Patrick Boyd wasn't taking any chances. At 5-foot-5, and 110 pounds (maybe), the 16-year-old was going to make sure Bell head football coach Carey Gambrill would take notice of him the first day of summer practice.
"I sat down and wrote the coach a letter, telling him the dudes in the neighborhood call me 'Little Lynn Swann,'" said Boyd, standing patiently on the sideline waiting for the coach to send him on the field. "I can make the miracle catches and I wanted him (Gambrill) to know that.
"I know I'm small but I don't care. I think I can play and that's all that counts. A few of my friends say I'm too small to play flanker. They say I should play the corner. What's the difference, everyone gets hit. Besides, I don't plan on getting hurt."
On every high school team, there is a Patrick Boyd, bursting with optimism and hope. With virtually no chance of playing in college, they come to practice praying for the coach to notice them so they can be a star for a day.
"I always have some small kids out here," said T. Roosevelt Coach Jim Tillerson, who spotted a handful of "shorties" among his 100 or so players. "Some of them are tougher than the big kids. I don't automatically condemn them to JV. I give them a chance. I remember Len Willis weighed only 123 pounds his first day out here. Now he plays for the Buffalo Bills."
Martin Brighthaupt was learning the alphabet when Willis was scooting through defenses for the Rough Riders. A sophomore to be, the 5-4, 115-pounder suffers through Tillerson's brutal two-day sessions, then goes home and destroys anything that resembles food.
"I eat a lot of bread and potatoes, trying to get bigger," said Brighthaupt, speaking through a helmet that looked two sizes too big. "I played recreation ball at Lamond-Riggs (playground) and I hope to play here. I'm not afraid and I don't worry about my size. If a big back comes around my corner, I'll try to take him down. Maybe when the season opens, I'll be up to 125."
In each sport, there is a little man's hero. Calvin Murphy, Nate Archibald and Kevin Porter are the heroes of the basketball set. Nolan (The Gnat) Smith the 5-5, 155-pound punt returner for the Kansas City Chiefs a few years ago, proved there can be a place in the NFL for the little man.
"I think little people can play football," said Roosevelt's junior flanker, King Watts Jr., who weighs 121. "My father used to play football and he tells me the extra weight will help me. I eat all the time. I've gained 10 pounds since last year, but that might not be enough.
"I would like to play varsity this year but I know what I'm up against," said Watts, looking at dozens of much larger hopefuls. "I won't be easy but I'm willing to try, give it my best. I'd like to play college ball but I can't even begin to think about that now . . . Maybe when I weigh 160 . . ."
The cries of "keep up shorty' and 'hang in there little man' give Roosevelt's Andre Hopkins the incentive to try even harder. The 5-foot, 145-pound tenth grader had his heart set on playing middle linebacker.
"I jog at night and pump iron," Hopkins said. "Being called Shorty doesn't bother me. My favorite nickname is 'Fat Boy.' That's what I used to be called until I grew," he said.
"I'm trying to get taller, but. Besides, I don't think being short is a handicap. If you can play the position, it doesn't matter."
Eastern Coach Willie Stewart says he doesn't have any "shorties" this year. Last year, Stewart had a 5-6, 130-pound Pete Wysocki-type who loved to chop down anyone taller than he. So Stewart used him on a special teams and pass-rush situations.
"No one could see him," 'Stewart recalled. "He would just rise up out of the grass and make the tackle. No one could block him. He's still here and he's a little bigger now, all of 5-7, 145."
H.D. Woodson Coach Bob Headen had a 5-3, 122-pound scatback last year who could hide behind his huge linemen until he reached the secondary then outrun everyone else. When he got free, he was something to behold. On the other hand, when a lineman grabbed him everyone held his breath until he crawled out of the ground.
"You don't worry about the little guys getting hurt," Tillerson said. "Most of the time they're in good shape and you try not to watch them each play. As much as you want to use the little guys, to get them some experience, you have to go with your better and bigger players. Most of these kids grow and gain 10 to 15 pounds each year. They have three years to play so you just wait on them."
But the Boyds, Watts, Brighthaupts, and Hopkinses want their chance now.
Patience is not one of their virtues and they feel they have to do something out of the ordinary to get noticed.
"I read Patrick's letter and was impressed," said Gambrill, laughing. "They say he can catch anything you throw at him. We'll see, I'll let him get out there so I can see what he can do. He'll get his chance."
Boyd should get some passes thrown his way. His best friend, Chris Tyler, may be the first-string quarterback.
"He can really catch the ball," said Tyler, who is 6-3. "I've seen him make some great catches. I'll throw to him if he's out there. He's not too small."
Boyd, meanwhile, can't wait.
"Bell hasn't done that well lately," he said. "Maybe if I played, I could help them. If the ball is thrown my way, I'm going to catch it. Then someone is going to have to catch me."