Hank Meadows held his 2 1/2-month-old son in his arms as he slowly walked back and forth across the living room of the house he shares with his wife and her parents.
The same strong arms and sure hands that were so used to throwing footballs or shooting basketballs were now performing a much more delicate task: Meadows, former Liberty High School quarterback and shooting guard, was trying to soothe his sleepy son, who had the sniffles.
Senior year of high school is a time of great change, when decisions are made that can affect the course of a life. Meadows, who graduated from the Bealeton high school in June, made two decisions in the past year that have changed his life.
In October, he married his pregnant girlfriend, Lindsay Marks, in a small ceremony in her Catlett home. And in March, he signed a letter-of-intent to play football at the University of Virginia's College at Wise, a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics school formerly known as Clinch Valley College.
These decisions were not easy ones, nor were they made without a great deal of thought and discussion, because three lives were going to be directly affected by the decisions: those of Hank, Lindsay and their son, Daren Wayne, who was born April 17.
Support at Home
Hank Meadows and Lindsay Marks met during their sophomore year at Liberty, when they used to stare at each other in English class, though they didn't start dating until the end of their junior year. Lindsay learned she was pregnant shortly before the 1998-99 school year began; Hank proposed to her in early September. They were married Oct. 18.
"My teammates and friends were surprised. They were like, `What are you doing? Are you crazy? Why do you want to get married?' " said Meadows, who wears a silver wedding band. "I didn't laugh, and I didn't joke around when I answered them. I said straight up: `I love her. I want to spend the rest of my life with her.' "
Right after the wedding, Hank moved into the house Lindsay shared with her parents, Lee and Pam Marks. Hank wanted to be near Lindsay throughout the pregnancy, to support her in person instead of over the phone. Lindsay thought she and Hank needed some time to get used to living with each other before the baby was born.
"We basically left the decision up to them. We explained to them that they did have options. [Being married and pregnant] would be a very public thing in school, and they would have to answer a lot of questions," said Pam Marks. "They needed to know that we supported whatever they decided to do. I think that this was the decision they were going to make all along."
Hank and Lindsay also decided Hank was going to fulfill his dream of playing college football. Hank played well enough as a senior to be recruited by several Division II and Division III schools, and when he went on his recruiting trips, Lindsay accompanied him. When Hank became serious about a school, both his and Lindsay's parents joined them for visits.
"When I first found out that I was pregnant, my biggest fear was that Hank was going to forget all about going to school. I knew how much he wanted to go to school and play football," Lindsay said. "I didn't want him to be unhappy, because that would make our relationship miserable. . . .
"Now our biggest fear is not doing the right thing. Hank is scared that going to school is the wrong thing, that it'll make things hard for me and the baby," she said. "He doesn't want to go to college and have that bust us up. But Hank going to college is the right thing to do."
The two have benefited, to be sure, from strong support from their parents (Hank and Lindsay are 18 now, but they were married at 17 and needed to have their parents' consent). Their parents know what they are going through: Bill and Bonnie Meadows were married and had Hank at age 17; they've been together for 18 years. Lee and Pam Marks were married at 20 and have been together for 30 years.
"I was worried, because I know how hard it is. All these decisions hit you at once, all of life's pressures. I was there, and I didn't want Hank to rush in," Bonnie Meadows said. "Hank said to me: `Look at you now. You've been married 18 years.' It was hard. It's not like it clicks and it's all good at once. But you could tell that [Lindsay] was the one for Hank."
Said Pam Marks: "It will work if you give it a chance. This situation might not be what we would have chosen for Lindsay, but we would be the last people to say that it won't work. You have to give it a chance and commit to making it work. There are so many different ways to make it in life. But you've got to give it a chance."
Bringing Up Baby
Daren has Lindsay's face but Hank's dark hair and potentially his size -- at 2 1/2 months, he weighs 16 pounds. His crib is in the room right next to the one Hank and Lindsay share, which is convenient since Hank and Lindsay have to get up several times during the night to tend to Daren.
"The first night home, [Daren] slept in the bed with us, and we just stared at him," Lindsay said. "The first month was real hard because we had to get up every two hours. Now he's sleeping a lot more."
Hank works five days a week, from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m., for M&M Floors, which is owned by Lindsay's father. He runs four times and lifts weights three times a week, because he wants to be in the best shape of his life when he reports to football practice Aug. 8.
Three weeks before the baby was born, Lindsay started taking night classes at Fauquier High School instead of attending regular classes at Liberty during the day. She continued that arrangement until school ended in June -- that way, she could take care of Daren during the day, and then Hank could take over in the evening while Lindsay was at class. Now that she has graduated, Lindsay spends her days and nights looking after Daren. It's a grueling schedule for both.
"I wish [Hank] was around more, but he has to get ready, and I've got to get ready for the fall," Lindsay said. "He's going to go away for weekends, for games in Florida, and I'm going to have to get used to that. It's going to be hard."
They don't have much time for just themselves lately. Since the baby was born, Hank and Lindsay have had two nights off -- one was for prom, the other was for dinner at a local steakhouse. They didn't get to go to senior beach week with their friends, though they hope to take a short trip to the beach later this summer. They knew it would be this way.
"We wanted to get married in the fall so we could get to know each other better before we had the baby," Lindsay said. "We didn't want to push the wedding back [until the spring] because we wouldn't know each other at all and then have the baby. That would have made things real difficult."
Hank and Lindsay will move to Wise on Aug. 1, and preseason football camp begins one week later. They've found a nice town house a few miles from campus they will rent. Hank will go to school and play football while Lindsay takes care of Daren. She will work outside of the home only if she can find affordable and reliable day care.
A Sport's Enduring Role
Senior year was a triumphant one for Hank Meadows as an athlete. He set a number of school records and earned first-team all-state honors as the quarterback for Liberty's football team, which finished the year with an 11-2 record and advanced to the Group AA semifinals. He was the leading scorer (11.7 points per game average) for Liberty's 1-20 basketball team.
Still, "I'll remember my wedding more than anything else I've done this year. That was special -- more special than anything else," Hank said. "It was the most important day of my life."
On Thursday, Hank will quarterback the East team at the Virginia High School Coaches Association all-star football game in Hampton. Wide receiver Jesse Leach, Hank's former Liberty teammate and best man at his wedding, also will play in the game.
Football has been a part of Hank's life since he started playing at age 6, and he has dreamed about playing football in college -- and even the NFL -- ever since. Lindsay became a fan last fall, when she attended every Liberty game; in previous years, she never even paid attention to the team.
The sport will forever be intertwined with their lives. Hank and Lindsay's wedding took place two days after Hank quarterbacked the Eagles to a 39-6 victory over Warren County. Their honeymoon to Baltimore was cut short because a newspaper wanted to take a picture of Hank, who threw for 206 yards and rushed for three touchdowns in a 28-21 victory over Loudoun County. (That picture is framed and sits atop Hank's dresser.)
Their first wedding anniversary will fall on a Monday this year, two days after the Highland Cavaliers play at Presbyterian College in South Carolina. When Daren was born, they placed a small stuffed football in his crib.
Lindsay likes to tease Hank, asking him what he would do if Daren grows up and perhaps wants to become, say, a librarian instead of a linebacker.
"If he wants to be a librarian, that's fine with me," Hank said. "But if he has my blood, he's going to play football and baseball and basketball."
"But if he's my height," said Lindsay, who is 5 feet 3, "I don't think he'll be a quarterback."
CAPTION: A first-team all-state quarterback for Liberty as a senior, Hank Meadows will continue playing football at University of Virginia's College at Wise this season.
CAPTION: Averaging a team-high 11.7 points per game, Hank Meadows was a bright spot on Liberty boys basketball team, which finished with 1-20 record last season.
CAPTION: Hank Meadows holds son, Daren, born April 17. Meadows married high school sweetheart Lindsay Marks in October.