The raw emotion of high school football is what makes the games so interesting to me as an impartial observer.
I have no invested interest in which team wins a game played between 16-18-year-old kids. However, it is great to see the fully consuming energy these players put into the games when the lights come on.
The game-winning touchdown drive is not the first thing I remember about a great high school football game. The quarterback’s stats aren’t that important when a team has just clinched a monumental victory.
It is the faces on the players, coaches and fans that are what I remember most about panning my eyes through a packed high school football stadium on Friday nights.
I think back to players so exhausted after a three-hour slugfest that standing up straight without looking dizzy afterward is a task.
Last Friday’s game at The Brickyard was a great example. North Hall and Flowery Branch were playing down to the wire in what has become a great Hall County high school football rivalry. Standing on the sideline in the final minutes, I could see fans and players so wrapped up in the action on the field, which in turn made the energy in the stadium electrifying.
Walking the sideline and looking at the expressions on the faces in the crowd made it clear that these football games have consequence. One side would eventually be validated with victory. The other side would momentarily be heartbroken with defeat.
Players will also go to great length to compete for their school. Even physical injury will not stop some players from staying on the field in a game that carries what amounts to a season’s fate.
Watching the North Hall-Flowery Branch game last week reminded me of a great game I was covering in 2003.
A very average Duluth High team was battling late in the season against South Gwinnett. If my memory serves me correctly, there was a playoff spot on the line.
Duluth’s only chance of winning fell on the shoulders of their strong-armed quarterback Dante Williams, who eventually went on to play at Samford University. I remember somewhere in the middle of the game, Duluth’s quarterback went out with a leg injury of some sort.
However, to everyone’s surprise he came back in the game with his team trailing by a couple of scores.
The injury was obviously significant. I’ll never forget the visual image of his teammates helping him from the line of scrimmage, as he hopped on one foot, back to the huddle between plays.
In the end, not even having the star quarterback in the game could bring victory. Duluth lost the game and I’m pretty sure didn’t end up making the playoffs. But in the end, it is not the wins and losses that get trapped in the old memory bank.
It is players going out and pouring every ounce of energy into the sport they love. That’s what makes high school football so great.