Put It On the Line

We don't get our pictures in the paper. We don't show up in the box scores or the stat sheets, and in a few years, almost nobody will remember our names. None of us ever got the game ball. One of us – or the whole unit in general – will get mentioned only when something goes wrong, as in, really wrong. And we get the worst reputation of anyone – the biggest eaters, the dirtiest pigs, the dumbest of the dumb jocks, the bullhunks, the steroid snarfers, you name it. At school, in town, we get looked at like some kind of mutants. And maybe some of us are, but you can get mutant brains in any position, or sport, or town.

But we're the ones that make it all possible. Vince Howard couldn't have thrown that huge touchdown pass in the State game if we hadn't protected him, given him time. Running backs like Smash Williams, Tim Riggins, Luke Cafferty, they need us to move those defensive ends and linebackers out of the way. We open the holes for them to run through. Of course, once they break tackles and head downfield, they make the moves and get the credit, but the cameras follow them, not us, right from the start. Some of the players thank us after a play, if they can see we made a difference. It doesn't matter if they don't, though, we just keep doing our job out there.

We look out for the other players too, not just on the field. The go-to guys, that's us. Another player, or his family or friends, if there's a spot of trouble, they come looking for us, the big guys, to help make it right. And we do, because everyone's seen what we can do on the field, wearing pads, against other big guys like us, constrained by rules, so it's enough for them to just imagine what could happen with no pads or rules around. One of the toughest challenges around is not letting that get to your head. Not everyone manages.

And speaking of heads, there's a lot more to us than just blind strength. We don't just say "hand me the ball" or "throw me the ball" - we have a whole lot of thinking to do on every play, moves and defenses to read, zones to scope out and clear. We make it happen. All right, more like we help make things happen. And we know that at the next levels, college and the NFL, every team is going to need five of us out there on every play. We're in people's minds, when somebody says "football player", the first picture they get is someone like us, a lineman.

I didn't touch the ball even once during my whole senior year, but that doesn't matter. When the uniforms got passed out – and then the rings did, after we took State – my name got read out loud and clear just like everyone else's. Hernandez. Known as Ram, short for Ramiro. Left guard. Took the field for Coach and East Dillon and helped us hold our own. Heard the cheers and shared in the celebration. And let me tell you, they can close down our football program like they did right after, heck, they can even close down our school or pull other stuff like politicians do, but they can't take that ring back, or the Lion pride that comes with it. Lion lineman pride.