"Football is like life — it requires perseverance, self-denial, hard work, sacrifice, dedication and respect for authority."
Upon these fields of grass and turf and endless possibilities, thousands upon thousands of young men sacrifice their bodies, their minds and their time to play football.
For most — whether they be students, administrators, teachers, parents, fans or even players — a high school football game is simply an event they are drawn to, though they're not completely sure why.
Perhaps it's something only football players get — real football players, anyway.
Some will simply scoff and color players as jocks or meatheads, the Al Bundys of the world. They just don't get it, though.
There is an "it" factor to football unlike any other athletic endeavor. It is summoned by the violence of it all, the camaraderie, the magnitude of every game and the simple fact that it is irreplaceable once it is gone. There is no band, no cheerleaders, no helmet and no shoulder pads when you're playing catch in the backyard. You can't go to any playground and strike up a pick-up game.
There is an aura that surrounds the game and those who take part in it, it is the sport that most often sets the tone and the identity for a high school.
But you have to do more than put on a jersey and strap up a helmet to really get it. You have to do more than set foot on the field and take a snap to really understand what it means to be a real football player.
It is an aspect often lost these days. It's lost in newspaper stories and message boards and box scores and all the pomp and circumstance that adds to the grandeur and greatness of the game, but also confuses just what it's all truly about.
High school football at its purest is about winning alongside your teammates, playing for your school, yourself, those in your stands and the coaches working hours on end to make you the player you can become.
Some who play this game get this, some will get it later and some will never know.
There is a difference between being a real football player and somebody who simply played the game. It has nothing to do with whether or not you sat on the bench or got your name in a headline, it matters not if you went on to play at the next level or simply did your best to help your squad by giving your all on the scout team.
A real football player treats the sport of football as it should be treated, right along with everything that surrounds it.
A real football player never talks back to his coach, much less yells at him. That's something a punk does. Whether you agree with a play call, your playing time or what the heck you're eating for a pregame meal, the game is about respect and respecting those who've come before you — and those who likely know more with all their years of experience than you'll ever hope to understand.
In fact, more often than not, a real football player lets his play do the talking.
A quarterback is a leader, someone who's tasked at making those around him play better. A quarterback is supposed to be the leader and the captain that the rest of his teammates — particularly his linemen — are willing to do anything for on the field and off it. A real quarterback doesn't blame his struggles on a missed block or a dropped pass or a bad route. A quarterback encourages and inspires and takes the responsibility of his team's tribulations just as he will take on the spoils of its triumphs.
A real football player sees in black and white. His teammates are right and his opponents are wrong. There is no infighting on the field.
A real football player never stays down on a field unless he cannot get up. Football players limp off the field if they can, they don't wait for a trainer to run on and massage out a cramp, because they know the difference between being hurt and being injured.
Much like the real world, the toughest football players are the ones who don't talk or act like they're tough. They're not false badasses who come off the field cussing to cuss at the top of their lungs so everyone can see just how "tough" they are.
Football players are nasty and mean from whistle to whistle, but they don't take cheap shots and they're there — win or lose — with a firm handshake after the game is done.
A real football player buys into what his coaches are coaching and what his team is trying to accomplish. Season in and season out, there are those who are too cool to put in the extra effort or completely dedicate themselves to practicing and playing as hard as they can. The saddest thing is many of them are the most talented players on their team. But talent and status are had by many and blinders to many more.
Within every true football player beats an unyielding heart and a spirit to succeed and it doesn't matter if they're on a winless team or a CIF champion.
Football, for all the glory that it can entail, is a sport that demands your effort and your time and your sweat and, often, the sacrifice of your body and your tears. But it's worth it.
And for a great many of you reading this, it's worth it now. Now is your only time to embrace it, to buy into it and give to it what it will give back to you.
Embrace it, sacrifice for it, work for it, respect it and enjoy it.
Keep your head up, drive through the ball carrier, keep your feet moving and your head on a swivel, catch the ball with your hands, keep it tucked and play to the whistle.
You'll wake up one day and you'll be 50 and this will all be a memory. Whether it's a good one or a bad one, one you can be truly proud of or are regretful of, depends on you.
Those Friday night lights shined before you were under them and will shine bright long after you have gone. There is only one time for you and that time is now.
That's just the way I see it, playing second string.
Grant Gordon is the Glendale News-Press sports editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.