Tomorrow isn’t just a regular Friday night. On the contrary. Tomorrow marks the return of Friday night football, which in my mind, is one of the most anticipated days of the year. But when I sit back and think about the magic that is Friday night football, I realize that I’ve had my life revolve around high school football going on 16 years.
My very first action on a Friday night came in 2003. I was a junior varsity football player at Summerville and we were hosting Escalon. I remember getting dressed and we had brand new uniforms and unfortunately, mine didn’t fit as well as I would have liked. I was, and coincidentally still am, a tall individual. My orange No. 54 jersey wasn’t meant for someone 6-foot-4 and rested just above my belt line. I kept trying to pull my jersey down, but the material wouldn’t stretch any further.
As we took the field, the sun was still extremely bright. Those early season games were played at 5 p.m. and for much of the season, we played under the sun and not the lights. Hitting the field for pregame warmups, I remember thinking how big a deal it was to finally play on a Friday night, as the previous year, I played freshman football on Thursdays. There weren’t many people in the stands to watch the early JV game. Nevertheless, a new chapter in my life was about to be opened.
The following year, it was my first time taking the field as a varsity football player. We made the long and winding drive from Tuolumne to Mariposa to take on the Grizzlies. I was expecting to see a football field, but to my surprise, we arrived at the rodeo grounds. There was more dirt than grass and the stands seemed to be 50 yards away.
I didn’t start that game, but I did get some time on the line. I thought I wouldn’t be able to handle the speed of the varsity level, but that wasn’t the case. It felt just like any other game that I played in the previous two years, only this time, we were the main event under the Friday night lights.
My final opening Friday night game as a player came on Sept. 9, 2005. We opened up against Mariposa in Tuolumne. We wanted to make the first game a special one, so we decided to make our entrance to the field by walking down the stands. If you remember Summerville’s Thorsted Field before the renovations, the stands were aluminum and seemingly went a mile straight into the air.
I was voted as a team captain and I got to lead my team down the stands. I was more nervous about that than actually playing the game. You see, we truly were the “Bad News Bears” and it would have fit the makeup of our team to have someone trip and we’d all take a tumble down the bleachers like dominos.
That didn’t happen, but we still lost.
In 2006, my Friday nights changed, but I was still around football. After graduating, I was hired to be a radio play-by-play broadcaster. I had just turned 18 and was given this huge opportunity. For my audition, I memorized the first quarter of the 1981 NFC championship game between the 49ers and Cowboys and watched the VHS of the game and broadcasted it onto a tape.
When I arrived at my first game, it was back in Mariposa. Moments before we went live on the air, I started to panic. I’d never called a game before and I was certain that I’d mess up and everyone would know that I was a fraud. But once the mic went hot, I settled down and it was off to the races.
I was on the radio for six years and then I made the jump to print. The first game that I covered was Bret Harte at Gustine on Aug. 31, 2012. I had never covered a football game before. Heck, I had only written a handful of articles. I had no idea what I was doing. But just like I did when I was a player and a broadcaster, I took a deep breath and tried not to make any glaring mistakes.
I’ve been on the sidelines for every Friday night opener since 2003 and that will continue this year. I’m excited for another season of football and for the stories that come along with it. And even though my playing and broadcasting days are done, I’m happy to have a pen in my hand and a game in front of me. Welcome to football season.