As a grad of Findlay High, I follow the exploits of the football team from afar as I live in Columbus now.
I am pleased as punch that the Findlay Trojans are 5-1 and as of last week ranked 3rd in Region 2 of the OHSAA computer rankings.
As I said, living in Columbus forces me to follow the team via the newspaper or over the Internet. WFIN, the main station in Findlay has been streaming football games over the Internet for several years. Even when they had to stop streaming the station due to royalty issues (thank you Napster) they still stream the games each Friday night.
I also get a chance to watch the team play live when they play a Columbus area team. This year they have been down in my neck of the woods twice. The first game was at Upper Arlington (which is funny because Hancock county has a village named Arlington) and then two weeks ago they played Worthington Kilbourne. In 2002, when the team made it to the state semi-final, they played Cincinnati Elder in Columbus Crew Stadium.
The recent Kilbourne game was a shoot-out that ended in a 36 to 36 tie. In overtime Kilbourne scored a touchdown and extra point then Findlay scored a touchdown during their possession and I’m thinking another overtime with the extra point. It was at this point Coach Cliff Hite reaches into his bag and sends the offense out to try for 2. I thinking “What??” The Coach is going for the win. If they get it they win and if they miss then Worthington wins. Wow!
The quarterback takes the snap and rolls to his right, the defense is closing in, he lets the ball fly, and it is… CAUGHT in the back of the endzone to make the conversion…. FINDLAY WINS 44 to 43! I’m looking silly dancing around my computer but the team just won the game in overtime.
I love Coach Hite and what he has done to make Findlay a power in Northwest Ohio. I was in High school the first time the school made the state playoffs so seeing Hite take the team to the playoffs several times is a good feeling. FHS is a huge school with something like 2,000 students so some of them have to know how to play football but it has only been in the last 10 years that FHS has been a consistently good team.
Back in the spring of 1985 I decided I was going to play football. I hadn’t played before on a team because my Mom wouldn’t give me permission, she didn’t want me to get hurt, but in 1985 I could go out for the team because I would 18 that coming school year and I could sign my own permission slip. My Mom was not happy but she couldn’t do anything about it.
Physical training was brutal for someone better at watching TV than running. In the first 2 weeks I lost 20 lbs of water weight in the July heat. The first day I puked my guts out.
Then two-a-days started. Being as big as I was I learned to be a lineman. Offense was hard with all the blocking schemes you had to learn and I liked Defense because all I really had to know was which side – right or left – to go to.
The veterans on the team allowed me into their circle even though several of them had given me a hard time when I was just a regular student. I got tickled to learn that my thighs were as big as the starting defensive end and the school only had two sets of thigh pads big enough for the both of us.
Having little experience playing football, the contact drills scared the hell out of me. We had one drill called the door drill where 2 JV players would hold a door up. On one side was a linebacker and lineman and the other side had a guard or tackle and a running back. The idea was for the offensive pair to pick a side of the door to run around and the defensive side was to keep them from getting past them. Even with the close proximity there was still some hard hitting especially the linebacker and running back clashing.
I hated the drill so I would float toward the back where the JV guys were while the coach would pick 4 players to do the drill.
One time my luck failed and the coach called me out. I would be going against the starting guard. I got down in my stance and as I looked from one side of the door to the other waiting I was trying to remember what I was suppose to do – stay low and make a pile, stay low and make a pile. I was also trying to remember the good way to tackle since if you do it the wrong way you can break your neck.
All of a sudden the guard comes from my right chugging in and behind him the starting running back. I lunge forward, turn my head to the right and slam my shoulder at the guard’s thigh. He had dipped his head slightly and our helmets hit *CRACK* and then I hit the ground to form a pile. My eyes are closed. I hear the linebacker rushing over me and hit the running back. The team is cheering as our pair stopped them. I don’t see any of it since my eyes are still closed and the 220 lb guard is lying on top of me. I’m spitting out the dust brought up from the action.
The others get up after the play and when I stand up the coach is smiling at me and slaps me on the helmet. “Way to go Berger! Good technique!” he says. I slip back into the crowd and get more slaps and pats from my teammates. One of the veterans, who was the worst to me when I was just a geek, grabs my facemask and screams that I did a great job and then he pulls me forward so we bang helmets. That hurt worse than the drill but I like the attention.
Of course I could give a “Rudy” story where I single handedly won the game blah blah but that would be a lie. I wasn’t that good. I tried but my inexperience prevented me from starting or even playing in a game except one. It was the last game of the season against Lorain Admiral King at home. They were ranked 13th in the state and we were 5-4 with no chance of playing after that night when the playoffs started. Lorain had to win to make it into the playoffs and they brought their band and a large number of fans to our stadium.
Being a senior I had to be on the varsity so I got all the benefits like dressing for all the games and traveling to the away games but I had the cleanest helmet on the team. In order to get my letter I was slotted to start as nose guard for the punt return team. Guys who played special teams got a “games played” exemption for a letter. The first time I went out when Lorain was punting was electric for me. It was a cold Friday night under the lights, the stands are full and cheering us all on. They hiked the ball, I did my nose guard thing (trying to keep the center from running down field) and it was over for me. At the time I didn’t know they wouldn’t punt the ball again the rest of the game. FHS dominated them all night.
With only about a minute left they get the ball back for one last series and we were on top 21 to nothing. I was happy to be on the team but sad it would be the last time I would be in pads on the sideline. Then the defensive coach calls out – “Berger! You’re up!”
“What?” I thought to myself as I went up to the coach.
“Take over at right tackle!”
I ran onto the field with the other bench warmers as the Coach lets us into the last of the last game. The stands erupted in cheers. I like to think it was for us, the ones who practiced our hearts out but never got in the game, but it was probably cheers for the starters coming out, for a job well done.
Dave, the defensive captain, who was still in the game called out to us as I took my stance across from the Lorain tackle, “Richie! Richie!” That meant when the ball was hiked I was to go to my right.
The ball was hiked and I did my technique to the right and I see Lorain running a misdirection to the left. I pivot around and plot a pursuit course to the ball and run. I get to the sideline just ahead of the runner and see him cut back to the right and as I turn to purse the other way I run into their offensive line man who is still blocking. The guy is about 6 foot 5 and he is as fast as me and I can’t get around him.
I can see the runner still running down field and the sick feeling that they may spoil the shut out pisses me off so I try to run faster then I stop and change direction to lose the lineman. I see one of our safeties finally bring the runner down. If he hadn’t then I was the last guy between them and the endzone.
It seemed like the play too forever but it was only about 30 seconds and Lorain would have one more chance. The Coach is smart enough to put the 1st team defense back in the game to try and preserve the shut out and I come off the field. As I jog off I see the defensive coach and he slaps my helmet and I say to him “I knew I could do it”. Yes, it was a stupid thing to say.
It was stupid but my whole experience then is etched into my brain. I can still see the eyes of that Lorain lineman as he stared down on me as he tried to block my way. I can still feel my gut twinge when I think about the “duck walk” or “hog jog” we did in physical training. I still feel the pain in my legs after running our wind sprints at the end of practice each Monday.
A lot of my Humanist friends either don’t understand or frown on my experiences playing high school football. One even suggested that schools should get rid of team sports completely. I disagree and will for the rest of the time I have on this Earth. To me team sports show off basic humanity of working together for a common goal. A high school sports team shows that people of different backgrounds can come together with a completely clean slate.
I also had one of my non-jock friends at the time comment that he didn’t think I would play football. He thought it was great that I tried new things. The experience also helped give me added confidence.