Friday Night Lights: A Personal Narrative

Photo by Eric Steinhauer.

Growing up my parents didn’t force me to do much. I had my chores around our small farm and house, but I made a lot of my own choices. When middle school came around, I discovered a lot of my friends didn’t have the same freedom. Their parents forced them to join clubs, try out a sport, or be more involved at their church. 

I was always appreciative of how my parents raised me. I did, however, feel a little jealous of my friends. It sounded fun to be a part of something. When I heard that one of my friends was joining the football team, I knew it was my cue. We signed up together and the rest is history.

That first year I played, way back in 2015, we kicked some serious ass. Our team went undefeated and I made memories I will carry with me forever.

Our coaches were a ragtag group of loud dads that were passionate about their kids and the sport. Coach Kaumans was a short, muscular man with a salt and pepper beard. His dark sunglasses and flat-bill were as consistent as his temper, all playing into his tough-love style of coaching. 

When I first met Mr. Kaumans I actually thought he hated me. He yelled at me in practice a lot and always said I wasn’t trying hard enough. It was only after explaining how he admired my potential that I realized he was trying to help me. He helped me to understand that just because someone isn’t being nice to you doesn’t mean they don’t have your best interest in mind.

Our head coach, Coach Knutson, was the opposite. He spoke softly, unless addressing the team, and always had an analyzing scowl when prowling the sidelines. When he wasn’t rocking the “you should run harder” glare, he wore his trademark, goofy smile.

In Coach Knutson’s pre-game speeches, he always reminded us to have fun. He’d tell us to loosen up and enjoy the moment. “If you’d rather be anywhere else, I don’t know what to tell you!” he’d shout across the locker room, clutching an oversized clipboard in his hand and gesturing with the other. Knutson reminded us to smell the roses and enjoy the moment. Only later did I find out this would actually apply more to life than football.

The last of the Three Musketeers was Coach Kohn. A man that seemed to fit in his shirts less and less the longer we were in school. Kohn was the literal anchor of our team. His booming laugh would carry over the practice field, letting everyone know the lineman were stuck in one of his genius, torturous conditioning circuits. He made sure that everyone always was working their hardest; this was especially the case with his son on the team, Connor. Poor Connor. 

Despite our oversized shoulder pads and the fact we were a group of hooligans, these misfits led us to an 8-0 record. We could’ve lost every game that year, though, and I would’ve still looked back on it as a positive experience. The lessons I learned from football are much more important than the outcome of our games.

In those moments, those lessons weren’t worth trudging through the mud or clashing pads in the hot sun. I hated a lot of practices. At first I didn’t really have many friends on the team and I questioned if I was meant for football.

Something one of our coaches said, I wish I could remember which one, will stick with me forever. I don’t know if he could tell I was struggling, but what he said really helped me in that moment and since then. He told me to look to my teammates for support because they were in the mud with me.

He was more right than I could ever imagine. I am now living with a friend I made on the football team and regularly see teammates when I am back in my hometown. Those people are like family to me. I’m always one call away for them and I know they are for me too.

The “mud” my coach was talking about is something that is prominent in all our lives. It’s that stuff that sticks with us and slows us down. Football taught me to find solace in the fact we share that common struggle.

Struggle in general has become easier for me since football. Now, that might seem kind of dramatic, but it’s become second nature for me now to push harder when met with resistance. 

I relish challenges more than I ever have and have overcome a fear of failure. I don’t know if I would have been able to get to this place without the Friday night lights. 

I doubt these lessons are unique to football, but I do think everyone should try a team sport like I did. I know everyone says they won’t raise their kids like their parents, but I think I might have my kid try some sort of sport. Maybe the magic was in me finding football on my own. Maybe it was exactly what I needed and not everyone would have the same experience. 

All I know is that my life was never the same after those oversized pads.

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