As a junior, I played right guard (when I played, that is). We didn’t have fancy hand signals back in the day, so we shuttled plays in. I subbed in-and-out with another guy, based less on athletic ability than the fact that I could remember which play the coach had called for the length of time it took to run from the sideline to the huddle.
We were playing Tulsa Central, which had a rag-tag team. They did have one stud lineman, a senior who played both ways, clearly the best athlete on the team. He was quick and big — 210 lbs or so, which is nothing nowadays, but this guy went on to earn a football scholarship at Wichita State.
At 180 lbs dripping wet, I was small, but slow. No football scholarships were in my future.
It was a critical third-and-seven deep in the fourth quarter. The head coach called a draw play — a fake pass and run — over right guard — my hole. The Stud lined up opposite me in a four-point stance. I was never going to out-muscle or out-quick him. As the ball was snapped, I gave him the outside gap and yelled “PASS”. He took the bait and shot the gap, as I rode him to the ground and covered him up about five yards deep in the backfield. You could’ve driven a truck through the hole he vacated. Our running back ran for 12 yards. The zebras were already advancing the chains when Stud tapped me on the helmet, signaling it was OK to let him up.
We went on to win the game. It took until Sunday afternoon for the 16mm game films to be developed, and the whole team gathered to review and critique our play. When the film came to that play, my chest kind of swelled up, proud that my keen sense of line play and trickery had earned my team a first down. Since offensive linemen don’t score touchdowns, such an achievement is often the only reward.
“Who is that? Maley?! MALEY, is that you?”
Coach Driver had been a blazing fast sprinter and receiver in college. He coached track and the wide receivers in football. Normally, he paid attention to the glory boys, not the linemen, so this was unusual. I was kind of surprised he knew my name.
“That’s me, Coach,” waiting on the kudos.
“How’d you let that man shoot the gap like that? Who taught you to block, son? That’ll be twenty hills!” Punishment. The head coach kept quiet. After the film session, the line coach oversaw the punishment, but never commented one way or the other about the play or the punishment.
Years later Coach Driver won three state championships as head coach at Tulsa McLain. Their football stadium is named for him and he is in the Oklahoma Coaches Hall of Fame.
Sometimes a job well done is its only reward.
– Adapted from the original published at: http://maleybooks.com/2016/08/01/football-steve-maley-version-published-without-permission/#sthash.xHWCrfVF.dpuf