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The crack of the shoulder pads atop two burly young men signals that the high school football season is in full swing. If not for the electric Friday nights under the lights of a shrine to hard work, there would be weeks when I simply existed and hadn’t really lived. But on these nights when the school comes together just as I do to cheer and possibly inspire these fellow classmates, you are reminded just how amazing it feels to really live life.
When I think of football, I think of my closest friend Russ. In middle school, he would use me as an elbow rest after church, but I was okay with that, because he was Russ, and he played football, and he was cool. As a freshman in high school I realized that I wasn’t supposed to like his football team because they were rivals from the town north of me. But it didn’t matter, because he was Russ, he played football, and he was cool. Russ ran faster than me, had three times as many admirers at school than me, and could lift five times as much weight as me, but we were connected by a close friendship.
I always thought of him as the wonderful big kid who played hard, worked hard in school, and gave his best all the time. At 5’ 11’’, 230 lbs., he was too small to be recruited as a big time lineman, but sure worked the hardest on the gridiron. He played with incredible passion to make up for his small stature compared to other lineman. He taught me more than books will ever teach me: to get great results you have to put your best effort into a task. He has become my most important role model and I started seeing good things in him that I needed to have in my life also.
Sometimes I wonder why he would stick so close to me as a friend. I feel, sadly, Russ sometimes saw in me a reminder of what not to do with talents. I feel too that he stayed so close to me because he knew he rubbed off on me. I have been in accelerated classes since elementary school, always a little smarter than most other kids. But as school got tougher in high school and senior high, I didn’t do as Russ did and do my best and get great grades. I often used my intelligence to just get by in classes. And it is painfully obvious when I remember Russ’s funny salutatorian speech that he gave his best efforts and was rewarded greatly, and I often have not done so.
Now Russ has gone to college and there will be a whole year of not seeing him almost every Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday. It is hard for me to think of all the blood, sweat and tears that Russ put into being the best football player he could be, and the long nights he stayed awake doing homework so he would stay at the top of his class, and I realize that I have fallen short of the standard and example he set. But even if I have not always followed Russ’s example, I now can step back and see all that he has taught me. He has shown me that in order to get the most out of life, I need to give my best. He has shown me that in giving your best, you truly live life. I can now think of this year, and my entire future ahead of me, as a test to see if I have learned from Russ what he has tried to teach me all along: life is short, and if you want to enjoy it, you must give your best.
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