Let me tell you about my high school football days. I decided not to play football. Right away I ruled out some giant football player growling “I must b-r-r-reak you” at me like Ivan Drago did a few years later to Rocky Balboa. I also ruled out any girls mistaking me for an athlete. Come to think of it, getting crushed by Drago might have had an upside.
Our home didn’t focus much on sports. My dad taught me to hunt, and dinner at our house was often venison or rabbits. So my preferred after school activity was to get away from the crowd and go hunting. That’s why, even though I wasn’t on the football team, I showed up at practice. I was the kid crossing the field with a gun over my shoulder and my beagle on a leash.
While the players ran through their drills, my sights were set higher. On the hillside above the field the school’s cross-country track looped through brushy cover, and it was loaded with cottontails.
Coach Shea ran a tight ship and my shotgun was less of a threat to his players than his whistle, but he was more than a football coach. Today we use words like “mentor” and “life coach,” and sometimes he’d walk over and coach me. I remember him telling me since he started coaching football, he missed hunting rabbits.
I still have the old Ithaca 12-gauge I carried, and the quarterback says he still remembers me at practice with it. Yes, I carried a gun right there with 40-some football players awash in mud and testosterone. No steroids in those days, just testosterone — a strange but apparently normal and necessary hormone. Even this un-athletic weakling had more than enough, and despite its abundance on that field none of those armored adolescents were ever a threat to me. Nor I and my gun to them.
Coach Shea saw nothing to fear either, but if he heard me shoot, or heard my hound giving voice behind a rabbit, he’d look me up the next day to ask if I had a story, and we’d talk.
Those were simpler, more innocent times, and ordinary people didn’t fear guns then like they do now. I’m not saying gun violence wasn’t serious in those days. What happened to men named Kennedy and King gave our nation a history marked by profound tragedies, but where we lived we trusted one another and we were worthy of trust. No enraged football player was going to squash me like a bug. The coach knew I was accountable. And no kid dreamed of shooting up the place even if he was pickled in testosterone or depressed because some girl shot him down.
When graduation time came, a funny thing happened. Three guys were chosen for an award called the University of Pennsylvania Cup.
How I got on that list was a mystery, maybe even to those who selected the names. Was it a mistake? A joke? The accolade didn’t come with a scholarship. I never heard that our names were engraved on a tarnished silver cup somewhere. And no one handed us a medallion, or even a mimeographed certificate. But my name was there, printed in the commencement program.
By that point in the ceremony people were restless and ready to escape the overheated gymnasium. No one was paying attention, or someone would have snickered out loud when the third name echoed off the concrete walls. Among 440 graduates, three of us were recognized for “Excellent scholarship and manly qualities.” What are “manly qualities” anyway? Did they have something to do with football? Testosterone? Guns?
It couldn’t have been guns. I never knew the other two guys to show any interest in firearms. It wasn’t testosterone, or every boy in the class would have made the list. Obviously, the manliness that united the three of us had to be football.
The winners: The team’s center, an honors graduate and one of the top student athletes in our class. The quarterback, who went on to a career in the NFL. And this scrawny kid crossing the football field with his shotgun and his dog, on his way to hunt rabbits.
When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting , he’s thinking about hunting ,
talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website, www.EverydayHunter.com. He writes for top outdoor magazines, and won the 2015 and 2018 national “Pinnacle Award” for outdoor writing.