Authors: John Feinstein
THE SPORTS BEAT
Last Shot: Mystery at the Final Four
Vanishing Act: Mystery at the U.S. Open
Cover-Up: Mystery at the Super Bowl
Change-Up: Mystery at the World Series
The Rivalry: Mystery at the Army-Navy Game
Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2014 by John Feinstein
Jacket photograph copyright © 2014 by Grady Reese/Corbis
Photograph of football copyright © 2014 by Shutterstock
Jacket design by Christian Fuenfhausen
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Knopf, Borzoi Books, and the colophon are registered trademarks of Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The walk on / John Feinstein.—First edition.
p. cm.—(The triple threat; book 1)
Summary: After moving to a new town his freshman year in high school, Alex Myers is happy to win a spot on the varsity team as a quarterback but must deal with the idea of not playing for two years since the first-string quarterback is not only a local hero, he is also the son of the corrupt head coach.
ISBN 978-0-385-75346-3 (trade)—ISBN 978-0-385-75347-0 (lib. bdg.)—ISBN 978-0-385-75348-7 (ebook)—ISBN 978-0-385-75349-4 (pbk.)
[1. Football—Fiction. 2. Coaches—Fiction. 3. High schools—Fiction. 4. Schools—Fiction. 5. Moving, Household—Fiction. 6. Divorce—Fiction.] I. Title.
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THIS IS FOR MY CHILDREN:
DANNY, BRIGID, AND JANE
WHO INSPIRE ME EVERY DAY.
“Twelve is taken. Make the team and then you can worry about a number. But you aren’t going to get twelve.”
Alex Myers was standing in front of the equipment cage in the locker room at Chester Heights High School. School didn’t open for another week, but football season began on the last Friday in August, so tryouts and practice started early. Alex had two days to show the coaches that a freshman should be practicing with the varsity.
The school had more than two thousand students, so it also had a junior varsity team. But the JV team only played four games and didn’t start practice until mid-September. Alex wanted no part of that. Plus, he knew he was good enough to play for the varsity. In fact, his plan was to
for the varsity.
His plan, however, was not going well.
As instructed, he had reported to the equipment cage at nine o’clock to be issued a jersey, uniform pants, pads, and a helmet. All of these were on loan for the two days of tryouts. Players were told to bring their own cleats. There were about a dozen kids in line in front of the cage when Alex arrived. Most of the other kids knew one another, so they were talking while they waited. No one seemed to even notice he was there, except for the tall, gangly African American kid standing right behind him.
“You look like you’re new too,” he said, putting his hand out. “I’m Jonas Ellington.”
“Alex Myers,” Alex said, grateful that he wasn’t actually invisible. “Yeah, I am new. Where are you from?”
“New York. My dad got a job down here in January. My mom, sisters, and I moved at the start of the summer. What about you?”
“Boston. I just got here last week with my mom and sister.… My parents are getting a divorce. My mom has family in Philly, so she decided she wanted to be close to them.
rather be back in Boston, close to my friends. But I didn’t get a vote.”
Jonas shook his head. “Dude, I’m sorry about that. I have friends whose parents have split and I know it’s rough. Do you know anybody down here?”
“You,” Alex said, and they both laughed. “And my cousins, but they’re six and four.”
“Well, you got me,” Jonas said. “What position you play?”
“Quarterback,” Alex said. “I can play DB too, but at a school this big I doubt too many guys play both ways.”
Jonas made a face. “You might want to think about honing
those DB skills. The starting quarterback is the coach’s son. Unless he gets hurt,
is taking a snap but him.”
Hearing this bit of news, Alex felt something turn in his stomach. He decided to change the subject—at least for the moment.
“Let me guess,” he said. “You’re a wideout.” Jonas was about six two and probably didn’t weigh much more than 150 or 160. If he played anyplace else, he was likely to get broken in half.
“You got it,” Jonas said. “I can play corner too if they want because I’m fast. But I’m thinking you’ll be throwing to me a lot the next couple days.”
“Works for me,” Alex said as they reached the front of the line. That was when he made the mistake of asking for number 12. He was handed a jersey with 23 on it and started to turn back to point out that wasn’t a quarterback’s number. But when he saw the glare on the old equipment man’s face, he thought better of it.
“In case you’re wondering,” Jonas said as he accepted his gear from the man in the cage, “the guy who wears twelve is—”
Alex put his hand up. “You don’t even have to tell me,” he said. “The starting quarterback.”
A few minutes later, Alex found out the quarterback’s name—or at least his last name: Gordon. When the fifty or so kids who had shown up for the tryouts jogged from the locker room to the practice field, they were greeted by a half dozen coaches, one of whom was clearly in charge.
“Everyone take a knee,” the coach-in-charge said.
Alex put his helmet on the ground in front of him and leaned one hand on it, noticing that everyone else did the same. Jonas was right next to him.
“I’m Coach Gordon,” the coach-in-charge said. “I’ve been the varsity coach here at Chester Heights for fourteen years. And this is Coach Merton.” He turned to an older, shorter man whose face seemed stuck in a permanent scowl. “Coach Merton is our junior varsity coach. A few of you will make the varsity, but most of you will end up playing for Coach Merton.
“We have forty-one varsity players returning from last season. They will all be here starting Thursday. This is your chance to show us that you deserve to play with the big boys this season.
“After we watch you play and drill the next two days, we’ll post two lists in the locker room on Wednesday. The first list will be those who make varsity. My guess is we’re talking no more than five of you. We played in the state semifinals last season and we have fourteen starters back from that team—so we already have a rock-solid group.
“The second list will be players guaranteed a spot on the JV. If you are on that list, you’ll report for the first JV practice on September.…” He paused and turned to the scowling coach. “Remind me what day it is, Coach Merton?”
“September fourteenth. The first JV game is September twenty-fourth.”
“Right,” Coach Gordon said. “If you are
on the second list and you want to take another crack at making the JV, Coach Merton will have another tryout once school starts.
“Everyone with me?”
They all sort of nodded, which apparently wasn’t good enough.
“First lesson of Chester Heights football, boys,” the coach said. “When I ask a question, there are two answers: Yes sir or No sir. If the answer is No sir, you stand up and tell me why the answer is no—or if you don’t understand something, ask me to explain it. That goes for every coach on this field too. Everyone understand?”
This time they all shouted back. “Yes sir!”
Alex glanced at Jonas, who shook his head just a tiny bit and was clearly thinking the same thing: were these tryouts for the football team or the Marines?