Torture On The Gridiron

Sam Steinmeyer is off to college in a little less than two weeks.  As I look back, everything that Sam experienced in school came in fours.  He started his schooling at Horace Mann on the Northwest Missouri State University campus.  He went until fourth grade.  He was really there six years and almost seven.  That’s because he almost flunked Ms. Clark’s pre-kindergarten class by telling her on an aptitude test his last name was Pujols.  Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals was his first, favorite baseball player.  A baby sitter suggested he take the player’s last name as his own.

It was then on to Maryville Middle School.  That’s another four-year stretch.  I worried he would leave the cozy confines of Horace Mann and be picked on by the class that was five times larger than his Horace Mann class.  Sam was probably the shortest male in his class.  I shouldn’t have worried with principal Kevin Pitts in charge.  Kevin nicknamed him Slammer and everything went great at the Middle School.

This final four years really worried me.  Sam loves sports but he’s not very athletic.  I shouldn’t have worried.  He was right with his senior classmates as they claimed the football state championship his senior season.  He wasn’t wearing a uniform, but coaches Matt Webb and Matt Houchin made sure Sam was always welcome with the team.

His basketball coach, Matt Stoecklein, allowed Sam to play varsity basketball his senior season.  Again, his teammates were generous, allowing Sam to go claim the district championship trophy.  Thanks to Zach Patton’s assist, Sam even hit a 3-pointer on senior night.  There were some disappointments in baseball, but Sam really had a great four years of high school.

Now, he’s ready for the next four-year phase of his life, college.  He will attend Missouri Western and be under the mentorship of Ryan Menley.  You might have forgotten, but Ryan was the sports director at KQ2 for several years.  He covered my women’s teams at Northwest and we became friends.  He already put Sam to work in the press box at the Eight-Man All Star Game this summer.

Sam won’t get far away from sports.  It should be another great four years unless he takes my path of five years and two summers of living the American dream as a college student.  Sam did tell Ryan he wouldn’t wear Western gear for the first football game against Northwest.  You can send the boy to Western but you can’t take the Bearcat out of him.

It’s what is going on right now that was my least favorite thing in all my years of sports.  That is pre-season football.  First, I have to tell you I was a below average football player.  My freshmen year, I was a defensive end and an offensive tight end on an eight-man team that was so small we consolidated the next year.  I played so little, I didn’t even earn a letter.

The same was true at the new consolidation, Wilber-Clatonia High School.  I thought I was doing pretty well my sophomore year when the head coach came to me and said I’d make the traveling squad for the first game.  He then called me Randy.  Randy Sagehorn made the travel roster not me.  He didn’t even know my name.

Those first two or three weeks of pre-season football were pure torture.  Things were much different in the mid and late 1960’s.  Coaches had no restrictions on how many practices, the length of practices, the time in full pads or the amount of live hitting we could do.

I don’t think I was alone when I say I never came into pre-season football camp in very good shape.  There was no weight lifting programs in the summer.  I take that back.  Most players hauled hay for farmers.  Throwing those bales five and six high on the trailers was pretty good for the muscles.

We all tried to get out and do a little running.  Just like now though, you never use the same muscles as you use in an actual football practice or game.  Two-day practices lasted until the first day of school.  That first Friday of school would mean a “Soap Scrimmage.”  It would cost a bar of soap to attend the game.  That is what we used in the showers the rest of the year for all sports.  By the end of track season, all that was left was Lava, a rough hand soap, or something girlish with eucalyptus in it.

Those two-a-day practices were awful.  I remember one early morning practice when an assistant coach walked on our stomachs as we were doing leg lefts.  I guess he was checking if all the hay baling was good for our abs.

There were water breaks, but you could only wash you mouth out with the water.  The theory was too much water in your stomach gave you cramps.  Coaches handed out salt tablets that we later on found out were bad for us.

There was never a time we didn’t wear full pads and had live hitting each day.  It was during one of those live hitting seasons where I became an offensive lineman rather than a tight end.  It was a “Hamburger Drill” and I was pitted against a running back 100 pounds heavier than me.  I hit him hard, by my standards.  He bounced off and I had a separated shoulder.  I was too scared to tell the coach, so I just popped it back in place and kept playing.  I couldn’t raise my right arm to catch passes.  The coaches thought I was a terrible tight end (they were right), so I became an offense tackle, even though I only weighed 150 pounds.

Fours years of pre-season football was bad enough, but when I had to coach football at Milford and Wilber-Clatonia, all the bad memories flooded back.  As a coach, I still hated those practices, but for a different reason.  I was bored to death.  Since I didn’t know much about football, I had a “agility station” to start practice and that was about it.  Two to three hours of doing nothing but ordering freshmen to hold dummies.

This week, I ran into some of the top returning players from Maryville’s defending state championship team.  I think they’ll pull it off again.  They have most of their skilled players back.  If they can find linemen and tough kids like last year’s seniors, I think it’ll happen again

That’s not even mentioning what I think is the top coaching staff in Missouri.  Matt Webb is a great leader with a great football mind.  He allows his offensive and defensive coordinators freedom to scheme but is always the boss.  I think Matt Houchin, the offensive coordinator and Nathan Powell, the defensive coordinator, are as good as any I’ve seen.  Maryville is very lucky to have a program like this.

I might have been very stiff for the first three weeks of football as a poor high school player.  Pre-season might have seemed like a prisoner of war camp back in the 1960’s.  Two-a-days and bale hauling in-between might still seem like pure hell.  As much as I hated pre-season football, I admire what Matt Webb and his staff has put together.  Go Spoofies.