I Quit Once, by RU Nick
I quit once.
I decided to play football in my senior year of high school. I was a three-year varsity wrestler and made all-state as a junior. In previous years, I ran cross-country, but the time came to take my aggression out on more than one person at a time.
I approached the football coach.
“I need a nose tackle,” he replied.
“Coach, I am 155 pounds right now,” I replied. “Is that the right position for me?”
It’s not that I doubted my toughness , but the team’s co-captains played on the line and they were both in the 250 pound range and up. I’d be in the middle of them and I didn’t want to screw anybody.
“Yup. That’s what I’ve got, “he said, “Let me know what you’re doing.”
I went home and I talked with my “little” brother (5 inches taller than me and 50 pounds heavier at the time) who was the real football player in the family and I asked him what he thought. He explained that the coach was going to use me to “wreck shop” in the middle and use his skilled linemen to handle the line. My brother thought it would be a good spot for me.
With his stamp of approval I joined the team.
Football was awesome. I had a lot to learn, but I was good at it and had a blast. Joel and Matt, our two lineman captains, were very inclusive (I had expected to get fucked with as the new guy) and they clearly had the team’s respect. I worked my ass off to be worthy of them and the team and I got better with every practice and every game.
Life was good – I wished I had done this earlier. Football was just freakin’ fun.
The only part that wasn’t fun was Coach Glory Days.
Forget about the fact that Coach Glory Days thought that withholding water made you tougher, or that he that threatened high school athletes with physical violence. The part that bothered me was that he always thought people were lying to him – even the captains who gave everything to him.
After practice one day, I came home to see my parents were very upset. My grandfather was in the hospital and he was very sick.
A day later, he died.
My grandfather was the central figure in our family. He brought our family to the United States.
To his children, he was sometimes a very hard man – my own father admitted to not liking him much until he worked alongside him doing construction for the first time when he was fifteen. My dad, who is the hardest working man I know, was amazed by Pop’s work ethic and integrity. If the break was 15 minutes, he stopped for 15 minutes and then worked, while everyone else extended it to a half hour. If the job was supposed to get done by Friday and they were behind schedule, he’d work longer hours, at no pay, to make sure he lived up to his word.
To me though, he was just Pop – my grandfather – the only guy that I spoke Italian with in my family. He was the guy who used to slip me cheese and prosciutto after my mom had said I had enough. I loved him with everything I had.
I would be out of school for a week while preparing for his funeral. I contacted my teachers and let them know I’d come in to get my books. When I arrived at school all my teachers offered their condolences. The last person I stopped to see was Coach Glory Days.
“Out for a week, huh?” he smirked.
“Yeah, Coach. I’m really sorry.” I whispered.
“No problem, Nick. No problem – just one thing.” he turned on his heel to look me right in the eye – he had been looking away.
“What’s that coach?”
“Make sure you bring in the obituary from the newspaper.”
“What?” I asked.
“Yeah, I want to see it. You think this is the first time someone has tried to get out of practice?”
“Coach, my grandfather died.”
“So you say.”
I wish I had quit right there. I wish I had told him to fuck off, and yeah, maybe even cracked him in the face…but I didn’t. I was sixteen years old, and I was afraid of this man.
A week later, I quit the team with the excuse that I had to stay focused so I could keep up my grades for West Point.
I never told Matt and Joel why I quit.
Never Shall I Fail My Comrades
The football season went okay without me. Matt and Joel were always good dudes to me, even though they never knew what had gone down. Near the end of the season, I caught Matt in the weight room.
We bullshitted for a while and then it got quiet.
“We could have used you this year,” Matt said.
“Ah, you guys are light-years better than I am. I didn’t matter much to the team” I lied.
“Nick, think about it, man. You were only getting better. Dave got hurt. Joel and I had to play more often and harder just to hold it together. It would’ve helped to have someone else there to fuck some shit up. Know what I mean?”
Then it hit me.
Coach Glory Days was and is a piece of shit, but there were 50 other guys on the team that dealt with his bullshit every day. No amount of injustice to me made it okay that I left them like that.
I failed them.
So what, Nick? Way to tell us a high school story…
After I left the military and went back to school, a lot of people asked me the typical questions many of you have heard: What makes someone want to do Ranger School? What makes someone want to be an infantryman? Or fly a jet? Or go to BUDS or Selection? What makes military guys want to do this shit? What makes someone successful at this crazy military world you come from?
Here’s my answer:
Some are born non-quitters. Some learn persistence in basic training. Some learn it after one or two failures at Ranger School. Some, like me, learn it because we were selfish once and we let people down.
But once we learn it, we never quit again.
As it says at the top of our website, Not Everyone’s War Stories End in High School.
Well, sometimes they start there.