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  • Reverend James Squire

Practice Squad

I don’t believe in coincidences so when I saw the heading that football taught Fetterman about life, I took note. Fetterman started playing football when he was a junior in high school. He grew six inches in one year. That also got my attention in terms of similar experiences between high school and college as I grew six inches as well. His college coach at Albright kidded him that he was hardly a blur on the field but had deceptive speed. Fetterman was thrilled to hear about his deceptive speed until the coach said, “Yes, you are “slower than you look.” However, Fetterman learned a valuable lesson according to him. When he was knocked down, he knew that he had the power to get back up particularly after his crippling stroke.

Given his coach’s comment Fetterman must have spent time on the practice squad. I too spent most of my football career on the practice squad. I was five foot eight inches and weighed one hundred twenty pounds and was an inside linebacker and guard on offense. Between my last year of high school and college, I grew six inches as well. Where was that height and additional weight when I needed it.

You can have all of the skill and motivation that a human being could have but there are certain biological characteristics that you can’t change. I walked to school with a tackle on the team who was six foot six and weighed two hundred twenty pounds, Bernard Smondrowski, and the captain of the team, Kip Flowers, who was an outstanding defensive end. They never commented about my size or my motivation. Strangely enough I too thought this was a normal experience as all that I wanted to do was be part of the team. Hence, the coach thought I was a good candidate for the practice squad.

There is a strange brother hood that exists for those of us who spent our sports lives on the practice squad. As an inside linebacker, I can still remember seeing the pulling guard and blocking back coming at me with the running back behind them. I also remember moments of sometimes making the tackle but also getting a good view of the sky when I didn’t make the tackle and was on my back looking up,

Our practice field was next to a cemetery which I thought was really gallows humor. But my walking to school friends would often come over, pick me up and brush the dust off me as there was little grass as the season moved forward.

So, what is learned here? There is a practice squad mentality that just may be as important as having a starting role. I think that my experience on the practice squad me to being the president of the class for on the practice squad you have a daily dose of humility. You also learn the importance of being a follower and not getting much praise except from your teammates. You learn as well that there will be people around you who appreciate what you are doing and will pick you up and dust you off and put you back into the scrimmage. It brings to mind that key leadership quality that there is nothing that you can’t achieve if you don’t need to get the credit for it as well as that key leadership phrase if you get hurt “next man up.”

In addition, you don’t necessarily go around bragging that you are on the practice squad. Who wants to hear that? Now, if you are a starter, you have bragging rights. Those people that have been on or know what it means to be on the practice squad have a certain degree of appreciation for those in that roll. Once you get into a game when the victory is clinched, the opposition isn’t prepared for these crazy guys who enter the game and have a few plays to practice their craft. A former head of EA had a painting behind his desk with players on a bench with one leaning forward looking to the coach and hoping to get in. A picture can be worth a thousand words.

But there is something more. Once you are in the game of life, you fully commit yourself to be better than the best you think you can do. You get filled with grit.

Yesterday a group of us watched the North Carolina State vs. Carolina football game. Vicki had some of her sorority sisters from North Carolina State here for the Thanksgiving holiday. When we watched the game, everyone anticipated that State would be in for a beating as three of their quarterbacks were injured and they had to turn to Ryan Findley, a member of their practice squad, to play quarterback for the game. Carolina had a Heisman Trophy candidate, Drake Maye, as their quarterback.

It was an incredible game as Findley, fresh off the practice squad, played the game of his life. State won after three overtimes. The final score was 30 -27. That is the other thing that practice squad players do. When they get into life, they play the game of their life. They never forget where they came from in terms of being a member of a practice squad. I found myself rooting for State but rooting more for Findley. He was one of us!

I still have my white wool letter sweater with the big C sowed on as the first initial of the name of my high school with a star sowed in the middle. It is on top of clothes in a drawer! It is one of those value driven things that is there for me to assimilate that I need to remember where I came from. When teaching adults and students about leadership, I always include what you read above. Those characteristics of leadership have stood the test of time. At least they have stood the test of my time and probably for Ryan Findley.

One final note, Maye also played the game of his life as a red shirt freshman, but his place kicker missed a possible game tying field goal. Instead of Maye being angry with him, I saw him walk off the field with his arm around the kicker consoling him as best he could. Certainly, this was a valuable lesson in leadership from a famous starter.

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