I remember the days as if they were yesterday.
I was a senior football player at Dallas Jesuit in Texas. As many of you know from movies like “Varsity Blues” and “Friday Night Lights,” Texas football has a storied tradition. So what better way to continue that tradition than to play in college?
I can hear the captain of the high school cheerleading squad now: “Hey Ryan, you gonna go up there and show them sissies how to play football in the Northeast?”
“Heck yea, I’ll probably be starting as a freshman,” I would say with my patented wink and finger gunshot.
Four years and 576 wink-and-finger gunshots later, I am still not playing. To many of the incoming freshmen, as well as many sophomores and juniors with hopes of playing, my time here at Yale could be described as their worst nightmare. I am a senior on the football team with no chance of playing at any position.
Even non-athletes can pity the fact that the time and effort I have put into this sport will never make real the dream of stepping onto the field to the roar of the Yale Bowl crowd. So why am I not so discouraged?
Many people never hear the perspective of a person in my situation, but I am glad to tell you about mine. So what am I getting out of this sport? More than you could ever imagine. Trite as it may sound, I have enjoyed getting to know all the new freshman really well.
They, like me, are on the loathed scout team, a team that I have given three years of 1st Scout Team All-American performances. During this time, I have gotten to know guys that I would not have known if I were a starter. Just ask Mike Woodson ’07 how much my advice helped him.
For all the juniors on the scout team, there is hope. The coaches do not expect athletes to be on the scout team as a senior. Furthermore, being able to say you play Yale football has its perks. For example, it comes in handy when a conversation gets awkward with a girl. All you have to say is, “By the way, did you know I play football?” and throw in a wink and a finger gunshot and you are in. Playing football gets the girls … even in the Northeast.
The preceding aside, there are much deeper reasons the athlete in my position wants to continue to play the game. At this point, it is usually not only about the love of the sport. At the risk of sounding cliched, being on a team is one of the most rewarding things someone can do. Where else but on a team could I struggle and achieve great things with people whom I respect and love? Personal achievements are great, but sharing them with a team is so much better.
Walking onto the field with men that I love so much is an honor. Football is such a team-oriented sport that I get just as much joy out of a win as any starter can. Even if I am not being coached to play, I have still learned invaluable lessons. Over the past three years, Coach Flanders has taught me something that every player on the team knows: it is better to go through a blocker than to try to take the easy way out by running around him.
He stresses the importance of everyone being involved in the game. Just because I am not physically on the field does not mean that I am not in the contest. I like to play my part by getting loud, congratulating players on big plays and keeping the sideline energy going. If giving a manly buttslap to defensive players coming off the field is what this team needs, I’m there to dish them out.
My current coach, Coach Reno, has taught me about the importance of being truly dedicated to and passionate about your job. Being in meetings everyday is annoying for a nonstarter, but it pays dividends for the team.
What are some other reasons a guy like me might not hang up his cleats for a tailgate? I am not a quitter. Not all people who quit sports are “quitters” by any means, but for me, in my heart, I would be a quitter. I would be quitting on my best friends. Also, I know that somebody on this football coaching staff saw something in me that he wanted on this football team, and whether or not I play I am going to give all that I have. My reward is making the guys I play with better; of which they are appreciative.
I read what I have written so far and it sounds so cheesy. The thing is, though, I wrote this in 20 minutes. It did not take me long to figure out why I have stayed on this team. I love Yale and I love the guys and people associated with this team. While I will be ready to graduate and move on from my football playing days, I will return to Texas as Yale football’s biggest advocate and recruiter.
Ryan King, a senior in Trumbull College, is a defensive back for the Yale football team.