Tallahassee, FL - September 27, 2012
FAMU's huge victory over Hampton recently was no accident.
Coaches will tell you those games are first won on the practice field. I got the chance to suit up and play with the Rattlers just before that big win over Hampton. Coincidence? I think so. My comment as I strap on the helmet? "I have never put on a football uniform in my life! It's going to be very obvious that's true! How do I look.. fierce, I know!"
Greg, the equipment manager, has worked for a couple of pro teams too, and I'm sure he's never seen a more clueless player.
You add the shoulder pads...the jersey... the cleats...and like a warrior of old in his armor, you're ready for the field of battle.
The coaches wasted no time throwing me right into those warm-ups.
"Can you get injured in warm-ups?" I ask.
I had no clue what I was doing, stumbling through the exercises and bringing smiles to the faces of the real Rattler players.
Next it was time to pump up some Rattler pride and start the drills.
The team gathered to yell out "R-A-T-T-L-E-R-S!" at the top of their lungs, and then divided up for drills.
As I met coach Joe Taylor, I asked, "if really do well today, is there a chance I could make the team?"
His response: "there are two chances.. slim and none!"
Yes, but he said that before he saw my skills, like kick return coverage!
A real player took off at top speed, dodged the defenders and slammed into a practice dummy.
Next it was my turn and it was not a pretty sight! When I finally got up to speed, I tried faking out the defenders, but lost my balance. Despite a valiant attempt to stay on my feet, I fell head over heels to the turf, to my embarrassment.. and the delight of the coaches and players.
The Rattlers' kicker, Chase Varnadore, has had to make a couple of
touchdown- saving tackles this year-- one of those against mighty Oklahoma.
He says "I hope they tackle 'em. If they don't I have to!"
He also kicked two field goals against the Sooners.
Says Chase, "it was loud but I didn't really hear the crowd at all. I was in my zone."
Could I get in the zone as a wide receiver? It Looked easy enough.
But I dropped two passes right in my hands, and my thumb was jammed as the coach hit me with a big pad. It was left badly bruised, but now I can talk about an "old football injury" with my friends.
Wide receiver Lenworth Lennon, Jr. says "you got to be fearless to be a receiver. Gotta be able to go across the middle and all that. But it's a thrill and you got to be a man to be out there too."
Next up-- offensive line. As I hit the sled and pushed it backwards with a groan, I felt like my performance was definitely "offensive" but my coach had some high praise.
Robert Okeafor is a FAMU Offensive Line Coach. His assessment?
"That's a good drive, a great drive, matter of fact!"
Okeafor is a former FAMU All- American.
He misses his playing days with FAM, but not the trash talk in the trenches from opposing teams. So what names would they call him?
"Everything but a child of God."
Well, my hustle did finally pay off! As I pushed the heavy, wheeled cart toward coach Taylor, he commented: "What a good job! We really found out what you can do."
That's right, water boy!
I asked, "are you telling me I made the team?"
" You made the team!" he said, beaming.
I always wanted to make the team, even if it is water boy.