Even though the 2022 prep football season just finished (thanks for the thrilling ride, Ocoee!), I’m willing to bet many of you — like me — can’t wait until the next one begins.
These past few days I have been reflecting, looking back on this football season and the impact it had on me — both personally as a human and professionally as a journalist.
Those 12 weeks of the regular season, followed by several more weeks of playoffs, challenged me, tested my abilities in many ways and proved that every sport is beautiful if you just give it a chance.
For those who don’t know, this football season was the first I covered as a journalist. Growing up in Venezuela, I never watched football. It was not a common sport there. When I moved here, I never picked it up as a sport to watch on the weekends.
However, this season — with all its ups and downs — allowed me to see football — and live it — as a reporter and as an insider. I was able to stand on the sidelines week after week, hear the emotion on the coaches’ voices as they talked to their players, hear the players cheer for one another and feel the frustration of the team when an untimely interception or fumble foiled an otherwise promising drive.
Three months ago, I didn’t even know what an interception, fumble or sack was — or that a tackle is both a football action and a position on the offensive line.
I remember receiving the first email filled with statistics from a game a week into the season. I kid you not: I had to ask my brother every two seconds to help me translate every one of those stats into a full sentence.
Toward the end of the season, I would test myself when digesting statistics. If I saw “passing yards,” I began to recognize those were mostly associated to the quarterback, so I would play a mental game and write the position of the player before I looked it up. Nine out of 10 times, I would be correct. That feeling of “Wow, you learn even by absorbing knowledge from the environment you are in” felt so true in those moments.
Even the field positions seemed confusing to me (some still do!). Back in September, I would not be able to hold a conversation with anyone about a football play. By the end of the season, I was talking to The First Academy head coach Leroy Kinard and surprised myself when I realized I was having a full-on football conversation with him!
This season showed me something unique about football — the passion with which the game is played and all the emotions that exist behind one single play. This happened during one of the first games I covered. I was still anxious about taking photos because — spoiler alert — I had never done that before, either!
I was at West Orange High School that night for a game against Apopka, and still trying to find my footing. Then, during a “being in the right place at the right time” moment, I was able to capture a perfect touchdown moment.
I didn’t think much at the time about all the emotions that one single shot could transmit, but then, when I was downloading the pictures later that night on my computer, I understood — the desperation on the quarterback’s face to reach the end zone, the anxiousness of the defensive line players who were not able to stop the play, and the disbelief and excitement in the faces of the offensive linemen who were witnessing the play.
Yes, now I can see that football is all that, but it also is making connections and developing relationships with others. Because of my Game of the Week stories, I got to meet and talk to every prep football coach in our area and most times to a few players, as well.
One of my favorite interactions of the season was talking to Windermere head football coach Riki Smith the week I was profiling the Wolverines. He invited me into the locker room, and we chatted about picture ideas for a while. He explained to me what he wanted the picture to transmit to the community because that was truly important to him — and I listened.
We worked around his idea and brought a few players to the locker room during a Saturday morning. In those minutes, while talking to them, I felt what he wanted me to convey through a picture. I can’t truly tell you how long we all were in there that morning, chatting, but the one thing the coach wanted me to share in my story was what I felt in those hours with them that morning: “Family.”
So, yes, this season brought challenging moments that got me thinking on my feet when interviews didn’t align or games got canceled. It brought frustrating times, when my camera wasn’t cooperating — or maybe it was the photographer who wasn’t having a great night on the field — but all in all, I am grateful I learned as the season progressed.
I am grateful to have learned the reason why people here in the United States breathe football everywhere they go. And the only way I can summarize it for you — as many coaches summarized it for me this season — is that football is life.