Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Heart of a Football Mom

     It ended as quick as it began.  How did we get here already?  Was I prepared for this? Was he? I walked a little slower that night knowing it would be the last time.  With blankets and camera in hand, I walked through the stadium gates one last time.  Up the ramp, up the steps to my seat with the other varsity parents.  It was senior night and our son was being introduced along with 14 other players, honoring them on their last night.
Zachary Ryan Anderson, #81, and my amazing son
    The freshman team was still playing, so all the senior parents began reminiscing about getting to this moment.  Zach, our son, number 81 had been playing football since he was in 3rd grade.  First it was flag, next, in 5th and 6th grade, it was tackle.  He barely fit into the uniform.  Weighing in at a whole 50lbs, he was by far the smallest on the team.  Most moms would be panicked about their son being crushed, but not me.  I was one of the loudest parents in the stands.  Zach continued to play in 7th and 8th where they divide the boys into the heavy weights and light weights; he, of course was on the light weights and still one of the smallest and still not fitting into his pants.  He played some but not as much as he would have wanted.  Coaches loved him because he worked hard and one skill he had over all others was learning the plays.  It took him maybe a week to get them all down and then he was set.  He would take plays in to the QB play a couple of downs and then back out again.  Not exactly what he wanted but he would live with it for now.  There was still high school.

    While in 7th and 8th we discovered another skill Zach was blessed with...running fast.  When he was younger, Zach had the awful habit of walking on his toes.  No matter what we did or said he just could not stop.  At one point he even went through some physical therapy due to the fact that while toe-walking he had managed to shorten his Achilles tendons.  But, to no avail, he just could not remedy this problem.  It did, however, provide him with very strong muscular calves (which is his nickname), giving him the gift of running fast.  We knew that this would come in handy for high school football.  Being one of the fastest on the team, tends to give you an edge.   He dreamed of being a receiver - reaching out and snatching the ball from the air and taking it to the end zone.

     Zach's biggest obstacle was his size and being a tad worried about being flattened on the field.  His first two years in high school he still rode the bench a lot.  His fears seemed to be coming to life.  Getting bigger seemed to be the goal, so his dad had him work with a trainer working on lifting and stamina.  Zach sucked down protein shakes and lifted on an almost daily basis.  And then it happened, almost overnight - my son was taller, stronger, and faster.  His junior year he was the back-up receiver and towards the end even began starting.  His blocking still needed work but he had proven he could catch the ball and run.  In track he was running the 4x4 relay and the open 400 (meters).  While he really liked the relay, he would have much rather ran in the 200, but his coach had faith that he could make the 400 his race.  And he was right!  Zach went down as an alternate for the state track meet.

    Senior year, Zach was one of the two starting receivers for varsity.  My husband, Shawn and I decided we would get to every game - home and away.  His dad did the same.  We wanted to savor every second of his last year of Dodger football.  The year began with frustration; he was not getting the ball as much as he wanted but giving up was not his nature.

    It was time for the parents to report to the field and take their place next to their sons.  "Zach Anderson number 81" went out over the intercom.  God, this can't be his last game...please let him score...give him that one shining moment.  This field has been his second home for 4 years and this will be the last time he runs onto it with his uniform on.  After announcing the seniors, all the parents take another minute to hug the other players and wish them luck.  These are our boys, our sons, Zach's brothers and even though this is their final game the bond they have formed over the years will remain with them for many years to come.

    We made a line on either side of the tunnel, Zach was at the front of the line ready to lead the team onto the field one last time.  I held the tears back; it was hard but I managed.  We were only a few minutes into the first quarter - the QB steps back, looks down field and throws the ball.  My heart stops and I hold my breath.  Zach catches it and runs the remainder of the yardage for a touchdown.  The tears come.  A friend comes up the stairs and hugs me along with all the parents sitting with me.  One taps me and says, "that is the one he will remember".  I could not have been more proud.  The moment was bittersweet.  Our boys lost that night but I still walked away smiling.  A few weeks later Zach shared a little more about that moment.  He told me that he had put tape around his wrists with my dad's initials written on it.  My dad had passed away earlier in the year and Zach was very close to him.  When he hit the end zone he pointed the ball to the sky, giving my dad the ball.  Yep...I cried again.

    Now Zach is visiting colleges - a few that are recruiting him for his route, running and catching skills.  It is hard to believe that he will never dress in the Black and Red of the Dodgers again, but maybe, just maybe my time as a football mom will continue.

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