JAY DAVIS: The game of football is still in my system

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Talking football with Tiger coach Nathan Lamb on Tuesday, the conversation took a turn to how the game ends for most players.

Every year around 1.1 million young men, and a handful of young women, play high school football. For all but about 2 percent of those players, the game is over for them after their senior year of high school. Of that 1.1 million, around 70,000 will play college football. Only 2,300 of those players will make it past training camp and make an NFL roster. There are, of course, lesser leagues, indoor leagues, semi-pro and a few amateur leagues for those who want to keep pursuing the game. Most of the players in those leagues join after at least some college ball.

In other words, nearly every high school football player has his career come to an end before the winter of his senior year of high school.

That is something that makes football unique. Most sports are activities that can be played for a long time. A guy can play basketball, baseball or softball, or golf for years. Runners can keep running most of their lives. Wrestling fits the football category, but the numbers for that sport are about 270,000 or one-fourth of the number of football players.

Oh sure, a guy can get in a game of flag football or play a little two-hand touch, but those games have nothing to do with full-equipment, organized tackle football.

Here’s the thing. I played my last football game in October of 1976. Nearly 36 years later, I still miss the game. Let’s get one thing straight. I was not a good football player. By my senior year I had bulked up to 5’8” and 136 pounds. I never started one varsity game in my career. My shining moments were like falling stars. They were gone before hardly anyone had the chance to see them.

Seriously. I even miss practice. In fact, I might miss practice the most. Even in my preferred sport of baseball, practicing the game and honing my skills gave me just as much pleasure as the joy of walking off the field victorious.

A big part of reason for still missing the game is that it was taken away from me. The other sports I competed in were different in that way.

I retired from them by choice. I don’t play softball anymore because I chose to quit the game.

I did not choose to give up football. It was taken away from me: “Turn in your equipment, Davis.”

A year does not go by that I don’t have a conversation with some young man about the game of football. I tell them the same thing I am telling you now. Do not pass up the chance to play high school football. If you don’t try to discover the game now, your chance will be gone.

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