I remember the summer between 8th grade and high school was filled with extreme apprehension for me. I was terrified of starting high school. Social situations was never my strong suit, I was either the class clown, or the awkward introvert, or the awkward class clown, or just awkward. I had also heard horror stories of froshing, the high school hazing where upper classmen would terrorize the class of incoming freshman by drawing on them with markers the word “frosh.” This concept for some reason struck with me an enormous amount of fear, coupled with the typical anxiety of growing up, starting a new school, new people, new teachers, new everything. The anxiety was so great and I was regretting starting school so badly that I distinctly remember thinking that summer, “Maybe the world will end before I start high school, and I won’t have to go.” I was not only thinking this, I was actually hoping it would be the case.
It was not the case, and high school started. Scott encouraged me to join the freshman football team. He and I had played on several flag football teams and despite my tendency to consider myself a loser, I was decently athletic and was a killer wide receiver and corner back on our flag football teams. I could typically out sprint my opponents and we had a few good quarter backs who could launch passes to me for huge gains. I also remember I was fast enough that when I would guard wide receivers I would let them get about 5 yards behind me baiting the quarterback into throwing them the ball, and I could then spring fast enough to catch up to them and intercept the ball.
One memory I have in my mind was the other team was on the 5 yard line or so, and I was covering a wide receiver. The wide receiver headed for the end zone and then did a button hook leaving me about 3 yards behind him in the end. When the qb threw him the ball a little high, the receiver reached out to grab the pass, and somehow I just knew he was going to let the ball slip through his hands. He did, and I caught the ball deep in their end zone, instead of downing the ball I took off and out ran everyone the field and scored a touchdown!
Given my flag football accolades I figured I’d be a great asset transferring to tackle football…I was not. Turns out there is a distinct difference between flag football an tackle football. In flag football nobody tackles you, in tackle football, everybody tackles you.
I remember the first practice with full pads, the coaches were thrilled to announce that “today, we’ll be doing hitting drills!” I was less thrilled. It occurred to me very quickly, I had never tackled anyone before, and I had never been tackled before. In my youth I’d played 3 sports, soccer, flag football and basketball, all non-contact sports. I was also a fairly skinny kid, probably a buck 50 at heaviest, and I don’t quite recall my growth spurt milestones, but I was probably 5’10-6′ tall. I’m 6 feet tall now, but I honestly don’t quite recall when I reached my peek height.
The first drill the coaches had us do was two players laying down on our backs in between two padded dummies, head to head. The coach would yell hike, and we’d have to jump up and tackle each other. It was a tackle or be tackled game…I was tackled….every time. The next drill the coaches lined us up facing each other with about 10 yards in between us, then put a cone in between us and over to the right about 10 yards. The coach would throw the football to one side who would then run toward the cone over to the right, as the other side was tracking us. As soon as we got to the cone we were supposed to then move forward toward the defending player whose job it was to of course tackle us. I remember when it was my turn to run the ball, my opponent happened to be our starting quarterback and our starting safety Raul Ramerez. I was terrified. The coach said hike threw me the ball and toward the cone I ran, with Raul tracking me like a hawk. When I got to the cone I cut up as instructed and Raul absolutely leveled me. It was painful. I got up, walked over to the sideline, sat down and cried while trying really hard to not make it obvious to everyone of my athlete peers and coaches that I was crying. But there was no way I could take another hit like that, that day.
Despite my inept skills as a tackle football player I did not quit. Our team was okay, I think we went 5-5 for the season. And on the last game of the season I was promoted to starting wide receiver….because the 5 receivers in front of me were ineligible due to failing grades. But even then it was clear to me that I did not have a future as a football player.
I went from football to the freshman basketball team, and although basketball was more of a strong point for me, I was learning that my acumen as an athlete was pale compared to the fiercer competition presented in high school. I spent most of the time on the bench, only receiving playing time when we were up by 20 with a few minutes left in the 4th quarter, or down by 20.
It was clear I was not cut out for the high school sporting world. However, my freshman year I was also part of the J.V. concert band, which was the feeder for the famous McClintock Charter Marching band and varsity concert band conducted by the revered and legendary Doc Wilson. As my freshman year concluded and Sophmore year began I joined the drum-line and would never play high school sports again.
It was my Sophmore year that I met an individual who would become a significant individual in my life as a comedian and musician. That was the year I met Albert Wolfe.