A little confidence goes long way in jr. high

By ROBBIE ROBERTSON,

Notes, quotes and a thought or two…

Last week, I ventured down memory lane as I remembered my short-lived life as a power hitter in baseball.

That got me to thinking about another great day in my short-lived sporting career.

Growing up, I had learned to love football. On the playgrounds of Neshoba Central, it was always a free-for-all, that was until somebody came up with a broken leg and tackle football would be banned for a few weeks.

But then we moved up to junior high and got to play seventh grade football. There were at least 70 to 80 players signed up to play in my class that year.

It took the coaches about four or five days to get everybody pads and helmets. I admit that I was as excited about getting on the field as anything I can remember.

Once everyone got their pads and equipment, coach Tony Stanford told everybody to hit the track and start running and first one to pull their helmets off would get punishment. Half of us puked that day but I didn’t quit.

The next day, we actually tried to practice, which was something to behold. Basically, the coaches told half us to go to the offensive side and half of us to go to the defensive side.

After that, they started diving us. They took all the fat kids and made them linemen and the smaller kids were defensive backs. I was in the middle so I was a linebacker.

I’ll never forget Coach Howard asking, “I need somebody who likes to hit the man who’s got the football.”

I quickly answered, “that’s me coach,” with much enthusiasm.

Old Coach Howard, who was famous for reminding everyone that he was in Vietnam and football was like fighting the Viet Kong, put me at middle linebacker that day.

I remember asked what I needed to do. He answered, “you go hit the man what’s got the football.”

So we finally lined up and the offense ran a play, a toss sweep to my right. So I did just what the coach told me to do and ran and tackled the back for a 5-yard loss.

Coach Howard came running up and asked me why I did that. “Because you told me to coach,” I replied.

“Well, you just keep on doing the and nobody will mess with you,” he told me.

This pretty much went on the entire practice as I made tackles from sideline to sideline. Of course, it’s pretty easy to go tackle when nobody is blocking you because they don’t know blocking really is, despite the fact that Coach Stanford was cussing them the entire time because I was making every tackle.

As I said last week, I wasn’t a very outgoing child. Somewhere in elementary, I developed a stuttering problem and wasn’t a very outgoing person. I guess my success the previous summer in 12-year-old baseball had given me a dose of confidence, something I was sorely lacking.

As we left the practice field that day, Coach Howard asked me what my name was and put his arm around me. He told me that I had one of the best practices he had ever seen. And here I am some 35 years later and I still remember that day and still remember Coach Howard, whose claim to fame was that he once tackled Walter Peyton for a safety while playing cornerback for Kentucky State in college.

And it’s for moments like these that I hope and pray our young men get to put on that uniform this fall, whether it be for junior high, high school or college.

Next week, I’ll tell the story of my first seventh grade game, which was just as memorable as that first practice.

Robbie Robertson is sports editor for The Newton County Appeal. You can reach him at rrobertson12811@yahoo.com