Authors: Fred Bowen
For Clare Elizabeth Bowen.
Ready … set … hut one!” Jesse Wagner and his older brother Jay were running pass patterns at Hobbs Park, just as they had a thousand times before. Jesse was always the wide receiver and Jay was always the quarterback.
Jay crouched as if he was taking the ball from the center.
Jesse bolted from the line of scrimmage and dashed straight downfield. His sweat-stained T-shirt and baggy gym shorts flapped in the hot summer breeze.
Jesse counted in his head. At the count of three, he faked left, dug his cleat into the dry playground dirt, and broke sharply to the right. The football was already spinning
toward him. He reached up and snagged the perfect spiral with two hands, then stutter-stepped to keep both feet inside the faded chalk sideline.
“First down!” Jay called out, thrusting his hand downfield like a referee. “Nice catch.”
Jesse turned and jogged back. He snapped off a quick pass as he ran. “Good pass,” he said, stopping on the line of scrimmage. “It was in the perfect spot—to the outside, away from the defender.”
Jay crouched down again. “Let’s run the same deep-out pattern a few more times. I need to practice that one.”
Jesse set up at his wide-receiver position with his hands on his hips. He looked over at his brother.
Jay was standing on an empty field in the steamy August sun wearing shorts and a T-shirt. But gripping the football in front of him, he still looked every inch a quarterback. Jay was taller than Jesse, almost six foot two, and much stronger. He was four years older, and in a few days, he’d be
heading off for his freshman year at Dartmouth College.
“Ready … set … hut one!”
The two brothers practiced the deep-out pattern over and over. Sweat poured down Jesse’s face and he could feel the salt stinging his eyes.
Finally Jay declared that he’d had enough. He and Jesse walked to the sideline, splashed water on their faces, and wiped them dry with ragged towels.
“You’re looking good today,” Jesse said. “I wish I could throw like that.”
Jay shrugged. “My hands are kind of sweaty. I couldn’t get a good grip on some of the deep-out passes.”
“They looked all right to me.”
The empty field simmered in the sun. Jay spun the football in his hands. “I’ve got to put more zip on the ball,” he said, his voice taking on a serious tone. “The college game is a lot faster. And the defensive backs are much better than the guys I played against in high school.”
“So practice starts Monday?” Jesse asked.
“Yeah. Mom and Dad are driving me up Sunday morning.”
“But classes don’t start for a week or two?”
“Right. We have a heavy practice schedule for a while. This college football thing is pretty serious.”
“You’ll show ’em,” Jesse said. “You were the best quarterback Franklin High School ever had. No way those other college guys are as good as you. You were All-Conference twice. You set records for passing yards and touchdown passes—”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, little bro!” Jay laughed. “Maybe you should write the coach. Tell him you’ve been running pass patterns for me for years and I’m the best quarterback you’ve ever seen.”
“It’s true. Where’s my phone? I’ll text him right now.”
“That was just high school,” Jay said, waving Jesse off. “Believe me, a lot of college players were big shots in high school. I’ll be starting all over again.” Jay tossed Jesse a short pass. “Come on, let’s get out of here.”
They headed toward the gate on the other side of the park. “When does football start for you?” Jay asked.
“In a couple of weeks.”
“Who’s coaching the freshman team this year?”
“Oh yeah, he was an assistant with the junior varsity when I started out.” Jay slapped Jesse in the stomach with the back of his hand. “He’s a good coach. He’ll get you in shape.”
in shape,” Jesse protested, tightening his stomach muscles. “From running all those pass patterns for you.”
“You’ll find out if you are soon enough,” Jay said.
“I wonder if they’ll change any of the plays in the playbook.”
“Probably not. The varsity, JV, and freshman teams run pretty much the same stuff,” Jay said and then dropped back three quick steps. “Quick fly!”
Jesse darted downfield, and Jay flipped him a pass that hit him in stride. Jesse
tucked the ball under his arm and sprinted away.
“Touchdown!” Jay ran down the field after his brother. “At least you won’t have to spend any time learning the plays,” he said as Jesse tossed the ball back. “You already know them all.”
Jesse fell into step with his brother. “I used to quiz you on them all the time,” he said. “Remember?”
Jay nodded, then faked a handoff and faded back. Jesse flared out to the right and Jay tossed him a soft pass.
The brothers talked and tossed the football back and forth in the late summer heat, just as they’d done so many times before.
“So have you decided what position you’re going to try out for?” Jay asked.
“You’ll make a good one.”
Jesse thought about the Franklin High School freshman team. “I just hope I have a quarterback who’s half as good as you.”
Jesse dug his cleats into the practice field turf and broke sharply to the right. He looked back for the pass.
The football whistled above his outstretched hands. Too high.
Jesse hustled over to pick up the ball. As he jogged back, he threw a perfect spiral to Coach Vittone, Franklin High School’s longtime assistant football coach. Even though Coach Vittone was bald, wore glasses, and was a lot older than Coach Butler, he still looked as solid as a linebacker.
“Get your throws down, Henry!” Coach Butler barked. His curly hair was tucked under a blue Franklin High School baseball cap, and his arms were crossed tight
against his chest. “Come on, get back to the huddle. Let’s run another one.”
Jesse stood next to Quinn Doherty, his best friend and the Panthers’ big right tackle. Coach Butler leaned into the huddle. “Let’s run Wide Dig, Flare Right.” The pass play instantly appeared in Jesse’s mind just as it was drawn in the Franklin High School playbook.
Henry Robinson, the Panthers’ starting quarterback, glanced at Coach Butler as if he wasn’t sure what he had said.
“The right end runs a square-in pattern and the halfback flares right.” Jesse could hear the impatience in Coach Butler’s voice. “Come on, call it!”
Henry repeated the play call. Jesse thought about Henry as he trotted out to his right-end position.
He’s like Jay: tall, athletic, and can throw the ball a mile. Henry looks like a quarterback. I just wish he played more like one.
“Ready … set … hut one … hut two!”
Jesse bolted from the line of scrimmage. Ten yards downfield he faked right and cut
left over the middle of the field. But Henry’s throw was way off. Jesse didn’t have a chance.
The Panthers’ practice continued in the bright September sunshine until sweat darkened the players’ light gray practice jerseys. Coach Butler was putting the boys through their paces: Sprints. Running plays. Pass patterns. Blocking drills. Tackling drills.
“Watch the tackling,” Coach Vittone cautioned the players. “Remember, we don’t want to get anybody hurt in practice.”
Finally Coach Butler blew his whistle. “All right. Water break. Everybody drink up. It’s getting hot out here.”
They all headed to the sidelines, gulping from their water bottles. Jesse stood with Quinn and Langston Dunn, another friend and a Panther reserve wide receiver. Quinn was much taller than Jesse, but he
towered over Langston.
Langston was gazing across the practice field to the school tennis courts, where the Franklin girls’ team was practicing in their
crisp tennis whites. “Maybe I should play tennis instead of football,” he sighed.
“What are you talking about?” Quinn asked, taking another gulp of cold water.
Langston opened his hands toward the tennis courts. “Look at ’em,” he said. “They aren’t even sweating out there.”
“So look at us.”
Jesse’s jersey was soaked with grimy sweat. Quinn’s was even worse.
Jesse grinned and looked him up and down. “You look like someone threw you into a swimming pool.” He enjoyed teasing the big lineman.
“I wish someone would.” Quinn took another long drink of water and wiped his mouth with his dirty sleeve.
“I must have run a million pass patterns today,” Jesse sighed. “And I only caught two or three balls. Tops.”
“Yeah,” Langston agreed. “Henry throws it all over the place.”
“But he sure acts like he’s an All-Pro,” Jesse said, thinking about how Henry
ordered the players around the practice field.
“An All-Pro would know the plays,” Langston said. “Coach has to tell Henry what the plays mean almost every time.”
“Quit complaining,” Quinn said. “At least you guys aren’t stuck in the line, knocking into people the whole time. You have it easy, running around and catching balls.”
Jesse splashed some water across his forehead and looked up at Quinn. “You know why coaches always put you in the line? Because you’re so big and you can block other guys. Heck, you block out the sun. You just
like a lineman.”
“I guess I look like a bench warmer,” Langston said, “because that’s where the coaches always put me.”
“All right, guys!” Coach Butler shouted, clapping his hands. “Let’s have two laps around the field. Then we’ll see you tomorrow. Same time. Be ready to work hard.”
Jesse, Quinn, and Langston jogged around the field behind their quarterback Henry and a few other Panther players. The
clatter of shoulder pads bouncing on their shoulders was the only sound in the warm, windless air.
Halfway through the second lap, Jesse glanced over at Quinn and Langston. “Come on,” he said. “Let’s sprint it!”
Jesse and Langston burst away, with Quinn following closely behind them. They blew by Henry and the others, yelling and screaming as they ran.
“Come on, slowpokes!”
“Eat my dust, Panthers!”
“Last one in has to smell Quinn’s gear!”
Jesse and Langston ran ahead of the others, neck and neck. With just ten yards to go, Jesse turned on the jets and his longer stride pulled him into the lead. He flashed into the end zone just one yard ahead of Langston.
“That wasn’t fair,” Henry protested when he crossed the line a few moments later. “You guys snuck up on us.”
Langston laughed. “You could have started sprinting sooner,” he said. “There’s no rule against it. You’re just being sore losers.”
The team clomped into the locker room, their cleats clacking on the hard floor. Jesse stopped in front of the Franklin High School football schedules—varsity, junior varsity, and freshman—on the Big Board above the locker room door. He studied the freshman schedule.
FRANKLIN HIGH SCHOOL FRESHMAN TEAM
[all games on Thursdays]
|9/19||South Shore||3:30 p.m.|| |
|9/26||@ Pinewood||3:30 p.m.|| |
|10/3||Glen Forest||3:30 p.m.|| |
|10/10||Roosevelt||3:30 p.m.|| |
|10/17||@ Auburn||3:30 p.m.|| |
|10/24||@ Morgan||3:30 p.m.|| |
|10/31||@ St. Andrews||3:00 p.m.|| |
|11/7||Eastport||3:00 p.m.|| |
“Lotta games,” Quinn said, staring at their schedule.
Especially when we don’t have a quarterback who can throw a decent pass.