The Lost Season

The Pembroke Pines Optimist Bengals, another powerhouse program, has had a nasty habit of running up the score at the end of games. Last year, they were beating us in a hard-fought game by two scores with less than a minute left. All they had to do was let the clock wind down. Instead, they faked a run and threw a bomb for a last-second touchdown to widen the margin. The same team did it again this season to Boca Raton.

Then there's Weston. This year, in a rematch of the previous season's Super Bowl, we turned the table on the Warriors and gave them a good drubbing. In the second half, with the game out of reach, the tone turned ugly. The Weston coaches screamed bloody murder from the sidelines, and the players began hitting our guys late and stepping on our players when they were on the grass. It would have been laughable if it wasn't such a disgrace.

All the teams mentioned above have one thing in common: They routinely vie for the championship. And this season, we were the team to beat.

The writer's son, number 35, waits by his coach in hopes of playing time that doesn't come.
The writer's son, number 35, waits by his coach in hopes of playing time that doesn't come.
AYFL parents inevitably become passionate fans.
Laura Massa
AYFL parents inevitably become passionate fans.

It was clear from the beginning of camp: The only way this team could be a true success was to not only get back to the Super Bowl but to win it.

We have the core coming back from last year's season, and we also got a few key additions, including a star running back, a phenomenal receiver, and a standout defensive tackle.

The team was more crowded with talent, and I wondered if 35 would still start. It never occurred to me that the coach — who had taken complete control of the line for the first time — would shut him out completely.

Let me make this clear: The coach in question isn't a bad person. In fact, he's a very nice guy. He was level-headed, had a good sense of humor, and was well-liked by the kids.

I'm convinced his decision wasn't personal. But it wasn't right either. The coach simply decided that 35 was now too small to get any meaningful action on his defensive line. The league's limit was 125 pounds, and 35 weighed in at about 97. Basically the same difference as previous season, but the coach's mind was made up, and it blinded him to the kid's abilities.

In the first game of the year, a blowout win over Sunrise, 35 got a little time on the field, enough to get a tackle on the line and a fumble recovery in the backfield.

The next Saturday saw a rematch on the road with West Pines. We beat them again, this time 14-0, but the kid played only a few snaps. After the game, he choked back tears, shell-shocked that he didn't get to play more. It tore me up to see him that way. The prevailing emotion wasn't anger; it was sadness.

That weekend, I did something I'd never done: I called the coach, always a dicey proposition. I asked him for only two things: that he keep evaluating the kid at practice and that he give him an opportunity. Not a starting job, not a certain amount of playing time, just a chance. I brought up the year before, the way he played against the top teams. I told him that he would make plays if he was simply given a shot, one that I thought he'd earned during good play at practice and two years of sacrifice.

The coach sort of agreed with me and said he thought 35 would be "fine."

But he was still blind. My son got into games when we had leads and played well. It was hard to complain; the team was on fire. After seven games, Plantation was not only undefeated but hadn't given up a score, routing opponents to a collective score of 199-0. Total domination.

The next game, though, was against always-tough Coral Springs. That week of practice, a youth football publication called the Blitz News followed us for an article. And 35 was on top of his game in practice.

One of the starting tackles wasn't showing up to practice, and another was playing soft and half-hurt. I thought 35 would surely start that week.

But the coach made a baffling decision — he started the half-hurt player. It was an insult, but 35 managed to keep his head up, especially after the coach promised that he would put him into the game before the kid who wasn't showing up to practice.

That Saturday, Coral Springs almost immediately established dominance on the line. Our defensive front looked flat. The coach made substitutions, but there was no 35. Then he put in a player who hadn't gone to practice. Still no 35.

As the game wore on, the massacre of our D-line continued. The key play in the game came on a third down and long late in the third quarter. In what was still a scoreless game, Coral Springs went to its strength, running the ball. I swear they knocked one side of the defensive line back ten yards for a first down. It was — or should have been — an embarrassment for the coach.

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