Hit or Be Hit...That is the Question!

It's funny how a first impression will often last long after the act one did to make the impression in the first place. Fortunately for me, it was a good one. I remember it was a hot summer day in July 1978. The new school year was only a few of weeks away as well as our first game in the State Fair Bowl. (Anybody remember that one?) I was a brash young sophomore-to-be, who had played his first season of freshman football at Manual. I fancied myself as a great linebacker (although I never played the position after my freshman season). A regular Jack Lambert in-the-making. In my mind, all I needed was a little more height and weight to add to my 5' 10" 165 lb frame. Here's my story.

I had started at linebacker during my freshman season and had played really well. I was in on nearly every tackle and our team was pretty competitive as I remember. I earned the praise of coach William "Jelly" Green, whom I saw as a football god. (Like Ares, God of War!) He was a fiery man, full of energy and excitement. When someone made a great hit in practice, coach Green would be the first person onto the field to congratulate the player who made the hit. He also made sure the person who took the hit was O.K. I'd made several good hits in practice (and in the games) so I had a reputation of being a good hitter on our team. Well making good hits in freshmen football practice and games was completely different than doing it versus the upperclassmen on the J.V. and varsity squads. And I was about to learn that fact the hard way. Coach Green had obviously told varsity coach, Buddy Pfaadt, of my freshmen exploits on the field. If coach Green was Ares, then coach Pfaadt was Zeus, king of the gods! After the final game of my freshman season, coach Pfaadt had told me that he wanted me to get bigger and come out to summer practice after the school year was over. WOW! First of all, I was in awe because I wasn't even aware that Zeus knew my name! Secondly, he offered me, a mere freshman, an invitation to come out to practice with the JV and varsity during the summer! Did I just die and go to Mt. Olympus? So during the spring, I ate everything in sight and lifted weights to gain bulk. I gained about 10 pounds and thought I was just completely "ripped"! Coach Pfaadt's voice echoed in my brain for months get bigger and come to summer practice. Summer couldn't come fast enough.

When summer practice started I felt good about myself until I saw the rest of the team. To say that I was a bit intimidated was a massive understatement. I thought that with my added bulk, I would be able to hold my own against most of the guys. Yeah right. When I saw guys like Ronnie Baxter, Terry Cundiff, and William Bivens running around and hammering people, I felt the sudden urge to puke. Nevertheless, I had come too far to turn back now. I couldn't let my added 10 pounds go to waste. So despite my instincts telling me to get the hell out of there, I manned up and stayed. I made an effort to be in coach Pfaadt's direct line of sight as often as I could; hoping that he too would notice my added bulk. Well after about an hour of practice, it was time to scrimmage. The first team offense would go against the second team defense. The rest of us just stood back and watched in amazement as the sounds of pads and helmets crashing together filled the air. After every ! single tackle, there would be this huge cloud of dust because the ground was so dry from lack of rain. It just make every hit look that much more devastating. Our starting running back looked like a huge oak tree with arms and legs. His name was Rodney Francis, aka, Herc. (Short for Hercules) They listed him as 6‚1" and 205, but to me he was Goliath. And today, Goliath was having his way with the second team defense. He ran around, over, and through every guy on the field. The defense looked helpless and the coaches cussed them all for not being able to tackle him. Just my luck, one of the linebackers in the scrimmage got hurt. Just my luck, his backup wasn't at practice today. He had a doctor's appointment. Just my luck, coach Pfaadt remembered my name and told me to put on my helmet and get in there. I was numb. I remember breaking the huddle and praying that I wouldn't look like a total loser out there. Ed Asbury was the QB and I remember watching him go back to pass. "PASS, PASS", came the shouts from the coaches as we went back into pass coverage. Kelly Hill, the wide receiver, caught a pass over the middle and I managed to trip him up before he gained any significant yardage. Everybody patted me on the helmet and complimented me for the play. I slowly felt my confidence rising a little after each play. I was thinking to myself, „I can do this. After each tackle, I started to get a little "swagger. The rest of my fellow sophomores were on the sidelines and wishing they were in my shoes. I was on top of the world! When we broke the huddle, I stepped into my position and yelled "watch the pass" to the rest of the defense. I made sure to put a little extra bass in my voice to sound legit. Shades of Jack Lambert danced in my head. The offense snapped the ball and Asbury went back to pass. We dropped into coverage, then he handed the ball to Herc. "DRAW, DRAW" came the shouts from the sideline. I remember running toward the line of scrimmage and then seeing Herc coming towards me. Dear God NO! I remember him lowering his shoulders and thought that Id better do the same if I wanted to live through this. I remember the collision,then blackness. When I opened my eyes, I saw my teammates standing over me and I could see their lips moving. But I couldn't hear a word they were saying. Oh no he's knocked me deaf! I tried to move, but couldn't. Oh great, I'm paralyzed too. After what seemed like 10 minutes, I was helped to my feet and greeted with pats on my helmet yet again. Every part of my body was in pain. It hurt too bad to even speak. Herc was already back in the huddle,he was invincible and couldn't be stopped. Then the whistle blew to end the scrimmage. Coach Pfaadt huddled everyone up and we all took a knee. Coach spewed something about coming together as a team and getting your head into the game. I was still dizzy and tingling all over. I checked to make sure I hadn't soiled myself. Then coach Pfaadt looked over at coach Green and said, "You were right, that Wilson CAN hit", then he looked at me and gave me a wink. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I needed a stretcher to get to the locker room. That was just one of the first of many fond memories I have of playing football for the greatest high school in the world ˆ Dear Old Manual High!

Joe Wilson '81