Atkinson can get it any way he wants. I’ve got so many tools in my bag—swim, spin, rip, anything. I get down in a three-point and look up at him and smile, but he won’t meet my eyes. He’s nervous and jumpy. He’s worried about every possibility. The ball is snapped, and I move my inside arm like I’m trying to hook his outside and get around the edge. I watch his feet shuffle sideways then I drive straight into him, bullrush, and put him on his ass. I step over him, and I’m on Larson’s blindside. He sees me at the last second, but it’s too late, and I explode through him. The ball comes out. It’s worth the risk of a flag when you’re trying to knock the ball out and change the course of a game. That’s what it means to be a playmaker. The game is different because I’m on the field.

I’m basically Micah Parsons. You can put him anywhere on the field. You can double-team him, throw three guys at him, but he’s still gonna find a way to be disruptive. The only difference is he’s playing on Sundays in AT&T Stadium, and I’m 100 miles away in Tyler. Imagine the two of us together, one on each side. The Cowboys would win the Super Bowl.

Larson still hasn’t gotten up, and everyone is kneeling next to him. He’s athletic and has a good arm, but he’s soft as shit. I tell him to get up. He’s in full pads, and I’m just in sweats and a t-shirt. Someone starts yelling from the other side of the field, and I don’t even have to look to know it’s Coach Higgins. He’s had it out for me since my seventh-grade year, since I first stepped onto this field. Then he sabotaged me with Coach Gregory at Lindale High. I know he said some shit to him about me. There’s no other reason I wasn’t starting. I tore through the line in practice. If I was in for that last drive against Winona, no way they go down the field and score. We would’ve taken the district and I’d have gotten my full ride. 

Now Higgins is saying he’s calling the police, saying he’s not playing this time. His phone is up against his ear. I think he’s bluffing, but I can’t risk it right now. I tell him I’m leaving. Larson is finally sitting up now. He’ll thank me later. I walk off the field and onto the sidewalk. If Higgins was a man he would’ve done something about it himself instead of calling the cops. He’s mad because he knows the kids really listen to me and respect me. They know he’s just some old burnout. The game has passed him by. I walk past where the woods start and out of sight. I go into the woods and move slow through the trees until I’m near the edge, looking out onto the field. Coach Higgins doesn’t know. He doesn’t know anything. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. I belong on a football field. I should be suited up every Sunday in the fall, on grass that never dies.

— Drew Buxton is a social worker from Texas. His work has been featured or is forthcoming in Joyland, The DriftVice, Hotel, and Ninth Letter among other publications. He is featured in the 2022 Short Story Advent Calendar, out nowfrom Hingston and Olsen. Find him at drewbuxton.com.

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