My young high school football charges, the Lawrence Park Panthers, got to play a Friday Night Lights game last week and it was special.
It’s only the second time I’ve had the experience to coach in an outdoor night game and it’s now so clear to me that the Americans have this Friday Night thing figured out. It’s an awesome experience.
Usually we play in the middle of a weekday afternoon with tiny crowds, no supporters, and little media. Our Friday night game saw a noisy crowd, lots of parents finally seeing their children play, friends from school out in droves, and Rogers TV filming our every move for broadcast that weekend.
Beyond the tangible differences, the entire atmosphere was different. The stadium lights illuminated both teams’ uniforms and helmets, casting the players in a glow that made them seem much more “big time.” Those same lights glanced off the kids’ helmets, creating a light-show tango of visual effects. The spiraling ball, set against the pitch black sky, looked like a heat-seeking missile, speedily tracking its way to its target. Every tick of the score clock communicated a tense reminder of the gravity of the moment, as the teams worked their way up and down the battlefield.
In the end my team lost 28–21 to an opponent with many more players and much more size. But losing is not why I entitled this story “Lights Out.” No, I called it “Lights Out” as a tribute to my team. To my surprise, we are much better than I imagined possible in the first weeks of training camp. Friday night demonstrated to me how much better. We have a team that can play “Lights Out”. It all starts with a dynamic offence led by my star senior quarterback who is as good a runner, passer, and leader as I have ever had. His on-field talents are only rivaled by his off-field maturity and egoless personality.
Around him I have a cadre of receivers who can catch, run, and score. To protect them I have a line that is small in size, but large in fight, heart, and grit. On defence we are also short-handed player-wise and size-wise, but we make up for it with speed, smarts, and systems.
Losing sucks. I could recite every loss that I have had from 20 years of coaching. But where defeat can be a coach’s morass, potential is our elixir.
This team has all the potential in the world. Stay tuned as weekly we will take on teams with more players, more size, more everything. But as long as we play “Lights Out”, every game is going to feel like the excitement of Friday Night Lights.