All Work and No Play Is Just Fine

By Preston Williams
Thursday, November 16, 2006

Robinson senior Andrew Clark was trying to explain at practice last Thursday why, for so little playing time, he had devoted so much of the past four years of his life to Ram football.

Just then, about 40 yards away, his teammates broke a huddle with a chant of "1-2-3 Family!"

Clark had his answer.

"Like that huddle right there," he said, motioning over his shoulder. "Just to be in it is such a good feeling because you know all these people have gone through the same sweat and blood at three-a-days at camp, two-a-days up there on that [practice] field. It just kind of pumps you up and gives me something to live for kind of."

There is something that many high school boys might not know about such powerhouse football programs as Robinson, DeMatha and Westfield: You don't have to be a stud athlete, or even a particularly good one, to be on the team.

Yes, you have to work just as hard as the guys who play, both in season and out. Yes, your uniform is probably going to be soiled after practices but not after games. And yes, you might need a search party to find your name on the depth chart.

But as long as you are not a physical risk or a disciplinary problem -- those kids pretty much cut themselves, coaches say -- the opportunity is there to be the high school equivalent of a major-college walk-on: a member of a big-time program.

Football is one of the more demanding high school sports, but it's also one of the more forgiving, in that it can accommodate large numbers of players of varying ability. It's more about dedication than talent.

"Not everybody's going to get to the Olympics in the 100 meters," Robinson Coach Mark Bendorf said, "but it doesn't mean you shouldn't pursue running. For some of these kids to run out into the stadium with the lights on in front of the fans and wearing their jersey on game day and being a part of a pep rally, I think that's neat, maybe more so for the kid who's not gifted athletically, to be a part of that."

"We're not sending the right message if we're going to cut a kid when we don't have to," said Westfield Coach Tom Verbanic, whose Chantilly team has gone 53-5 the past five years, with a state title in 2003. "That makes absolutely no sense to me. We still have to play to win, but I think there are kids out there [saying], 'Maybe I won't play, but I'll be a part of something.' That's pretty special to me."

Note to past Westfield greats such as Evan Royster, Eddie Royal and Sean Glennon: Don't expect your numbers to be retired. The Bulldogs need them, or they'll have to start issuing jerseys with fractions on them. The Westfield roster takes up two columns in some game programs, or two single-spaced pages in others, and Verbanic is prepared to issue jerseys 1 through 99 if necessary. The No. 3 Bulldogs (10-0) generally carry 75 to 85 varsity players.

The number 71 belongs to senior offensive lineman Brian Patelunas, who, despite two knee surgeries and a mild heart ailment, has stuck out four years in the Westfield program. Standing amid a whirl of players going into and coming out of the game might make him pine for more action, but not to the point of begging off the scout team, the unit that tries to mimic the upcoming opponent's offense or defense in practice.

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