There is More to Life Than Football, Maybe…

If you could turn back the hands of time and have a conversation with your high school self, what would you say?

What wisdom would you impart to a younger you?

There’s a brilliant song by Brad Paisley called, Letter to Me, where he takes us on this journey of writing a letter your younger self.

What an incredible concept.

What regrets would you relive? What relationships would you repair? What words would you retract?

These are ominous questions and I’m sure your bad decisions, unkept words, and rebellious spirit remain as fresh in your mind as mine do in my own.

In an odd way, I had this opportunity last week when I was asked to speak to the New Hanover High School football team as part of homecoming. As I returned to my alma mater, I found myself in a challenging spot.

My usual audience consists of business people, charity organizations, or peer groups.

Here I was standing in front of sixty high school boys, all staring at me. And, it was Bowtie Friday.

As I thought about what I would say, my mind flashed back to sixteen years ago.

Regrets of the Past, Opportunity Today

As a sophomore at New Hanover High School, I was dead set on playing baseball–and only baseball. My dream of playing in college would be realized if I had the focus and determination to develop into an elite athlete on the diamond. However, after some violations and a long, drawn out school board battle, our high school’s baseball team was prohibited from off-season workouts.

At the time, I hadn’t considered playing another sport, but I was soon approached by an assistant football coach who had known me since childhood.

“Why don’t you come try out for the football team?”

Resolving to stay in shape and always up for a challenge, I gave it a shot. A few weeks later, I was named the starting tight end on the varsity football team. In the Fall of 1997, under the lights at Legion Stadium, I wore number 82 and joined my teammates as we represented our school. However, after a disappointing season for the team and developing love for basketball, I quit playing football. Never again would I wear a jersey and take the field as a New Hanover High School Wildcat.

Looking back, I don’t fully remember the last time I wore my jersey because I didn’t anticipate quitting. If I could only go back to that one last time…

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New Hanover High School Football 1997-1998

photo 1

Stand and Deliver

My eyes locked on the young men in front of me. In my mind’s eye, I was still one of them, but today, I was just another adult.

“You’re probably looking at me thinking, ‘Who is this guy and what does he have to say that’s going to help me? And why’s he wearing that stupid bowtie?'”

I could hear a low chuckle. I told them the quick story of why I wear a bowtie and followed it with this:

“Gentlemen, I tell you that because I want you to know that everything you do defines who you are. Every single thing you do matters. The way you dress, the way you speak, the way you practice, the way you play, they way you act, it all matters in who you are becoming. Every snap, every down, they all have an impact on the outcome of the game.”

I could see the yeah, I’ve heard that before in their eyes.

Suspecting their response, I reached for something that I’d asked the coach to give me before I began speaking: my old jersey. As I held it up, I told the story above about my time as a Wildcat, but prefaced it by saying, “Tonight you guys will do something that I would love to go back and do, but I can’t. Now, I sit in the stands and watch in awe as you guys get to do something that I can only experience in my memories.”

As I continued, I could see their attention shift as they thought about what I was saying.

“Gentlemen, there will be a time when you put on this jersey for the last time. That is why tonight and every night you must play with passion and wear your jersey well. But, remember, there has to be more to life than football. And everything you do today is shaping you into the person you will become.”

I finished by doing my best Denzel Washington impression as coach Herman Boone in Remember the Titans. They laughed and then I called everyone in for this picture.

NHHS Football Rules

NHHS Football Rules

As I think about my words to these young men, maybe we can learn more from football than I first thought.

Everything you do in life matters. Every thought you think, every decision you make is shaping who you are becoming. The field of play may have changed, but the opportunity hasn’t. Each of us have the incredible privilege to suit up and step onto the field of life every day. We must not take that for granted because there will come a day when you and I will no longer have that privilege.

So, in your job, in your marriage, in your family, and in your relationships, wear your jersey well.


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