Sweat, grass, and a little shampoo have never smelled so good. For me this is home. On Saturday morning I walk down the narrow corridor leading to the locker room. The lights are off and the cold cement floor is hard underfoot. I walk into the only classroom that has truly taught me about myself. What can at times be the most comforting place on Earth is now deathly silent. I flick on the lights. Walking to the far end, I unlock my locker and take out my football pants. On the bottom of my locker lay helmet stickers, a forearm pad, and some foot powder. Picking up one of the helmet stickers I can’t quite remember why I had received it. Then all of a sudden it hits me. I sit down and begin taking the knee pads out of my practice pants, and I remember. My eyes moisten.

The rain is torrential. The sky is dark and unforgiving. The dull roar of the locker room can’t mask the fierce wind. The outside door slams shut and the lights flicker. I continue putting my knee pads in my game pants. Next to me, Labbe is taping his ankle then adding a couple of strips to his wrists. Looking around the room I see my friends, my family, my teammates. As a sophomore it’s comforting to know everyone around you is willing to fight for you, as a family does for one another.

It’s only a memory now. I peer to my left, then to my right. No one’s there. I can feel a tear form in the corner of my eye and roll from my cheek. It drops to my football pants, soaking into the dry, sandblasted cotton. My hands are shaking a little, but I manage to pull out my left knee pad. I close my eyes.

We’re on defense. I shake my head. Droplets of water bead off in all directions from the smooth surface of my helmet. Gale force winds drive the rain through my face mask. The ball is snapped. I’m backpedaling at my cornerback position, trying to stay with the receiver. The quarterback looks left at the receiver I’m covering then releases the ball. Another gust of wind blows. The ground compresses like a sponge with every step I take. The football is falling short. Changing directions I dive forward snatching the ball, holding it snuggly against my chest. I hit the ground with tremendous force, shooting water off in every direction.

My face is wet now. I look down at my pants and some of the pale sand has darkened to a dampened brown. I still only have one knee pad out. Quickly, I remove the second one and rip the blue, nylon belt from its loops. I get up from the bench and close my locker. Walking slowly towards the door I look back with moist eyes. Never again will I find friends, family, or teammates as close as the ones I’ve had here.

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