From the huddle to the heart


“Winning isn’t everything… it’s the only thing.” I have had that mentality my whole life when it comes to sports. Throughout my whole football career, I had won every single game until I transferred to Greater Latrobe High School my freshman year. I moved to Latrobe from Greensburg in 2016, wanting to start a new and fresh life, moving in with my dad; I knew little about the small town in Western Pennsylvania. During the summer going into my freshman year, I decided to join the freshman football team, where I met the most important people that are in my life today. Not knowing anyone or being familiar with the area, I sat in the lockers quietly without speaking or making eye contact with anyone for the first couple of days, until one individual stood out and approached me. I had a lot of friends at Greensburg but unfortunately to get the full “new life experience” I had to leave all of my old friends behind and force myself to make new ones. 

A short kid who plays running back and was also new to the Latrobe football program came up to me and introduced himself as A.J. and from then on I had a friend who I could talk to when I thought that I would have no one. 

We pushed each other to work harder in practice, and conditioned ourselves even when everyone left, just so we could be at our peak performances come game day. 

Our first game was a couple days before the new school year and the adrenaline was flowing through my body as I woke up with the sun sneaking through my bedroom blinds on a beautiful Saturday morning in Pleasant Unity. The only thing that was on my mind was “winning the day”, winning the down, winning in the endzone, and winning the game. 

I was on my way to Latrobe High School, where the game against Altoona was being held. I had tunnel vision the whole way there, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach which happens to every athlete who loves the game of football. I arrived in the locker room where my teammates waited for me and from there I knew that it was a mission. 

We all suited up and went out onto the field for a pregame warmup when I saw our opponent walking down the steep hill on the side of our school leading onto Rossi Field. As the national anthem played the butterflies escaped and my tunnel vision returned. 

 A.J. and I walk out  for the coin toss and we were receiving the ball. Brady Johnson ( another one of my good friends ) returned the ball out past the fifty yard line and that’s when it was time for A.J. and I to go to work. We drove the ball the whole way to the two yard line but came up short. 

Altoona had scored and it would not be their last. They had three touchdowns before we had even had one, then it all happened again. Altoona continued to score on us until the clock hit zero and the game was over. 

Not knowing how to react, tears began to run down the side of my face. I had never lost a football game before. I kept telling myself that I did not deserve to lose and that I shouldn’t lose a football game ever. Not now and not ever should someone as competitive as me lose in the game I felt so passionate about. 

I later went home and lay in my bed staring at the ceiling thinking about everything that I could have done differently. I wanted to create a time machine and go back to fix all of my mistakes, so that I could find a way to win the first football game that I had never lost. My father walked into my room later that evening and sat at the edge of my bed in an attempt to cheer me up. I told him that winning meant everything to me, and we shouldn’t have lost the way that we did. He told me “there is not a single athlete on this earth who has never lost a game. Everyone goes through what you are going through and you have to fight through the emotions that you are feeling right now.” 

I took those words to heart and decided to be a leader from now on, on and off the football field. I continue to have that same thought process as I go into my final year of highschool. The biggest game of my life was four days away and the only thing that I could think of was making a name for myself, not letting the town down, or even worse, my teammates. The game against the Derry Area Trojans is a traditional rivalry we have every year, and personally I believe that it is the biggest. 

August 23, 2019 Gameday. I begin to feel something that I had not felt in years, my stomach began to start turning and I immediately knew what this feeling was. The butterflies that I thought flew away swarmed back into my stomach flying around in circles. I started to breathe heavily, like there was an elephant standing on my chest.  Then it was time. My teammates and I walk off the bus into the visitor locker room at Derry Area High School then another feeling returned. As soon as I knew what had to be done, my tunnel vision returned and more emotions from the past had returned. This time I knew how to control them and use them during the game. 

We battled for three quarters straight and Derry was up 14-7, in desperate need of a touchdown, we drive down the field and score. 14-14. Overtime was beginning, we get the ball first and had one chance to finish this war that we were in. I get the play from Coach Marucco and that’s when I went back.

–I was a freshman again trying everything to win a football game but not being mentally strong enough to finish the job. I run into the huddle cool, calm, and collected then I repeat the play to my teammates. I stare out over my lineman and stare into the defenses’ heart thinking about where I am going to strike to finish it. I catch the snap and drop back. in the corner of my eye I see Logan Gustufson wide open in the middle of the field. With no hesitation, I throw it to him and he takes it all the way into the endzone for the score. Then we were on defense, I stood on the sidelines anxious for what was to come. Our defense had stopped them for three plays in a row. Now was the time. All the hard work that I had been doing in the off season, all the pain, all the energy, all the love for the sport. Would it finally pay off?

Then Paul Koontz ( Derry’s QuarterBack ) dropped back and the ball was soaring through the air, it was batted down by our defense and the game was over. We defeated the Trojans.

I couldn’t believe it, the same outcome from my freshman year happened again but this time it was for a different reason, the tears that ran down the side of my face were tears of joy and knowing that all of my hard work had paid off. I look to the sidelines and saw everyone from our student section rushing the field to celebrate with us as we were in a David and Goliath like situation. As we got back into the locker room I sat there as all of my teammates celebrated as we had done something that no other Latrobe team had done in five years- we had taken down a power house, for the first time since 2014 the Derry Area Trojans had fallen to the Greater Latrobe Wildcats.I glanced around and saw all of the smiles on their faces and a grin was stamped on my face. As a student-athlete I stay humble and focused on anything that I do and I would like to carry those character traits throughout the rest of my life and help the youth grow into a humble athlete like I had to teach myself.