By Jeremy McDonald
As I swung by McKay Sunday evening practice, it wasn’t to do a story on a game or a feature on a kid or a preview on a season or a game, I just wanted to hang out and watch after spending the day at the gym, Bauman Farms with my wife and was driving around town killing time after doing homework to unwind; Sunday practice was always something special to me as a former football player.
I would bike three miles from my dad’s place after watching some NASCAR and eating some pizza to Crater High School to watched flim of Friday’s game (or Thursday as I played JV for two-years before making the move to Varsity my senior year). We would get corrected but would occasionally see what our Varsity offensive coordinator was doing on the sidelines during my senior year.
It was fun seeing him freak out over something simple because it was overdramatic sometimes over a missed stalk block on a three-yard gain haha.
I remember too getting a large slurpee and a McChicken my senior season and having everyone going in jist of, “You gonna cramp up Jeremy and we’ll make fun of you over it” when I came in Sunday. Luckliy my decision never ended up in tragedy when we walked out to the field for conditioning.
With the cool Medford air blowing and the smell of wood burning from the area and hills in the late Sunday afternoon, we would line-up and run sprints. Something I hated then knowing I had three miles to go back, 11–years after the fact I would trade the pen-and-pad to run another one.
As I was talking to a parent of a McKay kid while practice was going on, I think we may have had one Thursday game if that during my three-years playing High School ball for Varsity, otherwise we won’t even consider popping the pads on Sunday.
And now with the winds of winter coming in during Sunday night’s practice in Salem, I find myself, as I have recently since last-year, reminiscing on what it was like when I was playing with three-games left in the regular session or so for football.
We were on the verge of a league championship at Crater and climbing up the ranks, unheard of for Crater in the Fall of 2006; I was certainly living in the moment thinking we had a good chance at a deep run at State. Football was my escape and though I knew it was going to end and my path was going to be writing about it post that 2006-2007 season when I graduated, I certainly didn’t expect a month from October 8, 2006 on that faithful November 17 night against Bend would mark the end of it.
To describe that feeling even now, a sport you played your heart out for almost six-years like I had or more as some of these kids today or back when I played to have end in a matter of a night is hard to describe. I knew it was too soon in my opinion, but it’s just part of the beast of sports that I had to learn to accept at 17.
Is it ever the right time when it comes to the Sports Gods? Only a few get to walk away on their terms on top, just got to finish strong. Wish I did.
I remember that November night, late in the playoff game and we’re down 14, one of out receivers pointed at me behind the coach he was talking to, wanting me to come in. I walked off thinking he’s caught in the moment of the game, I thought I didn’t belong so I walked away from the situation and got some water. Looking back, I wished I didn’t piss away the chance to play in a playoff game as I would never get another chance.
As the clock hit zero that night, I knew the party was over with me playing sports. The real world arrived that November 17th night at Crater, I was stunned. I remember my teammates faces when we were walking off that field, we were all emotional. Sophomores to Seniors, we were the same. It didn’t matter who was returning that next season or who was leaving.
Looking back, that playoff game was my main regret. Yeah, I shoulda tried harder in some plays in practice, who hasn’t? But the fact I left a regret bothers me knowing I cannot go back to right it.
In that moment, in the locker room after the 38-24 loss, after being number-4 in the State and doing all of these great things and bonding the way we did, that season was special and certainly I would never forget that season. When I turned my gear in a few days later, the feeling was stronger knowing that was the last time I would play the game I loved.
And as those three zeros approaches to teams like McKay and across the State in football, in other sports like soccer, volleyball, etc. whenever that may be, I do wonder what their final takeaways would be when the end comes to their prep careers?
As McKay broke from practice for the night and I made my way to my car as the team walked to the locker room, I constantly reflect the end of my prep career and wondered, when faced with the end or knowing it could be their last, how will they leave it out there with no regrets and with all they got?
And when that day comes when you take your last breath walking off the field and hang it up, what are you going to remember from your playing days?
Because I know with me, I’m going to remember the little things like a Sunday practice/conditioning like I did at 17, that still sticks around with me now at 28 almost 29.