Slowly but surely fall is arriving to North Alabama.
The cool is seeping down into the Tennessee Valley, gently pushing away the heat that holds the state captive for so long.
I am on the Brewer campus in the late afternoon, just after practice has ended. Some of the players linger on the field, where they are attempting to have one of the linemen kick an extra point. The lineman swears up and down that he can do it, that he has vast, untapped potential. He squares up and squibs a line drive that rockets under the crossbar and buzzes a nearby assistant coach. The coach ducks, the other players roar with laughter, and the lineman begs for another chance.
My path eventually takes me into the field house. I am walking through the hall when one of the Brewer players very politely corners me. The teenager stares at me nervously.
“I was…uh…” he says quietly.
“I do some writing, too, and I was wondering if you had any tips you could give me.”
This is a new one for me.
“I don’t know if I’m successful enough to be giving advice to anyone.” I say with a chuckle.
The kid doesn’t buy it.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that inside the helmet and pads there is a person with aspirations. I never thought I’d meet a sportswriter underneath one of the Patriot jerseys, but here we are, chatting on the empty bleachers.
His name is Cody McKee. He is a junior who plays on the defensive line. Cody is tall, with dark, deep features. He carries a look of worry, like he is ten steps ahead of everyone else and doesn’t like what he sees.
Cody has a passion for SEC football, in particular recruiting news. He is a contributor for several online outlets, and was a credentialed member of SEC Media Days this year. He posts regularly for the Kentucky website Nation of Blue, where his content can be found here.
The sky is overcast and dreary. A few of Cody’s teammates have started an impromptu game of two-hand touch on the field. Their carefree laughter carries out across the empty stadium, but Cody could not seem less interested in joining them. He wants to know how to be a better writer.
I tell him what I would do differently if I was a 17-year old writer again. I suggest that he devote time each day to reading. I talk about the importance of writing continuously, even if it is bad writing. Especially if it is bad writing.
There is a lull in the conversation. The assorted members of the coaching staff are starting to appear on the field, carrying cans of white spray paint and pushing those two-wheeled contraptions that mete out the paint. The lines on the field need to be repainted before the upcoming game.
“What’s playing nose tackle like?” I ask him.
Cody runs through a list of terms and techniques, phrases that hang in the air between us like a cloud of coach-speak. Finally I recognize one of his answers.
“I plug the hole.”
It is an easy answer, impossibly simple for a boy with big designs in his head. This much I do understand: Playing defensive tackle is not where I would want to be on a football field. It is the front line, where teammates push from behind and opponents push from the front. It is where pileups begin.
The coaches are running the players off the field now. The pickup game ends, and Cody’s friends walk toward the parking lot, to cars and girls and teenage things. Cody will go home tonight to blog about high school players in other states. It is a curious arrangement to be sure.
There is one last thing: Cody, if you are reading this, this quote is for you. I hope it will be as helpful to you as it has been to me.
“Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.” –William Faulkner, 1956
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