My son and I were driving home from his game on Saturday.  We had just lost a close one that would have put his team in the playoffs. This, of course, means his season is over. It was the first time in his football life his team will not play in the post season but 5-2 is still a good season by any stretch.

The drive home was unusually quiet. I’m used to him trying to coax me into going to his favorite restaurant for lunch or asking me to let his teammates spend the night but not this time.  This time all that came from the seat next to me was silence. Thinking this strange I glanced over to see a boy slumped in his seat, head bowed low with a lone tear streaking down his cheek.  I’ve seen him get upset over losses before but those previous times were reserved for huge games with much more invested in them than a spring season he decided to play at the last minute.  This time, however, he was much more melancholy, much more solemn.  I guess this loss hit him harder than I thought.

“Upset about losing huh?” I asked.

“Sorta”, he replied in a low, barely audible, tone obviously not wanting to talk about it.

So like any concerned parent I pushed a little more. “Well if you aren’t upset about the loss then what’s bugging you pal?”

In the same low, barely audible, tone he replied, “It’s all over”.

It was the winter of 2005; he had just turned six and was so very little, too little in my eyes.  I never grew up playing football including my time on the high school varsity team therefore I was indifferent to my son playing the game. My wife, however, grew up with football. She cheered and her brother played, both from a young age on through high school.  They watched the game on Sunday, Monday and any other time it was aired.  They were the quintessential American gridiron family so my wife would have it no other way; her sons were going to play football.

She signed up my little boy to play tackle football for the Leander Longhorns and head coach Steve Ferraro, a really good guy who after many years and umpteen number of players still greets my son like one of his own.  My boy was the smallest one out there and come to think of it he still is and Kathy, my wife, started to regret her decision. I started to enjoy it.

I stood and watched with the other parents and thought; “My gosh how can he play against these monsters?  He has no chance”. Then one day I came late to practice and coach Steve walked right up to me and said I had missed the biggest hit of the night and it was dealt by my son.  I was proud not at the ferocity of the event or aggressive nature of his success but at the dogged determination to play the game regardless of his size.

From that point on we were hooked.  He signed up the next year and played for a head coach named Brandon Pelt. Little did we know he would play for Coach Pelt, along with many of those same boys, for the rest of his 8 seasons in youth football.  It was more than a team but a brotherhood, forged in adversity, wrought with challenges and steeped in successes.  And success they did earn with an overall record of 69-11 and 6 league championships. With the adults, friendships grew strong and a family was born. A week never went by when we were not together. My son’s best friends were his teammates. They were inseparable and for many they still are today. We adopted those sons as our own and loved them as much, celebrating with each success and comforting with each disappointment.

As for my son, HE PLAYED FOOTBALL! He had no flair or flash. He did not possess natural talent or size. He was not the top athlete but he played with a love for the game equaled only by his love for his brothers.  He was the smallest one out there yet he stood toe to toe in the trenches, every play, chopping down trees and tackling mountains.  He could never wrap his head around the concept of quitting and that work ethic made him a starter and a 6 time league champion. He strapped it up every Saturday and did the job expected of him, ever so well.

This is not the end of the game for him, just the end of a chapter. It is, however, the last time he ever plays with these boys and for these coaches. They will now go on to play football for their different middle schools throughout the district and the children who played together for years as brothers will face each other as rivals. It is also the last time I get to stand on the field with my boy, coaching him, watching him, beaming like any father would.

“It’s all over” he said. I now understand what he meant.

So I say thank you to all the coaches, Steve Ferraro, Brandon Pelt, Earl Lee, Duwayne Poston, Greg Kelly, Mike Ombres, Lex Dunn, Hector Seijo, Scott Gilpin, Jeff Barrick, Todd Harrison as well as the others who have helped shape his life through the seasons.  Thank you to the moms, dads and grandparents who not only cheered their son’s name but my son’s as well.  And to the boys whom my son calls his brothers, thank you for being part of his life and ours. I hope your brotherhood will endure regardless of the different jerseys you wear.

So without further ado I’d like to present #64, Jared Lucero, my little boy for whom I could be no prouder. I do so love to watch him play.