The last time I caught a football in high school was for a game-winning, between-two-defenders, last-minute, back-of-the-endzone touchdown. True story.
That was nearly 20 years ago.
The last time I caught a football in college was 15 years ago. There were no dramatics that day. But I remember carrying in those last few plays from the sideline and the quarterback having to make them up in the huddle. Somebody was too emotional to remember the plays, much less put them to words. I won’t name names.
That all changed on Sunday.
For reasons maybe only former high school and college football players can understand, I took part in an open tryout put on by the Georgia Rampage, a member of the Ultimate Indoor Football League. The Rampage will play their 2013 home games at the trade center.
I showed up at James Brown Park on Sunday, filled out a few forms and, honestly, did my best to pretend I wasn’t pushing 40 for a few hours. Goal one was to have fun. Goal two was to not get hurt. Goal three was to not make a fool of myself. And not necessarily in that order.
I’m not sure I accomplished any of my goals. I want to thank Kacee Smith, the team’s general manager and co-owner for letting me take up a place in line, but by the time the offense and defensive players went head-to-head, I was looking for a shady tree.
On Sunday, there were tall players and taller players. There fast guys and faster guys. There were big guys and muscular guys. It was fun to hear the 30 or so participants talk about how they hadn’t worked out in five or six years. Others had come straight from church or work.
Me? I’m the smart one who thought it would be OK to knock out a 10-mile run earlier in the day.
After waiting on a few late arrivals, we lined up for a pair of 40-yard dashes and a couple of shuttle runs. How hard could that be? I mean, in the past five years, I’ve run 10 marathons and logged thousands of miles.
Talk about a shock to the system.
Can’t … Breath … Water … Need … Why …
Thankfully, the times were not called out.
Unfortunately, as I landed my final step of my second 40, my hamstring locked up. Ten years of football in my teens and early 20s and not one pulled muscle. Fifteen minutes as a 38-year old husband and father of two, and I’m pulling hamstrings.
Despite the pain, I didn’t dust off my 15-year old football cleats to call it day so soon.
We then lined up and ran a variety of pass routes. Fortunately for me, most of those attending Sunday’s tryout were receivers, so there was plenty of time to rest in the back of the line. Just not enough time.
Too … Fast … Stop … Must … Why …
It was a joy to watch many of these players, still with dreams of playing semi-profesional or maybe even professional football. As much as I wanted to run pass routes and catch a few more passes, I stayed out of the way toward the end and just enjoyed watching these players compete.
There were a few guys from Georgia State that looked like they could start for the Atlanta Falcons. I will be forever thankful there were no helmets or hitting involved.
Maybe the highlight of the day was catching a 5-yard hitch route from Rampage quarterback Marcus Jones. I remember seeing him play football and basketball at Southeast Whitfield and followed his career at Duke.
Maybe I don’t miss football as much as some former players do. I miss parts of it, but honestly, only the good parts — the games, the touchdowns, the wins and the friendships. But I was 5-foot-3 in high school. Becoming an all-conference receiver and kick returner wasn’t always fun and was never easy. I was a hero one week with a 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and a goat the next week with a fumbled punt.
At Maryville College, a Division III school in Tennessee, I was still 5-foot-3 and had to work even harder to earn four varsity letters. Sure, there were a few highlights, a few more touchdowns and dating a cheerleader who later became my wife. There were enough wins, but toward the end, I was hustling more to graduate than to block the backside safety. And I was OK with that. I knew football was getting further and further in my rear-view mirror.
But maybe all of these factors, good and bad, helped convince me to spend Sunday with Dalton’s newest football team. And what a day it was. That was as close as I’ll ever get to professional football. I didn’t even mind a few dropped passes.
At the end of the day, the Georgia Rampage didn’t gain a player — at least not this player — but they gained a fan.
And now I’ll get back to easier things, like training for marathon No. 11.
Chris Stephens is a former The Daily Citizen sports writer and currently is the graphic designer for Catoosa Life and Dalton Magazine.