Authors: John Feinstein
Alex tried to hide his smile. Just as he had sized up the other quarterbacks, clearly Jake Bilney had sized him up.
“Well, I don’t know about that—” he started to say before Jake cut him off.
“Come on, Myers, I could see it on your first throw. What was that baseball movie?
That’s you. Coach Hillier saw it too. But there’s no way Matt Gordon’s not playing. The offense is set up for him and he’s very good.”
“Better than Alex?” Jonas asked.
Jake shook his head. “Can’t throw like him,” he said. “I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone in this
who throws like that. But Coach runs that ‘read-option’ offense that Robert
Griffin the Third made famous. Matt’s not as fast as RGIII, but he’s fast enough and he’s very strong. Plus, he throws it okay when he has to.”
He paused. “Although he did throw two interceptions in the state semis when we got behind.” He smiled. “Of course, Coach blamed the receivers—said they didn’t run their routes right. The fact that they were seniors and he never had to see them again may have had something to do with that.”
“So you’re saying I won’t get a fair chance to start, no matter what I do?” Alex said, abandoning any pretense of modesty.
“No, I’m not saying that,” Jake answered. “I’m saying that in this offense, Matt’s a better quarterback than you are. He’s also the leader of this team. You’ll find that out.”
He paused. “So I’m saying that you can start—at another position. But not at quarterback.”
Alex was tempted to call his dad for advice because he’d always been the one to understand any sports-related problem. His mom had no interest in sports, even though both her children were athletes and loved going to games. She occasionally went with the rest of the family on excursions to Fenway Park and the TD Garden and to Boston College for both football and basketball games, but she rarely paid much attention.
Alex’s sister, Molly, who was two years younger, was actually more passionate about the local teams than Alex—if that was possible—and she was the one who kept bugging
their dad to take them to a Patriots game. His answer was always the same: “Life’s too short. It’s not worth the effort getting in there or getting out. We’ve got a great view on TV.”
Dave Myers didn’t seem to mind paying twenty-five dollars to park his car at Fenway—but then the Red Sox were his first love. Alex was a Celtics-first guy: he loved watching Rajon Rondo when he wasn’t hurt. Then came the Patriots: he aspired to be Tom Brady in every possible way.
Both Alex and Molly had bonded with their dad through sports. He had never been a pushy jock dad, even though both kids had shown potential at a young age. Molly was fast and tall—already nearly five seven at age twelve. She was a star soccer player and a good tennis player but perhaps had the most potential in track. Alex, who had shot up to six one at the end of eighth grade, was more into the team sports: football, basketball, and baseball. When he was younger, he and his dad had played golf together, and walking the course had always been a good time to talk. But that had happened less and less as their dad grew more absent from home.
Now Alex wondered if he should call his dad and fill him in on what was going on at his new school. He finally decided against it because he really didn’t
what was going on. There was no sense making a big deal out of something that might not be a big deal.
The second day of tryouts was very different from the first. There were no speeches and no introductions and it was apparent that the coaches had established a pecking order among the players based on what they had seen the first day.
When the coaches had the players spend the last forty-five minutes of the morning scrimmaging, Alex and Jake Bilney took most of the snaps at quarterback. Every once in a while the other QBs got in for a play or two, but it was almost always to call a running play. Alex thought that Jake was a better runner than he was a passer. He seemed to make solid decisions about when to keep the ball or pitch, a sign of both smarts and the experience he had gotten from running the JV offense. But his throwing wasn’t nearly as good.
Needless to say, the offensive sets were very basic, but Coach Hillier spent a few minutes with Jake and Alex, giving them a couple of read-option calls. That meant it was their decision after taking the snap to run, pitch to a back, or drop back to throw. On one play, Alex saw some daylight to the right as he took the snap. He thought he might run through the hole, but when he noticed that one of his linemen had whiffed on his block, he quickly changed direction, dropped back, and found Jonas wide open behind the entire defense. Alex was standing there admiring his work when he heard a whistle blow.
“Coach Hillier, what’s this young man’s name again?” Coach Gordon said, walking toward Alex.
“Alex Myers,” Coach Hillier said.
“Myers, once you commit to a play, you follow through on it, do you understand?” Coach Gordon said. “If your blockers don’t know what you’re doing, they can get caught downfield and we end up getting penalized!”
“But, Coach, none of them were across the line when I dropped back—”
Coach Gordon held up a hand and looked not at him but at Coach Hillier.
“Coach, I expect you to make it clear to this young man that at Chester Heights
argues with the coaches.”
“Yes sir,” Hillier said quietly, making it clear that even the coaches at Chester Heights didn’t argue with
Alex was baffled. He had made a perfect play and been yelled at for it. And then, his position coach had been yelled at for something
—not the coach—had said.
Alex managed to get through the rest of the scrimmage without making any more good plays that got him in trouble. Everyone was exhausted by the time Coach Gordon and his omnipresent whistle brought them back to midfield.
“I want to thank all of you for putting in the work you did the last two days,” he said. “Most of you”—he paused, and Alex could feel his eyes searching him out—“came in here with a great attitude. Cut lists will be posted at 10 a.m. tomorrow.”
He turned and started walking in the direction of the locker room. Alex looked for Coach Hillier, but he was following Coach Gordon. Alex stayed where he was, on one knee, staring after them while everyone else got to their feet, eager to get out of the August heat and into a shower.
He felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Jonas.
“Don’t sweat it, man. He’s just one of those coaches who wants everyone to know how tough he is,” Jonas said.
“Yeah, but what if he cuts me to show how tough he is?”
Jonas laughed. “Are you kidding? You are far and away the best player out here—it wasn’t even close.”
“You’re just as good—if not better.”
Jonas shook his head. “I’m good, I know I’m good, but you, my man, are a star.”
“Can’t be a star if you aren’t on the team,” Alex said. “And you certainly can’t be a star if you’re the last guy the coach wants to see starting.”
“You mean because his son is the starting quarterback?”
Alex stood up. “What do you think?”
“I think you’re a little bit paranoid,” he said. “But only a little bit.”
Alex didn’t want to look uncool by showing up before ten o’clock the next morning to check the cut lists. He also didn’t want his mom around in case the news was bad, so he told her he would ride his bike to school. It wasn’t that far, but he wasn’t a hundred percent sure he knew the way.
That was his mother’s concern.
“You might get lost,” she said. “Then what?”
“If I get totally lost, I can call you on my cell,” he said. “Or I can ask for directions. Somebody will know where the high school is.”
She suggested printing out Google Maps directions, but he waved her off. “You want me looking down at the directions while I’m riding?” he said.
“No,” she said.
“I have to learn how to get there. Might as well do it today, when getting lost won’t mean being late for anything.”
She finally gave in.
“Okay,” she said. “As long as you promise to call and let me know when you get there.”
He sighed. “How about a text?”
“Deal,” she said.
It was ten o’clock by the time he left. He figured that should give the other players time to have been there and gone so he could look at the list in relative privacy.
The last twenty-four hours had been tough. One minute he knew that Jonas was right: no way could Coach Gordon cut him. He didn’t think of himself as cocky, but he did think he’d been the best player at tryouts. Then the next minute he’d swing back the other way. Of course Gordon would cut him. He had his son to play quarterback, Jake Bilney would make a reasonable backup, and he wouldn’t have to worry about Alex outshining both of them. Alex had no idea if he was better than Matt Gordon, but he was very curious to find out.
Finding the school turned out to be easy. It was ten-twenty when he pulled into the back lot of the school and parked outside the locker room door. He put the lock on his bike, dutifully texted his mom that he wasn’t dead, and was heading for the door when several kids he recognized from tryouts came out.
Judging by the looks on their faces, they hadn’t made varsity—or maybe even JV. No one said hello. They all looked away from him and kept walking—which he was beginning to think was the traditional Chester Heights greeting.
He pulled the door open and walked up the stairs, trying not to go too fast, then turned left to where the football coaches’ offices were. He suddenly remembered that Coach Hillier had told him to come talk to him after the cut lists went up. He wondered if that offer still stood and if he’d meant
Just outside the doors that said
CHESTER HEIGHTS LIONS FOOTBALL—LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2012—HEAD COACH: MATTHEW GORDON
, he saw a bulletin board. He was delighted and relieved that no one else was around. There were two white sheets of paper tacked to the board underneath a sign that said
FIRST VARSITY PRACTICE: THURSDAY, AUGUST 21. FIRST JV PRACTICE: TBA