Goshen News, Goshen, IN

August 25, 2013

THE SKINNY: Thoughts on kickoff of another season


GOSHEN — “The inches we need are everywhere around us.

They are in every break of the game every minute, every second...

On this team, we fight for that inch.

On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us to pieces for that inch.

We CLAW with our fingernails for that inch.

Because we know .. when we add up all those inches that’s going to make the difference between WINNING and LOSING.”

Al Pacino (Coach Tony D’Amato)

Any Given Sunday

After months of lifting, running and chalk talk, offseason workouts and squaring off against each other in practice, Friday night  — the real thing — finally arrived for Michiana’s prep football players.

It was time to lace ‘em up and get it on when it counts, as the 2013 season kicked off in earnest around the area.

It certainly did not feel like a late summer Friday night as I made my way over to Nappanee to watch what is usually a great rivalry game between Jimtown and NorthWood. The term “The Boys of Fall” seemed especially applicable Friday night, as the game-time temperature at NorthWood was a very fall-like 76.

Over the years, I’ve gotten used to opening night temperatures in the 90s, with that wonderful stifling Midwest humidity we’ve all come to know and hate.

So Friday night’s mild temperatures were a welcome change.

On the field, however, the action was hot, as NorthWood got out to a 21-7 lead over the Jimmies — who were ranked No. 3 in Class 3A by the panel of Indiana media representatives — including myself — that puts together the Associated Press poll.

The Jimmies, however, rallied late and missed tying the game in the final two minutes by inches as a PAT attempt clanged off the left goalpost.

Football truly is a game of inches ... as Al Pacino’s iconic Coach Tony D’Amato so eloquently (and sometimes profanely) pontificated in the movie “Any Given Sunday.”

And if a ball clanging off a goalpost doesn’t illustrate that concept, perhaps nothing will.

Elsewhere across the area, it was a mixed bag of results for teams in the Goshen News’ coverage area. Goshen struggled mightily on the road against a tough and talented Carroll team; Concord rolled over South Bend Washington; Northridge got the Tom Wogomon era off on the right foot with a win over South Bend Adams; Wawasee similarly got new coach Josh Ekovitch started with a “W” over Whitko; Fairfield topped NECC foe Central Noble; Lakeland similarly handled NECC rival Prairie Heights; West Noble showed some positives in a loss to Angola.

There is something special about high school football, and there is something even more special about opening night of a new season. Every fall, every opening night, no matter what game I am covering, my thoughts always drift back 30-plus years now to my own high school football days at Castle Park High School in Chula Vista, Calif.

I especially smiled when I saw the Panthers going through warmups in their new all-black uniforms. Our team, the Trojans, wore all-black too, and we always felt like coming out in all-black on Friday night added to our mystique.

Sometimes that worked out; other nights not so well.

But as you sit in the locker room getting ready to take the field, the butterflies in your stomach are more intense. It starts in the waning hours of Friday afternoon, as you sit alone with your thoughts in the team room, listening to an MP3 player.

In my day, we had bulky headphones and listened to cassette tapes on something called a “Walkman.” I’m sure there are pictures of them on the Internet somewhere.

As game time approaches, you start the long process of suiting up. Sometimes you go to the training room to get taped up. Otherwise, you put on the equipment, pads and distinctive uniform that identify you as a high school football player representing your school — as close to a gladiator as we have today.

Teammates help you put on your pads, make sure your helmet is properly adjusted or inflated, make sure your jersey is pulled just right over your shoulder pads.

Soon, it’s time to take the field for warmups. And then , it’s time for the game to start.

All of it is a special experience that players don’t often fully appreciate until it’s over, and there’s no more football to be played, no more pads to put on or shoes to lace up.      

Enjoy these moments while you can, guys.

And get right back after it next week.

Contact sports editor David Vantress at 533-2151, ext. 325 or by email at david.vantress@goshennews.com.