By the time the rest of the players starting reporting to campus, I was in mid-season form. Never had I been in better shape this early in a season. I instantly drew the attention of the coaching staff on the first day of practice. I finished every drill first, I dominated every offensive lineman we had, I didn't care what I had to do to win, I did it. By the end of the first week of practice, I had accomplished two things. First, I had no doubt secured my position with the first unit, no one was better. But secondly, I had isolated myself from the rest of the team. I sat alone, I ate alone, I dressed alone. It was of course, by my choice.
Although this would be my third year in college, I was still technically playing as a sophomore due to being red-shirted my first year. This defense would basically stay intact for the next two years, we had only one senior who started for us. Unlike the previous two seasons, this year we were opening with a ranked opponent in their stadium. We traveled to Virginia for our first game of the season, one that would be nationally ranked as we were. We opened the season ranked ninth, our opponent was fourteenth. For the first time since joining this team, we had a legitimate shot at a National Championship. All the pieces were in place, we had a great defense, we could run and throw the ball effectively. It would come down to a few bounces of the ball and the ability to keep players healthy.
I was taped and ready to go at least ninety minutes before the game, the locker room was unusually quiet for the first game of the season. The game was the featured game of the week, meaning it would be nationally televised. I knew a lot of people in my small town would be watching, not that I needed any motivation. By the time we hit the field, I had worked myself into a frenzy.
They received the opening kickoff and ran it back to the twenty-seven-yard line. Our defense took the field for the first time, lining up quickly. We moved around quickly a bit pre-snap, trying to throw the opposing quarterback off, making him unsure what formation we would be in once he got the ball. This year, with the speed we had on the line and at linebacker, we would definitely see a lot of blitz packages called. As I lined up on the outside shoulder of the left tackle, I heard an audible on the very first play of the game. We sent eight men on a dog left from the opening snap, letting them know it was going to be a long night.
By halftime, we had built a 28-0 lead, completely dominating the first two quarters. Defensively we had only allowed two first downs, they had a total of seventy nine yards of offense in two quarters. I had a decent first half with three tackles, but I had been so close two or three times to making a big play, I was somewhat disappointed.
On their first possession of the second half, they attempted a wide receiver reverse, that came back to my side. Normally when the entire offense moves to your left, you follow it, you move to the motion. I don't know why I held my ground, something seemed wrong. As the play moved away from me, I saw the one odd player coming back to the ball, I knew immediately. The receiver had just been handed the ball when I hit him between the shoulder pads at full speed. I lifted him up off of his feet, then drove him into the ground. In the process the ball squirted out, one of our defensive backs snagged it in mid-air and ran it back for a touchdown. Two quarters later, we had won our opener 42-0 in a convincing fashion. I had a good second half with five more tackles, the forced fumble and two sacks.
By the time our conference schedule began we were 3-0, had moved up the rankings to sixth, and statistically had the best defense in college football. I had accumulated six sacks, and was among the top tacklers on the defense. Everything was falling into place, except for that the fact that I was downright miserable. All I could think about was Ashley and what had happened. As much as I tried, I just couldn't let it go.
Halfway through the season, there were only four unbeaten teams left in the country, we were ranked third. We were on a collision course with Florida, who was ranked just below us at fourth. They too were unbeaten and eyeing a National Championship. I got a call early in the week from Courtney's Dad asking if I possibly had any extra tickets I was not using for the upcoming game. I told him as far as I knew, no one needed my tickets, he could have all four. I promised to leave them at the stadium club box office for him, the morning of the game.
The game with Florida was a sellout and again a nationally televised game on a major network. Florida was an offensive machine, a pure pro style passing offense, this would be our biggest test to date. They were averaging over thirty points a game thus far into the season. I arrived in our locker room about nine that morning and began to get taped up for the game. I had been very fortunate thus far this year, I was basically injury free, just a bump and bruise, here and there.
We opened the game with the first possession of the day on our own twenty one yard line. Two plays later we fumbled the ball, Florida recovered on our eighteen yard line. It took just one play for them to score, we were already down 7-0, with barely two minutes off the clock. Our offense came out and immediately tried to press the ball to get the points back, we threw an interception deep in our own end of the field, a few plays later it was 10-0. The entire load of this game had shifted to the defense, if we were going to come back, it was up to us to make a stand. We held them for most of the rest of the first half, they scored once, as did we, the score was 13-7 at the break.
The defense spent the entire halftime making adjustments. I was moved from my normal defensive end position, to outside linebacker on the same side. We would be rushing at least one to two extra players per down, trying to force a turnover. We definitely caught them off guard on the first series. On the second play of the half, I was able to break through and get a huge sack, a loss of fifteen yards. They were forced to punt the ball to us, we had excellent field position and scored quickly to take the lead 14-13.
From that point on, we were merciless on defense. We allowed nothing, they had to earn every yard they gained. We blew the game open in the first few minutes of the fourth quarter scoring twice giving us a 24-13 advantage. We knew that was going to force them to start to throw on just about every down. As a defense, we were going to pin our ears back and get after their quarterback. We sacked him six more times in the fourth quarter, winning the game 31-13.
From that point on, we never looked back in the rear view mirror. We finished the season unbeaten and ranked second in the country. We would play a team from Ohio the first weekend in January for the National Championship. Our coaches tried to prepare us for the hype that would surround the game, but nothing can really prepare you for a game of that magnatude, unless you have been there already.
Coach gave us ten days off for Christmas and New Years, but we had to be back on campus January 2nd to resume practice for the championship game. I was torn on what to do for those ten days, debating on whether to stay at school or go home. Since I had not been home in close to six months, I decided that maybe enough time had passed since that night with Ashley. I caught a ride with another player who had to pass within a few miles of my home town so he agreed to drop me off. I stopped in Coach Ray's office to tell him I was leaving campus for the holidays. He asked me to sit down for a minute, he wanted to talk to me.
"Brian, as you know, we are in constant contact with pro scouts, agents and people around the pro game. Things have changed a lot in the past two decades, a lot of underclassmen are now leaving school early for the draft. I have actually been contacted by several scouts who seem very interested in you.", he started.
"With that said, I am not a big proponent of kids leaving school early, unless the situation is completely right for them. Even though you're technically a sophmore, I have heard talk you could be a 3rd or 4th round pick this year, if you declare early.", he continued.
"I haven't even thought about it Coach. I mean, I am only a sophmore. You really think someone would draft me ?", I asked.
So, I've been thinking alot about this recently and decided to ask you guys this. Do you think I should release chapters more with fewer words or release fewer chapters with more words?
As of now school is starting to get serious and I can't dedicate as much time as I did to this as I did before. Hope to hear from y'all!