(Image courtesy of http://tiger.towson.edu.)

"Football is the best sport.  You know why?  Cause you can hit people and not go to jail for it."

Said by my defensive line coach at Greenville College, Coach Stew is exactly right.  There is something about football that makes it
unlike any other sport on the planet.

Perhaps it's the way deep friendships are formed through the pain - the blood, the sweat, the tears - on the practice field and in the weight room.

Perhaps it's because of the discipline of practicing and training for an entire year just to play ten games on a fistful of Friday nights in the fall.

Perhaps football is such a great and unique sport because it requires teamwork from all eleven players on the field as well as all forty on the sideline.

Perhaps it's the greatest sport because of the many life lessons it teaches you in perseverance, discipline, hard work, sacrifice, and teamwork.

These are all the things that made football worthwhile for me.

Then again, I'm not like every other football player.

While many of my teammates throughout high school and college were concerned strictly with winning, gettin' the girls, and drinking in celebration of a momentary victory, I was more concerned with trying to do what was right - in every aspect, not just on the field.  Of course, I did have other teammates who were equally focused, some even more so.  But now that I am in the coaching realm of public, high school football, I find the qualities and lessons I learned from my years of playing difficult to pass on to the next generation.

Bolivar Tigers' coaching staff.  (I think you can find me....)
Last night, the Bolivar Tigers (the team I coach for) got stomped by Jackson Christian School (JCS), 54 to 32.  Yet even after our monstrous butt-kicking last night, I was encouraged that JCS invited our team to pray with them after the game.  Standing at midfield seeing the blue jerseys of JCS and the green jerseys of Bolivar mingled together in fellowship brought back memories from my days at Greenville College, where Christ was the center of football.  I missed it.

In addition to being an assistant on the varsity team, I am also one of two freshman coaches.  We have the biggest freshman class in years - thirty-five.  It has been a lot of fun, but also very discouraging.  I brought many things from my past football programs to the freshman team; "put-ups" are one of those things.

Put-ups are done after practice and after games, regardless if you win or lose.  I had my first experience with put-ups when I was at Greenville College, under the leadership of Coach Ordell Walker.

I have done my best to encourage the team to do what is right, and have used put-ups as a way to do that.  I have put policies and punishment in place for things ranging from trouble in the classroom to a dirty locker room to try to instill righteousness into my players.  Still, I often wonder if I'm making any difference.

In the past two months in freshman football, we have had fights (our star running back missed ten days and three games for fighting, and another player literally hit a girl in class), at least seven in-school suspensions, several quitters (don't get me started on a quitter...), many skipped practices, one player suspended from an entire game for cussing at a teacher, and countless bad attitudes.

This being said, yesterday's behavior came as no shock to me.

Yesterday, before we left for the varsity game, I was coaching the thirty-something freshmen all by myself.  We started the practice out with up-downs for players being late to practice.  Then we bear-crawled for over one-hundred yards because of a dirty locker room.  Still, there were attitudes of, "I don't deserve this punishment."  I dismissed one player out of the competition games we were playing for his poor attitude.  But I did my best to look past it and not let one kid ruin it for the rest of the team that was trying hard.

The freshman team.
After our sprint relay game, we headed over to flip tires for another competition game.  Another player refused to try at all.  I finally had enough.  I blew up.  And this wasn't the first time.

Earlier in the year, I was in my coach's office getting some things ready, waiting for the freshmen to get dressed for practice.  Suddenly, I heard shouts and cussing and knew a fight was about to go down.  I walked out in the locker room and went berserk.  I kicked a trash can, broke my clipboard on the wall (which I really do miss, by the way), and yelled at them for behaving like that.  "We are a family!" I yelled.  "I will not let you tear each other down!  We are a team!  And teammates do not treat other teammates like this!"  Sadly, an eruption is sometimes what it takes to grab the players' attentions.

But back to yesterday.

After the player refused to try in the competition games, I yelled and told everyone to get off my practice field.  I had had enough of the lazy, complaining, "I'm entitled to having things my way" attitude.

As the team made their way to the locker room, I walked around the school, slouching against a brick wall.  I prayed, "Jesus, I can't do it.  I can't handle this behavior.  I don't feel like I'm making any difference.  I'm so mad at these kids right now.  I can't take these attitudes anymore.  I want to get out of this place.  How can I fight against an entire culture of 'I don't care" attitudes?'"  (To make matters worse, earlier in the day, I had several of my students refuse to give their English class speeches, even after we worked on them all week long!  They simply didn't care if they took a zero.  So, of course, I had to address that... and that was how I spent my morning.)

I knew I couldn't go back to face the team in my anger, so instead I walked around for a while.  I then vented to another coach and regained my composure.  Finally, I decided to go talk to the players about what it means to be a man.

I walked in and sent two players into my office to wait for me because they needed a separate talk.  Meanwhile, I talked (I didn't yell) to the team, telling them what it means to be a real man, and, in turn, a real football player.  I told them that I grew up with a mom and a dad who loved me, and who disciplined me when I did wrong.  I told them I had men to look up to growing up.  I told them that I was aware that many of them didn't have a mom or a dad who cared about them, not even about the way they acted.  I told them that being a man doesn't mean having a fancy car with big rims.  I told them being a man doesn't mean throwing a tantrum when you don't get your way.  I told them being a man means putting others first and yourself second.  I told them being a man means having the courage to stand up for what is right even if you're the only one willing to do so.

I'm not sure if I made any difference.  And I know many people will not understand why I'm so passionate about this; no doubt, many are wondering why I'm so bent out of shape.  After all, isn't football about winning?

But winning isn't everything.  And I'm not on this earth to fit into everyone else's distorted views.  I'm here to make a difference, to go beyond the normal.

Honestly, I couldn't care less if I won another football game in my entire coaching career; winning is not my end goal.  If the players I coach don't turn out to be better men, then football is a worthless waste.  Don't misunderstand me: I played as hard as I could every single snap in the years I played from seventh grade to my senior year in college.  And I wanted to win.  You can bet I wanted to win just as much as anyone else.  But a person is not defined by their wins and losses on a field with some paint on it.

For what does it profit a man to win a football game and yet lose his own soul?  (See Matthew 16:26.)

Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, a man who makes millions of dollars every season, who has three Super Bowl rings, and many awards, wonders to himself if there's something more to life.  Don't believe me?  Watch his interview with 60 Minutes where he says so himself:

(Video courtesy of CBS News.)

It feels like it's fourth down for me here in Bolivar, Tennessee.  Even so, my purpose in coaching will never change.  I am here to help mold boys into strong men.  Football is just a means to that end.

We live in a world where few people seem to care anymore about what they do.  They live as though their actions have no consequences; "whatever feels good at the time, do it."

It is up to you to choose if you live like everyone else - live mediocre - or go beyond mediocrity.

Do what's right.