Everyone has a special talent

This is written for you teenaged boys who aren?t necessarily the best of athletes.

This is my story, but I want you to realize, somewhere down deep in your soul, that every person has some special talent, intellectual ability or contribution to make that perhaps isn?t known yet.

I don?t care if you?re scrawny, undersized, not as intelligent or very intelligent?you count. Don?t ever give up, especially not on yourself.

By age 16, I was convinced I was never going to be an athlete.

I did have other talents. I seemed built for farm work. English was an easy course for me. I?d sit and read a book in study hall, then write a theme 15 minutes before it was due in class.

The sport I liked most was basketball. I was good at shooting long shots?probably would have made a three-point shooter if that rule had existed then, but it didn?t.

But I was a lousy ball handler, barely having the ability to dribble a ball down court. I?d already decided by the summer and fall when I was 16 that I would never go out for basketball again.

I?d been doing farm work all of that summer, including a lot of strenuous hours picking up hay bales in fields?brome, alfalfa and prairie, small twine-tied bales, no big bales then?and stacking them in hot barns.

I?d also decided to make myself stronger with makeshift weightlifting, hiding out in the tool shed doing bicep curls and tricep extensions with a sledgehammer.

My friend, Bob Jones, who settled that summer for riding over on his motor scooter to see me periodically because he was between having steady girl friends, watched me one evening at my invitation while I did curls with the sledgehammer.

I wasn?t wearing a shirt. Bob walked around me rather thoughtfully to look at my back. Then he said, ?Why don?t you go out for football. I think we?d like to have you.?

Bob was a running back on the football team, I knew. We liked each other, and his interest probably flattered me. So, that fall I went out for football at Auburn Rural High School, now unified with Washburn Rural by Topeka.

My dad said it was OK so long as I did my regular farm chores every night. I didn?t mind doing them in the dark as the days got shorter, but I had to get creative diverting the Black Angus bull?s attention away when I dragged hay bales to a feeder across the lot. I couldn?t see whether he was pawing the ground at me.

Of course, we did all of the fundamental stuff in football the first couple of practices, plus exercises designed either for intestinal fortitude or tearing your guts out. Back then I think I weighed about 160 pounds before my shirt was sweated through.

Then Coach Pat Adams said he was making me a defensive guard. He told me never to pay much attention to the opposing quarterback?s signals or to faking movements by the other backs before the ball was hiked.

Adams said, ?When the center takes that ball off the ground, you take your fists off the ground?don?t raise up like the other people do?and go straight for the quarterback?s legs.?

I just simply did what he said, and I began sacking quarterbacks.

If I remember correctly, our first game of the season was against Berryton, which is now unified at Shawnee Heights. I sacked the quarterback several times, and by the second half, Berryton had to use one its backs behind their guard to keep me away from him.

One of our prettiest cheerleaders came up to me afterward to tell me we would have lost the game without me. One eye-wink from her, and I was sold on football.

The game was rough. The hardest running backs in the league were our two half-backs, Bill Armstrong and Clem McCrill, and Harvey?ville?s halfback, Chuck Kuntz.

Paxico had an extremely hard-running half-back whose name I can?t remember. He hit me head-on coming through the line one night?his helmet split, the impact throwing him backward, and they carried him from the game.

In practice, I threw a cross-body block on Clem, and he did a knee drop on my rib cage, deflating the lung so it expanded too fast and ruptured. I had to lay out for a week while it healed.

Later that school year, Coach Adams presented me with a letter in football, the only time I ever lettered in a high school sport.

I guess you can see the evidence of how much it meant to me just by the fact that I remember names, games and faces.

OK, I?ll tell you. The cheerleader?s name was Joyce Shane.

Our quarterback, Russell Sage, and I shared a ?hand shaking hug? last spring at the high school reunion, first time I?d seen him since we graduated.

What I want you to carry away?if you?ve read this far?is to never give up on yourself, never give up, never give up.

You have a talent within you to discover.