Mitchell: This is what we love about high school sports
Memories of my high school football career don’t involve any state championships.
They don’t involve any playoff victories. Actually, they don’t involve many victories at all.
I attended Wasson High School in Colorado Springs, which was a Class 4A school for football when I graduated in 1995. And during my high school career, including my time on the freshman and JV teams, the teams I played on won a whopping four games.
That’s right. Four. Two my freshman year. Zero — yes, zero — my sophomore year. None my junior year (I had to leave the team after Week 2 to help care for a sick family member). Two my senior year.
Yup. Rifle, Glenwood Springs and Coal Ridge have this year either matched or exceeded the win total I had for my high school career.
Not everything was bad. There were some pretty epic locker-room moments and other moments that I’ll probably remember when my 20-year reunion comes up next year.
My favorite memory, however, came when I got beat up.
Yes, I said that. Beat up on the field, that is.
Headed into our season finale with a 2-7 overall record, we were playing Air Academy. The Kadets had a running back by the name of Darien Latimer, who was averaging more than 300 rushing yards per game and, if I remember correctly, was only 168 yards away from breaking the state rushing record at the time.
So guess who got to be the scout-team running back?
Yup. That’s right.
I guess I kind of brought it on myself. I didn’t play defense because I wasn’t a good tackler, but I could run, block and catch OK. So when my whopping 5-foot-10, 155-pound frame busted through the defensive line a few times in practice, I got the honor of playing Darien Latimer on our defensive practice day 24 hours later.
I got pounded, thrown, buried and mangled by the eight-man fronts we were going to use. The next day, my forearms were black, blue, purple and red — nearly every color of the rainbow.
But guess what? It almost worked.
During Air Academy’s eventual win, everyone knew where Latimer was on the field and statistically. We knew when he was over 100 yards. We knew when he was at 150. And … we knew when he was over 168.
And when he went over 168, the game was stopped, the ball was given to Latimer, and the local television crews interviewed him at the spot he broke the record while his offensive line kneeled at his feet in reverence.
What was cool about that? Yeah, he broke the record, but we held him to less than 200 rushing yards, which no one else in Colorado had done all season long.
Latimer went on to get a full-ride scholarship at the University of Oregon, where he wound up being more of a role player for a decent Ducks team but, eventually, had some shining moments as an upperclassmen.
Me? I never put on a pair of shoulder pads again, simply because I knew there was no way I could play at the next level. Still, that was a small victory we achieved by limiting Latimer like we did, and I felt proud of that.
Tonight, there’ll be a bunch of high school football games going on in Garfield County. Rifle is playing at Glenwood Springs, Moffat County is playing at Roaring Fork, Battle Mountain is playing at Coal Ridge and Lake County is playing at Grand Valley. Plus, the Roaring Fork and Coal Ridge boys soccer teams are playing in the first round of the 3A state playoffs today, while three area volleyball teams play in their league tournament in Grand Junction this weekend.
Plus, the state cross country meet is Saturday, leaving a chance for some to have a storybook ending.
Every single athlete in Garfield County who puts on a uniform today will come away with some kind of memory. Some will be good. Some will be bad.
But every one of those memories will likely last for the rest of their lives, just waiting to be remembered at the 10-, 20- or 30-year reunions down the road.
Tonight will be a special night for everyone. To everyone in uniform: play hard. To everyone in the stands: cheer loud and classy. And to everyone who likes to criticize: go away.
I’m happy with my memories. And I hope after tonight, everyone in Garfield County and beyond can say the same.
Jon Mitchell is the sports editor of the Glenwood Springs Post Independent and Rifle Citizen Telegram. He can be reached at 970-384-9123, or at email@example.com.
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