned coaches. I wanted football to be my sport, my life, but my team had never even won more than one game in a season, never bonded as a team. I wasn't bitter when I walked away at the end of high school, but I was empty and unfilled.
But God gave me a new chance with football at college. Not only did he let me play again, but he put me on two teams that were the exact opposite of high school. Two league championships, one undefeated season. Teammates and friendships. I have to believe that if God in his mercy gave me a second chance at football, and gave me more than I have ever deserved. He will give us blessings that far out weigh the trials we have experienced in this life. Children who are taken while young will be reunited with their parents, the abused will receive the love and caring so sorely missed. Those who long for families, and whose hearts ache from sometimes decades of being alone will have that intimacy so long denied them. Those and all the other tough times, set backs, and things left unfilled, will be rectified with blessings that far and beyond compensate us for the injustices suffered. If God will do that with a simple thing like football, I know he will do it with all the trials in life, for those who remain faithful to him. It may not be until after we think the opportunity has passed, it may not even be during our current lifetime, but it will come.