Growing up in West Long Branch, I was kind of a shy kid. I had a penchant for good grades in school, but I was more of the silent type. A lot of folks thought of me as aloof back then. Even to this day, some people still find me detached at times, but that’s just the way I am, I guess.
One day I decided to try and change all that. The summer right before I started seventh grade, I cast my fate into the wind and tried out for the local Pop Warner football team.
After going through exercises and practicing on the field behind Frank Antonides School for about a week or so with the other kids, I was given a set of football equipment – pads, helmet, practice jersey, and a pair of cleats. I was told to report to training camp the next day for scrimmage.
Man, I was so excited. My first time in an organized football game. . .well, a simulated game, but a game nonetheless. Unfortunately, as I tried out my uniform, the pants were too loose around my waist, and I found myself constantly tugging on them just to keep them from revealing. . .well, the parts of my body that weren’t supposed to be revealed.
The coaches first put me on the defensive line. I seemed to be holding my own on every play, even though I had never played organized ball before. But after every whistle, I heard it from one player after another – ”Hey Cieri! Your pants are falling down!”, which was then followed by some hearty laughter. I just let it roll off my back like I normally did with things that bothered me. But as the scrimmage wore on, the coaches joined in with the kids and started razzing me about the pants situation after every play, too.
Now I had heard enough.
On the very next snap, I raised my arms up, dipped my right shoulder between the center and guard, and shot the gap. The hole I plugged up was the same hole that the halfback was running through – that is, was SUPPOSED to run through. With my left arm extended, I clotheslined the kid as he was about to cross the line of scrimmage and threw him down to the ground for about a five yard loss.
I swear there was a hush all around after the whistle blew. I just picked myself up, pulled up my pants again, turned around, and headed back to the defensive huddle. A couple of the offensive linemen looked at me funny. I just stared them down and proceeded to walk right between them back to my side of the line. I made a statement. No one said boo to me about the pants for the rest of practice.
A few days later, the final cuts were announced. Thirteen kids needed to go, and I was number twelve on the list. But to tell you the truth, I didn’t care whether I made the team or not. I played with the big boys and did OK. Maybe not well enough to make the team, but well enough for me. Not many kids get as far as I did.
And of course, there was the statement on the field. . .It really bothers me when people underestimate me. The look on their faces after seeing what I can really do is absolutely priceless.
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri’s blog on his Facebook page, “Jersey Shore Retro” as well as on Twitter at @jsretro).