Left Half HarmonŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďLooking at my Ďparlor gridiron,í Harmon?Ē he asked. ďNice little plaything, isnít it?Ē He came to Willardís side and lifted the board from the table. ďI made it myself, and Iím sort of proud of it, for Iím all thumbs when it comes to doing anything with my hands. Each of the inch lines represents five yards, do you see? And I use these thumb-tacks for the players. Itís rather a help when it comes to studying out a play; although I acknowledge that I can get on faster with the back of an envelope and a pencil stub!Ē
ďI think itís awfully clever,Ē said Willard admiringly. ďItís just half a field, though, isnít it, sir?Ē
ďThatís all; from the goal-line to the fifty-yard-line. Thatís all thatís needed, you see. Want to play with it?Ē The coach laughed and wheeled a deep-seated rep-covered armchair to the table. ďSit down and be comfortable,Ē he added. Willard subsided embarrassedly into the chair, still holding the miniature gridiron. Joe and Bob were seated by one of the side windows Ė what breeze there was came from the west this evening Ė and Martin and the coach shared an old-fashioned sofa nearby. Willard, listening to the talk, began to set the thumb-tacks in place along the thirty-yard-line. Presently he had become so interested in arranging a forward-pass defense for the gray tacks that he had forgotten all about the others. He wasnít quite certain that the Grayís ends should play all the way up into the line, and he set them back half the distance to the next white mark. Then he concluded that the pass would be made by that suspicious-looking red tack labeled ďL. H.Ē and that it would go to one of the red ends. Consequently, he advanced the gray ends up to the line once more, but a trifle further out, so that they might cut in quickly and spoil the throw. After that he pulled the Grayís quarter-back in another yard or two, chancing that the ball would not go more than fifteen yards. Then there was nothing to do but wait for the play, and, since it didnít materialize, he set the board back on the table and gave his attention again to the others.
ďTwo years ago,Ē Mr. Cade was saying, ďthere were five of us in here for almost a week: Levington and Sproule and Jack Tanner Ė Who was the chap helped coach the tackles that year, Myers? Do you remember? Tall fellow who wore spectacles and Ė Ē
ďClarke, sir? No, I know! Salters!Ē
ďThatís right! Salters! He was a good hand and Iíd like to get him back again this fall. Well, there were five of us, I remember, and we were bunked all over the place; three of us in the bedroom and two of us in here. We had rather a good time, but no one got much sleep. I remember the night before the Kenly game we sat up until nearly three oíclock. Our left tackle, Gadsden, had sprained his ankle that day; someone pushed him coming out of Academy; and we had to make over the whole plan of battle. Gadsden, youíll remember, was our long punter and weíd mapped out a kicking game. To make things worse, it began to rain and sleet that evening, and weíd looked for a dry field.
We certainly had our hands full that night. It was Levington who suggested pulling the guards out and using them on end runs, and we won on those plays. You see our backfield was pretty light and the wet field slowed them up. You played awhile in that game, didnít you, Myers, toward the end?Ē
ďYes, for three or four minutes. I was in when we made our second score. We dumped their end and Morgan shot around for four yards and the touchdown.Ē
ďThatís right. It looked like a tie game until near the end. Kenly had a man who could boot a wet ball forty yards every time and we had no one to meet him with. But we certainly wore her ends to a frazzle. She used three pairs before she got through! It was nothing but fight and determination that won that game, fellows. On paper we figured about seventy per cent to their one hundred before the start. They had us licked, but they didnít know it, and we never told them!Ē
ďWhat about this year, sir?Ē asked Martin.
ďHow many snowstorms are we going to have in January?Ē asked the coach laughingly. ďItís rather too early for predictions, Proctor. But for all I can see now weíve got a better show than we had two years ago, and we licked her then. Weíre certainly going to be in better shape than last year.Ē
ďWeíve got to find a full-back,Ē said Joe dubiously.
ďYes, and a new tackle and maybe an end. But weíll do it. Thereís a lot of good material to pick from this year.Ē
ďI suppose youíve heard, sir, that Kenlyís got that fellow Timmons who played left end on Millwood High last season,Ē said Bob.
ďNo, is that so? Is he good?Ē
ďThey say so. Funny thing we donít seem to catch any of the stars, Mr. Cade.Ē
ďWe donít want them, Newhall. Stars are uncertain things. They have a mean way of going out unexpectedly! Iíd rather have a bunch of satellites to work with and turn out my own stars!Ē
The others laughed, but Bob shook his head, not altogether convinced. ďThatís all right, sir, but youíd think weíd get more good players here. It isnít as if Alton was a small school or a punk one. Of course those fellows with big reputations donít always pan out when you get them, but, just the same, Iíd like to see some of them head this way now and then!Ē
ďI dare say it wouldnít hurt,Ē agreed the coach. ďBut, fellows, the longer I stick at this coaching game the more convinced I am that when it comes to the last analysis it isnít plays or players that win games; itís spirit! Take eleven corking men, each one a master of his position, and get them so that they play together like a well-oiled machine, and then run them up against a team of ordinary players without much team-work or anything else except a great, big, overwhelming desire to win, and what happens three times out of four? Why, that inferior team wins! She may make mistakes, she may play ragged ball, but grim determination and fight and spirit get her there! You see it happen all the time. I can tell you of twenty games where the best team was beaten just because, while she wanted to win, she didnít want to win hard enough!Ē
ďYes, sir, I guess thatís so,Ē agreed Joe. ďAnd I guess itís a lot easier to teach a team to play good football than it is to put the right spirit in them.Ē
ďOf course it is! Youíve got to begin with the School, Myers, and work down to the team. If the School hasnít got the right spirit, the team wonít have it. And thatís why I try to get as many fellows out for football at the beginning of the year as I can. Or, at least, itís one reason. Interest a fellow, no matter how little, in the team, and heíll believe in it and work for it. Even if a fellow comes out only to be dropped three or four days later, heís Ďsmelled leatherí and he never quite forgets it. He thinks well of his more successful companion who has made good, even though he may be secretly envious of him, and the team and its success means a lot more to him than it does to the chap who has never had anything to do with it. The team that feels the School behind it works hard and loyally and, when the big test comes, fights like the very dickens! And itís fight that wins football games, just as itís fight that wins battles. And thatís that!Ē
Mr. Cade ended with a little laugh that seemed to apologize for his vehemence, but none of his listeners joined in it. After a moment Martin said: ďThereís a little school they call Upton Academy near my home, Mr. Cade. It has only about a hundred and twenty students, I suppose, and more than half of íem are girls. But they meet teams from bigger schools and beat them right along. One of the teachers coaches them and the girls go with them and cheer like mad and they wipe up the whole county!Ē
ďI guess itís spirit in that case,Ē said the coach. ďAnd maybe the girls have a lot to do with it. Ever notice what a deal of fighting spirit girls show? First thing we know Ė or our children know Ė the girls will be playing real football. And when they do, fellows, look out!Ē Mr. Cade chuckled at his direful prediction.
A little later the boys arose to go and Mr. Cade, moving to the table, took up the felt-covered board and looked at it curiously. ďDefense for forward-pass, eh, Harmon?Ē he said. ďWhich of these red fellows is making the toss?Ē
ďI donít know, sir,Ē answered Willard. ďI was playing the Grayís end of it. But I figured that left half-back was throwing to an end.Ē
The others gathered around to see and Mr. Cade looked speculatively at Willard for a moment before he smiled and laid the board back on the table. ďIíd pull my ends in further in that case,Ē he said, ďand bring them nearer the play. What position are you after?Ē
ďI see. Well, itís an interesting job, half-backís. Lots of chance for initiative there. Quick thinking, too. Well, good night, fellows. Drop in again some evening. Iím generally home.Ē
THE BOY IN THE GREEN SWEATER
The following Wednesday, Willard received promotion of a sort. By that time the number of candidates at practice had noticeably lessened and the four squads had become three. Last yearís first team survivors and a goodly number of the second team players formed Squad A, while some twenty youths who showed particular promise made up Squad B. Into the latter company Willard went. A third squad whose personnel changed from day to day as new candidates appeared or old ones fell out, was known officially as C, but popularly as ďThe Goats.Ē
Formation drill had begun and Willard ran through signals at the left half-back position, alternating with another youth named Kruger. Only the simplest formations were used and the pace never exceeded a trot. Preliminary to this, there was tackling practice at the dummy each day, and more or less passing and starting. After formation drill Willard joined nearly a dozen other backfield candidates and put in a half-hour of punting and catching and running. Willardís kicking education had been rather neglected, for at high school, during the two years he had played, the full-back and quarter had shared the kicking duties. Here, however, it was held that a back should be proficient in every department of the game, and Willard showed up rather poorly beside many of his rivals.
The second eleven came into existence the last of that week and the first real scrimmage of the season took place on Friday between it and the first in preparation for the initial contest the next day. Willard was glad he had not been picked for the second, for he had not yet given up hope of better things, and knew from experience how difficult it is to make oneís way from the second team to the first. Several fellows from Squad C were selected, however, and among them Kruger, which left Willard for awhile in undisputed possession of the left half-back job. It wasnít long, though, before a weedy, temperamental boy named Longstreth took Krugerís place. Longstreth had been promoted from the Goats and seemed to have an idea that his mission in life was to inject what he called ďtabascoĒ into Squad B. One way of doing it was to aid in the coaching, and he simply oozed advice to both Coach Cade and Richards, the quarter-back. The coach stood it patiently, but Ned Richards ultimately turned upon him and wounded his sensibilities horribly, so horribly that Longstreth became a changed boy and deliberately let the squad worry along without ďtabasco.Ē But most of this was later on and subsequent to the Alton High School game, which started the season for the Academy.
Willard watched that contest from the bench: or, rather, from a seat on the ground near the bench, since the capacity of the bench was limited. It wasnít much of a game, even for a first one, and there was nothing approaching excitement in it until, near the end of the third ten-minute period, High School threw a scare into her opponent by scoring a touchdown when Cochran, at right half, dropped the ball and the High School left end scooted away with it for sixty-odd yards and brought joy to the visitors. Academyís quarter-back ought to have stopped him, but Tarver made a miserable tackle and the runner wrenched himself loose and went over the line without further challenge.
High School missed an easy goal and the score was tied at 6 Ė 6, for the Academy had been able to put over but one touchdown against a weaker but plucky enemy and Cochran had missed the goal as badly as the opponent had later. The Academy rooters woke up from their lethargy then, and there was some cheering during the remainder of the period and throughout the last quarter. It was not until the latter was well along, however, that Academy pulled the game out of the fire. Then, working to striking distance by means of two forward-passes that took the ball from midfield to High Schoolís thirty-yard-line, the Gray-and-Gold hammered the opposing left side until it gave way and Macon, on an end-around play, landed the pigskin over the goal-line. This time, Cochran having given way to a substitute, Tarver tried for a goal and made it, and the game ended a few minutes later with the Academy on the long end of a 13 Ė 6 score.
Coach Cade used many substitutes during the final quarter, and Martin Proctor was one of them, and Willard was delighted to see his chum put up a fine game at right guard when Bob went out. At left half, the position that Willard was especially interested in, Arnold Lake played to the end of the third period and then gave place to Mawson. Both played well and Willard was more certain than before that if he was to make the first team this year it would have to be in some other capacity than that of left half!
When the game was done the Squad A players who had not participated were lined up against a Squad B eleven and there followed a short scrimmage in which Willard played left half for B and had a lot of fun. Squad A wasnít formidable and it was no great stunt to gain outside her tackles, and once Willard got nicely away and would have made the only score of the scrimmage if an obnoxious youth named Hutchins, and better known as ďHutch,Ē hadnít pulled him down on the six yards. From there, in spite of all her efforts, B couldnít make much gain and the fourth down found the ball a yard short of the line. The scrimmage ended with a score and the empty stand attested the amount of interest the game provided the onlookers who had remained after the big contest. But Willard had enjoyed it and won a set of bruised fingers when one of the enemy had set an ungentle foot thereon, and he was quite contented the rest of the evening. But he did a lot of thinking and consulted Martin on the advisability of trying for an end position, and showed no gratitude when he was advised to fatten himself up and try for center!
ďYou seem to be willing to stick on the bench all season,Ē he said aggrievedly, ďbut I donít see any fun in that. If I Ė Ē
ďHow do you mean, stick on the bench?Ē demanded Martin. ďIím not going to stick on any bench. Havenít you noticed how pale and wan Bob is getting to look? He wonít last much longer. I think itís sleeping sickness or something else slow and certain. He wonít acknowledge heís sick, but I can tell! Thereís a worried look about his eyes and Cal Grainger says he sleeps more than he used to.Ē
ďOh, shut up!Ē said Willard, grinning.
ďFact, though! You look at Bob some time when he doesnít know heís Ė ah Ė under observation and youíll see what I mean. Sleeping sickness is very insidious, Brand, but always fatal. Iím sorry for Bob, of course, but Iím not hypocritical about it!Ē
ďBob will be playing guard and youíll be lugging the water pail when we meet Kenly,Ē retorted Willard. ďIím in earnest, though. Why shouldnít I try for end instead?Ē
ďBecause youíre a half-back, sonny. Playing end is something else again, and youíd have to learn a lot of new tricks, and the season might be over before youíd learn íem.Ē
ďWell, Iíd be ready for next year,Ē murmured Willard.
ďIf thatís all youíre looking for, stay where you are. Theyíll be using half-backs as well as ends next year, unless the Rules Committee gets gay again!Ē
ďWell, of course I do want to make the team this fall,Ē acknowledged the other.
ďNaturally. So do I. I wanted to last fall, too, but a cruel fate willed otherwise.Ē
ďOh, you donít care,Ē scoffed Willard. ďYou havenít any Ė any Ė ambition.Ē
ďAmbition? Get out! Iím full of ambish! But I donít propose to be unhappy because I canít have the whole pie. I like the fun of playing, Brand, and I donít worry much because I donít always get into the game. After all, Iím doing my bit, you know. Someoneís got to be second-choice. Besides, think what a comfort it is to Joe and Bob to know that if they have to leave the game there I am ready to take their places and carry on the good work! Donít you suppose that thought helps íem to weather many a Ė many a dark hour?Ē
ďNo, I donít,Ē answered Willard disgustedly. ďBut I guess it helps them to go on playing sometimes when theyíre all in! The idea of letting you in Ė Ē
ďDonít say it!Ē warned Martin, laying a hand significantly on a book. ďThemís hard words! Listen, Brand: are we going to the lecture or arenít we not?Ē
ďWhatís it all about?Ē
ďThe Cliff Dwellers of Ė of Montana, or some place.Ē
ďMaybe,Ē replied Martin cautiously. ďAnyway, the fellowís good. He was here last year. Letís go. Iíve always wished Iíd been born a cliff-dweller. Thereís something awfully fascinating in the idea of shinning up a tree-trunk and climbing through a window when youíre ready for bed! Think what fun there must have been at a prep school in those days. When the fellow who lived above you was climbing up all you had to do was reach out and push the tree-trunk away. Gee, you miss a lot of innocent amusement by being born too late!Ē
Sunday dawned cloudy and dismal, with occasional sprinkles of rain. Breakfast was a half-hour later, and when that was over there was nothing much to do but furbish up for church. But shining oneís shoes and brushing oneís Sunday suit doesnít consume much time, no matter how thorough and deliberate one may be, and after Willard was ready there still remained the best of an hour. The steam heat had not yet been turned on and the dormitory was chill and unsympathetic. He tried to write a letter to the folks at home, but only got as far as: ďDear Father and Mother.Ē Martinís usually placid humor was perceptibly rumpled this morning, and efforts to engage him in conversation resulted in grunts and growls. Willard was heartily glad when it came time to start off for church, even though he felt uncomfortable in a derby and detested carrying an umbrella.
Dinner was at one, a heavy repast topped off with ice cream and cake that left the diner feeling like an anaconda who had just swallowed a goat. Willard, who had failed to get placed at Joeís table and was with an unusually uninteresting group at the far end of the hall, arose from the board wishing he had not accepted young Stanleyís offer of his ice cream. Or perhaps it was the cake that was to blame. In any case, he felt horribly full and sluggish, and when, at the door, Bob brightly suggested a nice long tramp over to Banning to see the new railway bridge that was under construction he shook his head and pleaded letters to write. Banning was three miles away, and Willard wasnít sure he could even get back to his room before going to sleep!
ďWell, if you change your mind, come on over to the room,Ē said Bob. ďWe wonít be starting for half an hour, I guess.Ē
Willard said he would, being quite certain that his mind was incapable of any change. When he reached Number 16, Martin, too, was disgustingly active. ďCome on, Brand,Ē he cried. ďWeíre going over to see the new bridge at Banning. Get an old pair of shoes on.Ē
ďI donít want to see any bridges,Ē replied Willard morosely. ďI Ė I saw one once.Ē
ďWhat if you did, you chump! You never saw this one. Donít be a piker. Look, itís going to clear up!Ē
Willard gazed through the window with lackluster eyes and shook his head feebly. ďIíve got to write home,Ē he murmured, subsiding into a chair.
ďYou look more as if you were going to sleep,Ē said Martin in disgust. ďAll right, sonny, see you later.Ē
Martin went out, slamming the door behind him and whistling gayly down the corridor. Willard shook his head again. He had never noticed before how objectionably noisy Martin was! Several rooms away a graphophone was playing loudly and boys were singing. Everyone, reflected Willard, seemed to be unnaturally animated today. He guessed they hadnít eaten two plates of ice cream! After a long time, during which he stared somnolently at his shoes, he pulled himself out of the chair with a groan and reseated himself at the table. Half an hour later he signed the fourth page of his letter ďYour aff. son, WillardĒ and folded it quickly lest he yield to the temptation to read it over. He knew that if he did that he would never send it!
When it was ready for mailing he walked to the window and looked out. It really was clearing! Even as he looked, the sun broke through for a moment and shone weakly on the damp field and the running track beyond. He felt a good deal better now and he wished he had gone to Banning with the others. Well, he hadnít, and rather than moon around in that chilly room he would slip on an old suit and take a walk. Possibly he would meet the crowd coming back later. He changed from his Sunday attire to an old pair of knickerbockers, a sweater, golf stockings, old shoes and a cap and set forth, proceeding first to the mail box in front of Academy Hall and getting rid of his letter. Stacey Ross hailed him from a third-story window of Lykes as he made his way past toward the athletic field, and he stopped and exchanged badinage for a moment, declining Staceyís invitations, the first of which was to ďCome on up,Ē and the second to ďGo to the dickens!ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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