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Football memories

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By Larry Rowell

Fall has to be my favorite time of year - the trees in Kentucky begin to take on a myriad of color and the cooler weather brings relief from summer's hazy days.

But, by far, my favorite fall activity is watching college football, especially teams in the Southeastern Conference.

I have mentioned in previous columns that I'm a Georgia Bulldog fan because I'm from Georgia. Though my football playing days were few growing up in south Georgia, I have always loved football.

My first stint was in the "10-year-old Terror" league - I played on the kick-off team and occasionally got into a game as the third string right offensive guard. Mostly, I sat on the bench. I progressed into the Midget League during my middle school years and that's when I got serious about football - quitting it, that is. Unless you were lucky enough to be on his team, Midget Football meant playing against Leon Pitts.

Leon, a 15-year-old who repeated the seventh grade three times, loved to play football because it was legal to hit an opposing player as hard as he wanted to. Leon was almost six feet tall, as wiry and as fast as a garden snake and mean, have mercy, that boy was mean.

The funny thing about Leon was he never wore shoes when he played football. He said shoes hurt his feet, so the coaches let him play without them. I suspect they would have let him play in shorts and a T-shirt had he so desired.

As a linebacker, Leon didn't engage in "trash talk." He let his bone-jarring, teeth rattling, body slamming tackles speak for themselves. Running backs on the opposing team had been known to call their coach on Saturday morning and feign illness of some kind - we called it "avoiding the black and blue flu."

It was because of Leon that my football career came to an end one Saturday morning in a game against his team.

It had rained the night before and the field was a muddy mess. I wasn't in the line-up to play so I watched the game from the sidelines, praying that the coach wouldn't send me in.

Our quarterback, Jeff Clayton, was a good sized kid who wasn't afraid of Leon. Jeff would take the ball, drop back into the pocket, and look for an open receiver. And Leon would hone in on him like a laser guided missile.

Jeff was in the pocket getting ready to throw when Leon burst through the line, bear-hugged and slammed him to the ground.

Jeff regained consciousness about 15 minutes later. I thought Leon had killed him.

After the brutal tackle, Leon went back to his side of the line and knelt down on one knee, not saying a word. He had done his job; he was simply awaiting the next play.

Because I'm not crazy about pain, I decided that the golf team would be less hazardous and that became my sport throughout high school.

I don't know what became of Leon but I have always been grateful to him for teaching me that it's a whole lot more fun to watch football from a recliner on a Saturday afternoon.

- Larry Rowell is a staff writer at the Casey County News.