The skinny high school junior jogged to the line of scrimmage by himself like always. The center always went first to show the rest of the team where to line up. When the defense got into formation, he checked to see where the nose tackle was like he had done every snap of the game. It was mid-way through the third quarter, but the coach had drilled the habit into him over and over again during practice. Sure enough, the Central High School football team had finally lined up in the ON formation.
The skinny center looked left and right as he bent over to snap the ball and shouted “ON, ON” to both sides. He was so excited he shouted loud enough for the 500 or so fans sitting in the home team bleachers to hear him.
This was the moment the whole team had been waiting for. They had a special play designed for this formation. The head coach had seen a mismatch as he was watching Central on film he hoped his team could exploit.
That advantage was the home team had a better than average running back. The problem was the rest of the team had to work hard to reach the level of average. Including the skinny center. The coach knew this but thought if he could keep his team of average kids who didn’t know they were average in the game, they could bust a long run on the special play.
But could they hold on until then? When the visiting team finally showed the “ON” defensive formation would they be too far ahead for it to matter? The answer to turned out to be nope. Somehow, the home team was only behind 10-7.
The average guys on defense were hitting anything that moved wearing a white jersey. Especially the little 5’ 9” fire hydrant of a nose guard. Besides being fearless, he was also the dirtiest player on the team. He taped small metal plates to the top of his hands and then covered them with pads. All night long he would fire off the ball at the opposing offensive lineman by swinging his arm up as hard as possible. From time to time the lineman would get lazy and the metal plate covered hand would connect with a chin protected only by a plastic and cloth chinstrap. It wasn’t hard to tell when it happened because the lineman would be too busy rubbing his chin to block and the little pit bull would make the tackle in the backfield.
Now they had their chance. While the center was shouting “ON” to the lineman, the QB was yelling the same to the backfield. “Set-go” shouted the QB and the center snapped the ball then pivoted to his left. The left guard and tackle both took one step forward then stepped to their right. The center tracked down the line in the spaces where those two used to be. The defensive tackle, a great player who had been wreaking havoc all night, never saw the center coming. He thought the offensive tackle was tired of blocking and decided to take a play off, which in all likelihood, meant the play was going the other way. So he took a step to his left, which put him right in the path of the skinny center. At that moment the skinny center coiled his 175 lbs and caught the defensive tackle square in the side of his ribs. A textbook shoulder block. The block was so intense, the skinny center lifted the tackle off his feet. In football it’s called a de-cleater.
The tailback saw all of this happening and then a hole you could drive a truck through opened in the line as the offense guard and tackle took out the linebacker and other defensive lineman. The last thing the skinny center saw was the back of the tailback’s jersey as he ran untouched for a 40 yard touchdown. Now the score was 14-10 for the good guys.
But life isn’t a movie with a fairytale ending. The underdog doesn’t always win and they didn’t win that night. The visitors pulled out a win 17-14.
As the skinny center sat at his locker undressing after the game, he had the satisfaction of knowing he had thrown the best block of his life.