Life's Hard Lessons

TAGS: Stratford Jets, Mount Vernon New York, Pop Warner football, erik eggers, education, football

At one point in the third quarter, while blocking for a kickoff return, I got blasted so hard I couldn't get back to my feet. I tried to remove myself from the turf, but the world was spinning. I got up and fell down three times before I could make it to the sidelines to let my coach know we had a slight problem.

I vividly remember climbing on an old school bus to head to Mount Vernon New York to play Pop Warner football. I was thirteen-years-old and a member of the Stratford Jets (Stratford, Connecticut). In previous years, the Jets had been so dominant (or so my father and I had been told) that Connecticut teams had elected to omit us from their respective schedules. The Jets were forced to travel into New York to find more willing competition. During the year I played for the Jets our team was good, although perhaps not at the level of some of our predecessors.

I felt ten feet tall when I strolled through my school halls wearing my gaudy green Jets jacket. It was my first year of football and I was more proud of being a part of that team than I was of any other accomplishment in my life to that point.

Mount Vernon was my first real game. Following the initial kickoff, I was participating in a game of physicality, the likes of which I’d never witnessed before.

Stratford Jets 020615

Football Beginnings

I didn’t come from much of a football family. When I first announced I was interested in playing, my parents were shocked. We never watched football on Sundays and I honestly can’t recall what catalyzed my interest in playing. My father and I were actually forced to research the positions in the encyclopedia (not a football encyclopedia; I’m referring to the Encyclopedia Britannica).

I was fortunate to have very supportive parents, who were there for me in all of my endeavors. However, as a young athlete learning the game of football, dealing with my father watching practice from the sidelines proved to be an ego-testing experience. I was getting my ass kicked on a daily basis during the first several weeks and candidly I was embarrassed that my father was witnessing it.

One of the worst hits I ever took was from a 110lb kid who blasted me into weightlessness for what felt like several seconds (I was 130lbs in a league allowing a maximum weight of 135lbs). For those of you who’ve never played full contact football, hitting is a skill with a bit of a learning curve, at least there was in my case, but once things clicked and I learned how to hit, it was off to the races.

Once I learned the game, my Head Coach pulled my father aside on occasion and said, “Your son hits like an animal” or “He’s mean on the field. He’s mean; what’s his mother like?” I remember no matter how hard I hit another player, I always felt that it wasn’t hard enough, including the time I popped another teammate in practice so hard that both our facemasks bent inward.

OSU Prospect Camp Scrimmage

Back to Mount Vernon

The Stratford Jets practiced hard. I remember being shocked initially at how challenging football actually was, both mentally and physically. Compared to other sports I had played, football was at a whole other level. That said, the hitting in practice had not adequately prepared me, as a first time player, for what I would face in an actual game. Those Mount Vernon players were savages. I remember the first guard I lined up against had a full mustache (he may have been smoking Marlboros on the sidelines) – I was thinking, there is no way this kid is thirteen-years-old.

At one point in the third quarter, while blocking for a kickoff return, I got blasted so hard I couldn't get back to my feet. I tried to remove myself from the turf, but the world was spinning. I got up and fell down three times before I could make it to the sidelines to let my coach know we had a slight problem.

Getting An Education1

What is your father’s name? What is your street address? What school do you go to?

My Head Coach fired the aforementioned questions in rapid succession and when I was able to answer them to his satisfaction, he cleared me back into the game.

I can’t recall the final outcome of that game; maybe we lost the contest and I’ve blocked it from memory. I do, however, vividly remember what my coach said to me following that game. He approached me and said, "You got an education out there tonight, didn't you?"

"Yes I did," I replied, knowing exactly what he meant. Our practices had been hard, but they hadn't prepared me for the physical brutality I was going to face in that game.

You got an education out there tonight, didn’t you?

I ended up having a strong season. I played offensive and defensive guard and on all special teams. For a novice, I turned out to be a hell of a Pop Warner player. At the end of the season when I handed-in my gear, the Head Coach said, “Eggers, you had a great season. You came out of nowhere and did a hell of a job.” I’ll never forget that comment.

You came out of nowhere and did a hell of a job. 

OSU Prospect Camp LHP Eggers on 1B (1)

Pop Warner Football Postscript 

It is thirty years later and I still think of that season and my coach’s words. It was such a great experience and such a contributor to my maturation as a young man. My oldest son and I were recently returning to Texas from a College Baseball Showcase at Oklahoma State University. While driving I was thinking about the players we saw that weekend giving their best efforts on the field in an attempt to get noticed and potentially recruited to a Big 12 Baseball program – the hustle, the diving catches, and the arms. It brought me back to my athletic days and the moments in our lives when important change happens.

We all have these watershed moments in our lives; when an event radically changes our perception and our future courses of action. Although I’d been enamored with weight training since I was six-years-old, that first football season really contributed to galvanizing my efforts in the gym. I didn’t want to be physically dominated on the field ever again. I was old enough to understand that physical strength was going to be critical to my success on the field and with some simple programming, provided by my defensive coach, I was on my way.

The training routine my defensive coach provided simply called for four sets of ten reps (bench press for upper body and squats for lower body). When you could complete the four sets of all ten repetitions, you would simply bump the weight up five pounds and start over the next training session. If you didn’t complete all the sets and reps, you stuck with the same weight until you could complete the full sets and reps. I didn’t have access to all the well-thought-out programs our athletes have today, but I have to say four sets of ten really did the trick for me.

OSU Prospect Camp pre-running

I remember going up five pounds each and every workout for many training sessions in a row – many training sessions in a row. The gains were like nothing I’d ever encountered before or since (these days I’m fighting for five pound increments in a year). Frankly, I was addicted to the training. It was incredibly empowering to perform the work and feel the results.

The work radically improved my performance on the football field and boosted my confidence on and off the field of play.

What was your watershed moment? There is still time for another.

Come out of nowhere and do a hell of a job!

 columnist author photo

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