Monday, August 08, 2005

Football season once again

It's football season again, which means it's time for me to spend some quality time in the Road Shark. The poor car's been causing me no end of problems since I've had it, but I think it's finally healthy again. It just took two guys (one, not me, with a working knowledge of Chevy engines), a floor jack, and a Leatherman with a large flathead attachment, plus an hour on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

I reregistered the Shark Friday, and then saved a bunch of money on car insurance.

Saturday, I pointed the Camaro's nose out U.S. Route 60, through places called Hog's Wallow, Garfield, and Hodgensville to Breckinridge County High School, where the Fort Knox Eagles were scrimmaging against the homestanders. It wasn't a serious game, just the coaches working their teams out on each other.

They were running goal line plays when I found the high school, and the locals were out in force, sitting in the shade on the home team's side. The Knox contingent had set up on the opposite side of the field in the bleachers, some holding green and white umbrellas to stave off the midday sun.

"Do you know much about cameras?"

I was putting my office-issued D1H together, putting the 200-meter zoom onto the body. A middle-aged football mom was holding a Canon and looking at me quizzically.

"What are you having trouble with?" I asked.

"Well," she said, looking at her camera. "They turn out okay when the games are during the day, but the ones during the nighttime games always turn out blurry."

"Not much you can do about that," I said, trying to line up the rings on the camera body and the bulky sports zoom. "Try buying higher-speed film, like 800 or even 1200. It's always going to be tough."

She laughed nervously, and I said, "Well, time to go make some money."

I ran into one of the assistant coaches, who spends duty hours as a staff sergeant in Fort Knox's 1st Armor Training Brigade. He gave me a half hug when he ducked off the field.

I shot a series of photos on the next couple plays, caught the new quarterback running a pump fake, and one of the senior wide receivers breaking left with a catch and running into the end zone.

Parents in the booster club came by while I was jotting down notes and got their say in on upcoming fundraisers and the latest season gossip.

Translating what you see on a football field into some kind of usable information for a season preview can be difficult and touchy. Without knowing what calls coaches are making, without knowing what kinds of instruction they're giving their guys, how are you supposed to decipher what happens between two sweaty lines of sun-baked high-school kids wearing plastic pads and numbered jerseys?

Today, I caught the end of the Knox team's practice. The head coach was invisible when I first sat down by the practice field, surrounded by the exhausted piles of bones and sweat forming up around him. Other coaches took up positions around the line, backing a player up here, getting a lineman down into a better crouch there, showing a receiver the route he was to run over there.

I wrote this on my notepad while I waited on the bleachers:

The team set up for a short pass play to the left... at the whistle, both offense and defense snapped into action. The quarteback threw a short-range bullet to his receiver, whose arms stretched out during his grab as he dodged around a guard. As the defense swarmed the wiry receiver, their hits knocked the ball from his hands.

"Fumble!" The call came from several places at once, and free defenders piled on the errant football.

"You've got to protect the ball!" The coach's voice boomed across the field, and I could clearly hear both patience and weary frustration in his voice from my seat in the overgrown bleachers on the sidelines.

The other coaches made some on-the-spot corrections to the teams' plays and positions, and three staccato whistle blasts announced that it was time for a water break.

Afterwards, I sat down with the head coach in the locker room for a run-down on what to expect from Knox this season. He spoke in his interview voice -- distinct from his on-field coaching voice, or his joking-with-other-coaches voice -- and explained the team's youth, the handful of experienced players, and a couple of the hard games coming up early in the regular season schedule.

It's been a long summer, and I'm glad football's back. It's going to mean my Friday nights are taken up with traveling, which I don't mind, and football, which I like. This'll be my second season covering Fort Knox, and I'm hoping that I'll be better-equipped to handle a sports beat this time around. I'm definitely more excited than I was this time last year. Wish me luck.