What It Feels Like to Be the Boy Who Cried Wolf

By Reino Hill // As told by Charlotte Bongratz and Emily Torres

They always say the same thing. Over and over again, I hear their comments floating through the school. “He plays football, but look at how short he is,” they’d say. It’s not that I don’t know about my own height; I just don’t care. Why can’t I be treated like everyone else? Just because I am smaller than the average football player doesn’t mean that I’m any less passionate about the game.

Ever since the first time I stepped onto the field, all I’ve seen is the endzone. I don’t care that the other players are bigger than me; I am always determined to get as close as I can to the endzone whenever my hand makes contact with the ball. My coaches from middle school knew how hard I worked for my team and they gave me the playing time that I thought I deserved. My size never mattered to them. They saw me for my strengths instead of my weaknesses. They knew I was fast and that sometimes being small and agile was better than being big.

Since I was smaller than the others, my parents originally didn’t want me to play football. They were afraid I was going to get hurt, but they were the ones that really got me hooked on the sport in the first place. It was my dad, mostly. With football always on my mind, I bided my time by playing baseball and getting really good at soccer, but I was always waiting to exchange my shin guards for shoulder pads. After years of begging, my dad finally signed me up for the Antioch Vikings. In that moment, my entire world shifted.

My best friend was on my first football team and his dad was one of the coaches, so having someone to turn to made me feel more comfortable. There were a few other first year players besides me, so I wasn’t on my own. I immediately started working towards proving myself. I ran as fast as I could and exerted my muscles even farther at every practice, soon discovering my body’s full potential. Though I didn’t have the technique and experience that the others had yet, I was physically able to keep up with them. After a few weeks of hard work, my coaches began to notice my determination.

Standing on the side of the field during my very first game, everybody was constantly walking back and forth, the scent of grass and body odor fresh in my nose. I could hear a mix of parents, coaches and teammates screaming through the sound of padding and plastic colliding. Soon enough, I was sent into the fray. I was a safety at the time and I made my first tackle during that game. It may not have seemed like much, but it was my first big achievement in the sport I’d been dying to play for years. I was really starting to get into the new world that had been introduced to me.

During the next few years, I became a running back and scored 15 touchdowns in one season. My teammates began to feel like my brothers and we trusted one another to succeed no matter the circumstance. Nobody judged my ability based on my size and it felt amazing. We thought of ourselves as a brotherhood. We had an unbreakable trust in one another that made us feel unstoppable. One year we even went undefeated and got to the Youth Superbowl. Even though we lost that game, we played as brothers and that is what I will always remember.

I played my first high school season this past fall. The high school football program was another new world I had yet to become a part of. It was like starting back at square one. The coach, as well as the rest of us, were new to the school. The players were bigger, taller and tougher than before and I was still among the smallest of them. Because the freshman team coach didn’t know me, I had to work twice as hard to prove myself all over again. It felt as if all my hard work to get to this point had been erased.

The beginning of the season was just working out the kinks of the team. Players were placed into positions based on their size and not based on their actual experience. During games, I was taken off the familiar smelling field whenever we were in a position to score because no one seemed to trust that I could get to the endzone. They thought my size was more important than my skill; this angered me, but I kept working. Fridays would roll around and the cheers for game day would fill the halls as different athletes walked from class to class in their uniforms. However, I didn’t feel that same excitement as my classmates. Being angry allowed me to hit harder and run faster, so Fridays were spent keeping to myself and brooding around the school. It got me ready to play until the clock hit zero. Every Friday, that’s what I did.

Toward the end of the season, a few of my teammates got emails saying that they had been invited up to varsity for the playoffs. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get that invitation since I hadn’t gotten too many chances to show off my full potential. It didn’t make it easier; we all secretly hoped for that special notification. One day, my coach told me that someone wanted to talk to me. Being that it was the middle of practice, I was a bit concerned. Had I done something wrong? No. The varsity football coach told me himself that I was one of the few freshmen being brought up to varsity. I got the invitation I secretly had been hoping for. During my time with varsity football, I forged new friendships. These seemingly giant guys took me under their wings both literally and figuratively. They knew that I must be good enough to be brought up, and they didn’t care how tall I was because of it. They instead cared about my talent.

Spending the time that I did with the varsity football team validated that I was good enough and that my height doesn’t overpower my skills. I don’t expect that I’ll make varsity as a sophomore, but I am determined to work hard enough to get there. My reputation for being small has followed me for my entire life. I never let it bother me before, and I’m definitely not starting now. I am determined to be great despite what others say about me; I’m already on my way there.