Unsung Heroes

In August of ’78, I was one of 48 athletes lining up for the first day of football practice at Madison Edgewood High School. Our coach was a graduate of Notre Dame. And just like the Fighting Irish, Coach believed “to be the best you must play the best." The Crusaders of Madison Edgewood regularly competed against institutions two, even three times our size. In the 60’s and early 70’s we had the athletes to hold our own. But by 1978 Edgewood’s talent pool had changed, as evidenced by the fact that a 173-pound future sportscaster was listed as a two-way starter.

We opened the ’78 campaign against Madison Memorial, Madison East, Madison Lafollette and Madison West. Our average margin of defeat was 38 points. The most lopsided score was 55-7. The average number of season-ending injuries was two per game. And remember, when most of your guys are playing both ways every injury costs you two starters. Just like in the Band of Brothers, the Crusaders platoon kept getting smaller and smaller while our locker room seemingly got larger and larger. By the end of the year we had just 22 healthy bodies and three wins to our credit. 

All those memories came rushing back to me last week when I paid a visit to the practice field at my other alma mater, Hoover High. I was on campus to address the football team on a PPR-related matter. I’ve been to Hoover dozens of times. I’ve watched their great teams from the Todd Doxey era and I’ve seen the Cardinals in more challenging times.  2016 has been a tough year at Hoover. Just like the ’78 Crusaders, their numbers are down and victories have proven to be hard fought. But as the kids exited their locker room and made the short walk to the practice field I was impressed that their heads were held high and they responded instantly to Coach Morgan’s request to “take a knee and listen up.” As I spoke I was met by the return gaze of 30 pairs of eyes. No snickering or messing around.  They gave me their undivided attention and a warm send off at the end of my comments.

As I was walking back to my car it dawned on me that the Prep Pigskin Report is missing the boat by focusing exclusively on all the great teams and athletes here in San Diego County. Don’t misunderstand. The C.J. Verdells and Sampson Nius of the world have earned the attention they receive.  But they also enjoy the benefits of attending well-established schools (and football programs) that boast high football participation rates year in, year out.  But that’s not the case for most schools. In fact, the majority of schools are like Madison Edgewood and Hoover, where roster sizes are often dictated by outside forces.  Neighborhoods change or new schools come on line and suddenly a football hotbed can turn ice cold, seemingly overnight.

Football is a numbers game. The more kids participating the better your chances are of being successful. Unfortunately, the opposite is true.

So while we love to stand and cheer for the great players being showcased weekly on the Prep Pigskin Report, let us not forget the unsung heroes of San Diego High School football.  How about a tip of the cap to the kids grinding away at Hoover and all the other schools that are enduring some tough times in anticipation of better seasons ahead? 

These athletes might not be as big or fast as their counterparts but their sacrifice is just as great; and maybe even greater. For football is an easier game when basking in the adulation of success. But don’t forget the kids that show up for practice day in and day out in the full knowledge that the upcoming Friday night might be just as long as the one the week prior. In my book, their grit, commitment and love of competition is just as special as the athletes who make our Silver Pigskin Podium.

Harper Lee wrote in To Kill a Mockingbird, “Real courage is when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.”

I’m betting Atticus Finch would have been a great high school football coach.

We’ll see you Friday night at 10:30 pm.

Paul W. Rudy, PPR

Categories: 2014 PPR Archive, 2015 PPR Archive, 2016 Hog Blog, 2016 PPR Features Part 1, 2016 PPR Features Part 2