Countdown to Football

36 Days

Must Needed Preseason Speech Part 1 of 5

The newly awakened sun wipes it eye of the clouds that cover its view.  Dew on the ground evaporates into the air.  Sticky and thick.  The young men struggle to take deep breaths.  The weather is miserable heading into September.

“Take a knee,” Coach says.

He’s new.  The players barely know who he is.  They know what his workouts are like.  They know his playbooks.  They know what he sounds like when he yells.  But they don’t love him yet.

One player – a big lineman – leans on his helmet.  He slightly sways on the grass excited that practices are over.  All that’s left is the team bus ride and the last of the meetings before kickoff.  He can’t believe how tired he is after a month of training camp.  He can’t believe how sweaty and grassy his orange and blue shoes are after what was supposed to be walkthroughs.

“Everyone get your eyes on me,” he starts.

The players try to look at him, but the early sun is lonely.  It desperately tries to show itself to the world.

“In just a few days, we begin the next step in our journey.  You’ve worked hard these last few weeks, and we’re proud of the effort.  We’re proud of the way you’ve worked.  Proud of the intensity you’ve shown in practice,” he says.

A distant bird stretches its call across the field.  It too is surprised by the humidity.

“Florida Atlantic is the biggest game of our season.  This is the team that will make or break your season,” he says.

A few veteran players conceal their eye rolls.  They’re excited about stats.

“Now I want to know who understands this.  I want to know who’s excited about this season,” he says.

A few reluctant young guys begin to shout.  The shouts are quiet.  They don’t want to step out of line.

“I want to know,” he says as he steps into the half moon formation of players, “who out here is going to take this season by the horns and gator chomp the hell out of it as we start on our road to Atlanta with Florida Atlantic.”

More players begin to shout.  They’ve seen their coach excited.  They’ve laughed with him in the weight room.  In the halls of the athletic department.  But out here has been all business.  Post practice speeches have been on possible improvements.  Praise has been silent.

Now he is beginning to yell.

“You have been my dream.  You guys are what I’ve worked so hard for for so many years.  Years working at other places to get here.  Right here in this spot.  Standing here among men like you.  Standing here wishing to God it was Saturday.  Wishing to God it was 7pm in Ben Hill Griffin stadium.  Wishing to God we were running out of that tunnel listening to the band play and the crowd scream,” he says.

The entire team is nodding their heads.  One loud familiar voice in the back – a linebacker – cuts through the noise.

“Yeah Coach!  Get on it Coach!” he says.

The team laughs.  Coach laughs.

He calms down.

“Guys, we’ve been out here in this heat and humidity for weeks.  You’ve gotten to know each other better than you ever thought possible.  I’ve gotten to know you more than ever thought possible.  We’ve all beaten on each other, and quite frankly, I’m ready to beat on somebody else,” he says.

Chirps of praise ring out from the team.

“We start with Florida Atlantic.  We start with a team from right here in our state.  You lost some respect in this state after last season, but I promise you that we’ve all worked hard to restore it.  You worked hard in the weight room.  On the field.  In meetings.  In conditioning.  And soon, you’ll work hard underneath the lights of Ben Hill,” he says.

It is hot.  The players begin to notice how much the sun is beating on their heads.

“Don’t let nerves get to you.  We’re a new team, but to you veterans, we need leadership.  Games are exciting and they go quickly.  Make sure you stay focused and keep your composure no matter what happens.  Break it down one last time on this practice field because this weekend, it’s no longer just practice out here,” he says.

The team huddles up.  Coach walks away with barely any expression on his face.  His eyebrows slightly raised as he stares at the grass in front of him.

He flashes a small concealed smile as he listens to the team captain giving one last pep talk before breaking it down.

Did he say the right things?  Did he say too much?  Will his pregame speech on Saturday be effective?

He realizes how overrated these pregame speeches are now that he’s started giving them.  He knows his team has to execute the plays and hit hard.  Speeches don’t make that happen.

And upon that realization does Coach truly get revved up for the start of the season.

36 Days

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