Most people prefer the journey over the destination.
But with the lead up to high school football season, nothing could be further from the truth.
At long last, the destination — opening night on the gridiron — is finally here and like a kid at Disney World, there’s no better sight than the bright lights under the sky. No more waiting, no more anticipation.
It’s time for the good part. The stuff that counts.
Football-lite without linemen or pads is over. It’s time for real pads, real contact and real points. Save the scrimmaging, where the format is made up and the points don’t matter, for next summer.
Don’t let this devalue the work that’s been done over the last seven weeks. Around Robeson County, players have put in countless hours working on everything from the big plays to the little details — the blocking assignments, ensuring the handoffs and the cues to watch for from the backfield.
It’s a time of growth away from the public eye, where teams start as a stick figure and work their way into a portrait.
Early on at 7-on-7s, there were a few local teams that didn’t look great. At first glance it’s easy to shrug it off, expect the worst out of the year, and glance elsewhere around the county. But by the time the Two Rivers Jamboree wrapped up, those same teams were starting to click. Offenses looked tighter, passes were completed to the right receiver and defenses showed the pressure they will ultimately bring to the table when games start tonight.
It’s valuable and starts to build the excitement, but it’s not the full masterpiece. Teams can look good in passing drills but still lack the pieces needed for a successful year.
There are other factors, too.
Can the new receiver take a hit? What’s that quarterback going to look like when he doesn’t have ample time to find a wideout?
For the casual fan, it’s a taste, but not the full dish.
There are plenty of ways to quantify the progress made, especially with scrimmages against other area schools, but the reality is that there’s still plenty left to see from these teams.
Scrimmages can be good, but it’s hard to come full circle without fumbles or interceptions that matter. Moments that would change the momentum of a game, but are often given minimal weight during workouts as teams focus on refining their game leading up to the season.
It’s hard to tell how a player is going to handle a full game’s worth of pressure after splitting snaps with the second string.
Though an event like the Two Rivers Jamboree ups the atmosphere to game-like levels, it still doesn’t match the intensity that a night like tonight will bring.
Packed stands, loud parents, school pride.
There’s a certain beauty to the start of any sport. Right now, nearly every team in the state is on the same standing. The reality is that nobody — player, coach, parent or media member — knows what will happen, even though there has been plenty of speculation and prediction.
How will Damien McMillan and Malik Livingston do leading the St. Pauls offense in the year following the prolific duo of Shawn Williams and Kane Banner? Can Purnell Swett and Fairmont turn things around after awful seasons last year? How will the previously run-based Lumberton football team adapt to Joe Salas’ Air Raid offense?
Tonight, we start to learn the answers.
The reality check will be harsh for some, pleasant to others.
In the wide-open Three Rivers Conference, there’s plenty of room for debate on how things will turn out.
St. Pauls and Red Springs both look to be in the upper echelon, but there won’t be many easy wins on any program’s conference schedule. For the most part, there should be some competitive games.
The Southeastern Conference has a few of the state’s top teams with Richmond and Scotland, but locals like Lumberton and Purnell Swett won’t go down easily.
Football is an unpredictable game — at least at the outset — and this season should bring some surprises.
How it all pans out remains to be seen, but after months of building, it’s time to see something that matters. It’s time for something real.
It’s time for football.