Over the last four months, I was co-coaching an 8-10 year-old tackle football team through the Forge for Families. Even though “Coach” Garrett moved on to better things, Kelvin came back, and we managed to assemble an amazing coaching staff (Keith, Lee, Troy, Ced, Will, and Ben). It was a season mixed with struggle and success. Struggles to keep our kids focused during practice. I can still remember “Coach” Will and I losing our patience (and voices) during a Thursday practice in September, two days before our first game. We must have had at least 3 near fights, and one boy went home crying because he lost mouthpiece (it was probably stolen because he was picking fights). Why did we volunteer for this again? Then in late October, our team played a very lazy, unmotivated game and were down 3 touchdowns at halftime. But we did start two fights… I guess it’s good to win at something. After the game, we talked about integrity, teamwork, perseverance, and playing football with whole-heartily. To my complete surprise, we came out the next week and played an inspired defensive football game and caused three fumbles. Even though the game ended in a tie, it set up a winner-takes-all ‘Super Bowl’ against the Texans.
The Super Bowl
With no practice the week leading up the game, neither team had a clear advantage. Prior to the game, we worked on a variety of new plays including a Speed Option with Montrell and Lionel and a Tight End pass to Timothy. Credit to our coaches, who did a fantastic job teaching technique. Also, as we were warming up, I noticed something I rarely see… friends, and lots of them! Casey, David, Austin, and Ashely came out to cheer on our boys. I can’t tell you how much that meant to me… no really, it was wonderful. Thanks also to Jimmy and Deborah for showing up the week before.
Prior to kickoff, we won the coin toss and chose to started with the ball. After a few plays we reached midfield, and I called our first pass play of the season: Tight-End pass to Timothy. Fingers crossed, I hoped we wouldn’t have a sack or interception. Deun made a perfect snap to Lionel, and just as the pressure came, Lionel fired a strike down field to a wide-open Timothy. First-down inside the 30, and I though, “Oh yeah, we’re going to win by 14 points.” But of course, we didn’t gain another yard, and the score stayed 0-0. Thankfully, our defense put up a wall. Timothy kept causing trouble in the Texan backfield and recovering fumbles; he ended the season with 8+ fumble recoveries. Despite having the ball for twice as long as the Texans, we were pleased to go to half tied at zero.
The Second Half
The Texans fumbled again to start the half. Needing some points, we keep feeding it to Lionel on “QB sweeps”. He lowered his shoulder and up-ended several Texans in NFL-like collisions. Still, we still couldn’t score and turned it over on downs.
Lionel keeps the ball on a QB Sweep
Even though the Texans continued to struggle offensively, we were never completely at ease because they had Brian at running back. He had torched us for at least one 50 yard touchdown each week. True to form, just as the 3rd quarter was ending Brian broke free and scored. I called a timeout to refocus our team and align the defensive line for a crucial two point conversion. The Texans called an inside run to Brian. Lionel, our middle linebacker, met him square in the backfield to keep the score at 6-0.
We had just enough time for one more drive, so we kept with our basic offense: Lionel left, Lionel right, Lionel up the middle. We made it inside the 15, but a penalty pushed us back outside the 20. As a coach, everything inside of you wants to run the play for the kids, but this was the moment where they prove to themselves that they learned something about football. Personally, I did enough tear drying last basketball season, and didn’t want to see our boys lose another heart-breaker.
So, needing a big play on 3rd down, I called “Tight End Pass” to Timothy. Good snap… good throw… good catch… TOUCHDOWN! Timothy scored the game-tying touchdown. And now the whole season came down to a 2-point conversion. Who do I give it to? The guy who wanted the ball the most, our team leader, Lionel. I just told him to make sure he ran to the opposite side of the field of Brian. We got great blocking from Terrance, Deun, Timothy, and our “little guys” (Quentin, Randy, Bobo, Dylan, and Tyree) ganged up to seal the backside. Lionel went in untouched, and we won the “Super Bowl”, 8-6.
I was so proud of our boys. Not just because they won, but because each kid put aside his own desire for “Saturday glory” and for 30 minutes played as Eagles. With the season over, it seems natural to wonder what impact we made. What will they remember on their 16th birthday? Will they remember they remember winning the ‘Super Bowl’ on a last second touchdown? Will they remember our theme verse, Isaiah 40:28-31? Will they even remember each others names?
It’s interesting to think about, but our purpose, as coaches, isn’t to speculate. We know that someone else will build upon whatever work was left unfinished this season. We only hope that what we built won’t be torn down. To that end, our coaches labored faithfully, loved heartily, lived out integrity, instilled discipline, and painted selflessness. Without them, the Eagles could never fly.