This was Jason’s moment. This is the moment he had been training for since he was in elementary school, and he was ready.
As soon as the Quarterback said, “Hike!”, he took off.
If he made this catch, his scholarship was all but assured.
The scout had been watching him and taking notes throughout the game, and though Jason had made some great catches, this touchdown would lead to the team’s victory, and help him stand out from the rest of his competitors.
Off to his left he saw the boy that was covering him close in.
The air was knocked out of him as the other kid hit him hard and he fell to the ground.
The couch jogged up to him to make sure he was okay.
“You alright, Jason?” he asked.
Jason could only nod, as a tear ran down his cheek. He didn’t want to let the coach, or his fellow teammates see him cry over something so small, like getting tackled.
It was his first year playing and he was only in sixth grade. His dad wanted him to get into a sport to stay active, since Jason was becoming more of a couch potato every day.
He had never played any sport, and wasn’t sure he’d like football, but a lot of his friends were playing, and he liked playing with them.
Once he was able to catch his breath, he rolled onto his side and picked himself back up.
One of the assistant coaches pulled him over to the side.
“When you’re running, Jason,” he started. “You need to make sure you’re watching who’s coming after you. Most players only watch the ball, and not the other players, but it if you want to be better, you need to watch everyone. Once you know how their coming after you, you can figure out what you need to do to give yourself the advantage.
“It could be changing the direction you run. It could mean changing your speed, or it could mean you may not be able to get open to catch the ball at all.
“Do you understand?”
Seeing the boy chasing him, Jason changed his angle to open the gap between them. He was now ready to catch the ball when it came.
The Quarterback threw the ball in a perfect spiral towards him, and now that he had opened the gap, he was able to easily catch it.
He should have seen it coming and been ready. As soon as he caught the ball, the other kid sacked him hard, causing him to drop the football. Another kid from the other team picked up the fumble and began to run with it.
Laying on his back, all Jason could do was watch as the other kid avoided his other teammates and ran the ball in for a touchdown.
That was the end of that game. Jason felt the blame was entirely on him as to why they lost that night.
After the game, the coach began chewing out the team as they began to take off their gear.
“All of you that plan on playing next year in high school better up your game!” the coach yelled. “You all need to make sure you’re paying attention to all the players around you!
“Jason, you should have seen that kid heading towards you as you made the catch!”
“Yes, coach,” Jason replied, feeling defeated. He knew he wasn’t the only reason they had lost the game, but he knew his mistake was a big one.
“And when you grab that ball, you need to pull it in close and hold on to it as if your life depends on it!” The coach continued. “That goes for all of you! You’re all going to get tackled, it’s inevitable, but you have to make sure that ball goes down with you!”
This time, Jason saw the other kid coming. He grabbed the ball and pulled it in close. As the other kid went to tackle, Jason did a spin, causing the kid to fly right by him.
Seeing his path open, Jason took off towards the end-zone.
The snap in his leg was the most painful thing he had ever felt. The kid clipped him, successfully tackling him, but breaking Jason’s leg in the process.
The pain was sharp, and Jason was in shock as the coach, medic, and players surrounded him.
He couldn’t believe he was injured during his first game of high school. He had come so far, and now it looked out he was going to be out the rest of the season.
Tears streamed down his cheeks as he stared out the hospital window from his bed. They said it was a clean break, and he would still be able to play football in the future, but not by this season’s end.
Jason’s dad entered the hospital room.
“Son,” he started. “How are you feeling?”
His dad wished Jason’s mom was still alive. She would have been so much better than him at this.
Jason didn’t respond. He only kept staring out the window, feeling depressed.
“The doctor said with some healing and physical therapy, you’ll still be able to play again next year,” his dad said, trying his best to console him.
“Maybe, but I’ll never be as good as before the break,” Jason said.
“Well, let’s get you healed first and then we’ll see what the next step is,” his dad encouraged.
Jason could only nod. His dad always seemed to know the answers and was usually right. Jason trusted him, but couldn’t help but doubt what he was saying a little.
It took months to heal, and more months to get his strength back through physical therapy.
When he felt strong enough, Jason went to the athletic director to see what his options were. He wanted to be back on the team, but he knew there were a lot of good players already on the team.
“You have potential, Jason,” the director began. “I’d like to see you back on the field, but it’s been my experience that when someone sustains an injury like yours, they never truly recover.”
The director saw the determination in Jason’s eyes.
“I’ll tell you what,” he started. Get in to track. Specifically, the hurdles.”
Jason looked at him confused.
“You need to get your leg strength up,” the director explained. “You need to not only be as good as you were, but better. You need to get that confidence back, so when someone comes at you again, instead of worrying about getting injured again, you’ll be ready to react. Trust me, you’ll gain a new-found confidence if you do this.”
Jason had his doubts but was determined to play again.
He got into track, and though his first few weeks were spent getting up from falling repeatedly, he got better and better with each fall.
By the end of track season, he was one of the top hurdlers on the team.
The kid charged at him, about to take him down by the legs, but instead of letting the kid tackle him and possibly injure him again, Jason hurdled over him.
The kid slid under him confused, and as soon as Jason’s foot touched the ground, he took off into a full sprint.
Since there was no one within distance, he took a moment to glance over at the scout, who seemed to be watching in awe and rapidly writing down notes.
Jason turned his attention ahead. He had a second wave of defenders standing between him and the end-zone.
His lungs were burning, but there was no way he was going to slow down, much less stop.
The defenders formed a wall between him and the end-zone and he knew there was only one way through.
He would have to jump over them and hope he landed on the other side.
This was it. This was his moment. All his hard work had come to this. He thought back to the first time he had been knocked down in sixth grade. He thought back to when he had fumbled the ball and cost the team the final game of eighth grade. He remembered when he broke his leg, having to drop out the rest of the season.
He remembered each incident and what he had endured to be where he was.
And then fear entered when he saw a defender charging from the side. He was going to be tackled before he could make the leap. He was going to be injured again, and never play football again. He was going to get the ball knocked out of his hands and lose the game.
He hesitated for just a moment, but it was long enough. He slowed his speed enough that removed the option to jump successfully and allowed the charging defender to reach him before he even reached the wall.
The charging kid slammed into him, knocking him to the ground and taking away any chance of him winning the game for his team.
Laying on the ground, he didn’t want to ever get up.
He wanted nothing more than to stay there and break into tears, but he couldn’t break down with everyone watching.
As he rolled onto his back, all he could do was stare at the stars in the sky. They now looked at him mockingly. Each star represented a dream he had, and like his dreams, they were unreachable.
Jason remembered how depressed he was that summer. He didn’t want to go to school his senior year. He didn’t want to play football anymore. He just wanted to give up and move on with life.
He remembered when his dad came into his room, finding him once again staring out the window at nothing.
“Hey, my boy,” his dad said, stepping into the room. “I know you think your dream is over, but it’s not.”
Jason felt his dad sit on the bed beside him.
“You have worked so hard and suffered to get to where you are. You have fought every step of the way, and it shows. You are one of he best players in the state. I know that. I also know that if you don’t give into despair, you can reach any goal you set. Everyone on the team believes in you.”
“How can they believe in me when I keep letting them down?” Jason asked.
“While everyone likes to win, failure is a far better teacher,” his dad explained. “Each time you have been knocked down, you’ve learned from it. You’ve gotten better.
“Now, I’m going to be honest with you, my son. You have to stop focusing on the mistakes you’ve made and start focusing on what you learned from them. You need to get up, take every lesson you’ve learned and apply it to every game coming up. This is your last year and you can either chose to give up, or push through like you’ve always done, and show them what you’re really made of.”
Jason rolled over and saw the tears in his dad’s eyes. He could tell they weren’t tears of sadness, but tears of how proud he was of his son.
Jason made up his mind in that moment that he was going to take his dad’s advice. He decided he was going to throw everything he had at this last year, win or lose.
Now, as he ran towards the wall of defenders standing between him and the endzone, he thought back to the first time he had been knocked down in sixth grade, and how he had gotten back up. He thought back to when he had fumbled the ball and cost the team the final game of eighth grade, and he pulled the ball in tight, determined not to let it slip out again. He remembered when he broke his leg, having to drop out the rest of the season, and all the pain he had endured to get back into shape, becoming even stronger than he was before the injury.
He remembered each incident and what he had endured to be where he was. He remembered each incident and how he had overcome each one to become a better player.
Failure had taught him well, and as he saw another defender charging to tackle him, Jason took a deep breathe, picked up speed, and launched himself as high as he could over the wall of defenders.
Time seemed to stand still as he closed his eyes and held the ball tight.
He felt himself begin to spin as he was hit from all sides. He had no sense of direction. He didn’t know if he was flying into the end-zone, or back into the field.
The whole world came crashing back as he hit the ground hard, knocking the air out of him, but he held onto the ball as if his life depended on it.
As he caught his breath, he began to hear the sound of yelling, and for a moment his stomach dropped as the fear of failing crept in once more.
Then clarity set in, and he realized it wasn’t yelling he was hearing, it was cheering.
He opened his eyes, stared up at the stars that no longer looked menacing, and knew that he had done it. He was on the right side of the wall.