Halftime—the National Championship game is underway. Alabama is down. Publix is quiet this time of night. Employees are stocking shelves. I’m here for a roast-beef sandwich, or else I might starve.
The boy behind the sandwich counter looks tired. He’s scrubbing the deep-fryer with a wire-brush.
He is tall—over six-five I’d guess. Mid-twenties. His shoulders are too big for his golf shirt. He’swearing a hairnet.
“Roll Tide,” he remarks, pointing to my Alabama cap.
He’s soft-spoken, he has a happy face, and he calls me, “sir” too often. I order a foot-long on white.
He starts talking football, using terms that are above my head. He’s discussing scrimmages in detail. He knows the names of Alabama’s managers. He can name plays, players, and coaches from every major university in the Southeastern Conference.
I ask how he knows so much about college ball.
“Used to play for Bama,” he says. “Was a quarterback for five days. Cheese on your sandwich, sir?”
“Swiss. And you don’t have to call me sir.”
He spreads mayo on my bread and explains how his high-school career was pure electricity. I won’t list stats here, but let’s just say he was poetry in shoulder pads.
He caught the attention of college scouts. They plucked him from small-town oblivion and brought him to the institution in Tuscaloosa.
“Was like winning the lottery,” he goes on. “My childhood dream was to play ball, but it was tough… Lettuce and tomatoes, sir?”
“Please, don’t call me sir.”
The stress of college-level football was enough to break the kid. They were hard practices, hard tackles, and an even harder coach. He gave his best, but it wasn’t enough. Five days.
“The pressure messed with my head,” he said. “I finally realized I wasn’t any good. I kinda quit believing in myself.”
Well. Even though I’ve never played football, he and I aren’t very different. For most of my life, my self-worth has been misplaced. The more I looked for it, the further away it ran.
Confidence is a funny thing. Once you lose it, sometimes you never get it back.
“I still throw a ball around,” he said. “After work, I go practice, to keep my arm in shape, but, I don’t know why I do it. I’ll never do anything with my career. I’m kind of a loser.”
I ask him if he’d ever think about coaching.
“No sir,” he says. “They don’t give coaching jobs to nobodies like me. I’m just some kid who makes sandwiches now.”
He hands me my roast-beef-on-white. “You think we’re gonna win the championship tonight?” I ask.
“Not a doubt in my mind, sir.”
And he disappears in back to clean some dishes.
He wants to be on the field. He wants to be wearing a helmet. But he’s scrubbing aluminum pans.
Dear Lord, I know there are important things happening on the world stage. There are wars, terrorism, crooked politicians, and starving people in remote villages who don’t have clean water.
But tonight I met a kid. A polite boy who works in the deli. He thinks he’s a nobody. If it’s not too much trouble, show him he is wrong.
One more thing, Lord.
Lucretia - January 9, 2018 9:19 am
Yes, Heavenly Father, help the young man, who is one of thy beloved sons, to see and feel of his true worth as he travels his earthly journey; and to understand his potential in the life to come, for he is of royal birth. Thank you, Sean. Roll Tide.
sec040121 - January 9, 2018 11:43 am
Thank you, Sean, for inserting some clarity and humanity in the midst of the frenzy that is college football. I often wonder about the boys, black and white, talented and hamfisted, who played with my son in high school fifteen years ago. For so many, those fleeting days on the field were all they had to keep them going. They had a gentle, caring coach until their senior year, when a drill sergeant took over and viewed them as so much beef on the hoof. Many withered and gave up. Others, who really needed someone to just allow them to be part of something, were used and discarded. I loved them and long to know that their lives have turned out ok.
Carlin Brooks - January 9, 2018 1:54 pm
Only one can be Tua. But each and every one of us is so loved by God that He sent His Son – no He came Himself to die for us. … for me. No I can’t be Tua, but I can point someone to Jesus. Meanwhile, Roll Tide!!
Benny - January 9, 2018 2:11 pm
Roll Tide indeed.
Jack Darnell - January 9, 2018 2:59 pm
Sheila gonna be proud of you today! She traveled and lived all over the country, but her heart never left Opp. I believe even her daily prayer ended with “Roll Tide”. I know every blog comment did. Now to you , thanks for a good read. I sent that one to my entire family. Everyone needs to believe in themselves. Good ‘un.
Lisa Helms - January 9, 2018 3:15 pm
You have such a tender, good heart…. and I’ve heard “Jesus knows your heart.” Bless you
Sheri - January 9, 2018 3:18 pm
Crying and make up running. ???
muthahun - January 9, 2018 3:28 pm
Ah, the joys of a competitive system where the “lottery winner” must know all, be all, perform all… and if not, they’re spat out in pieces. That there wasn’t a college degree no matter what, that this kid was left wounded and bleeding without care or counsel is shameful.
Candas - January 9, 2018 3:38 pm
Love this! Even though I am a faithful LSU fan. ?
Geaux Tigers! ?
Randy Prewitt - January 9, 2018 3:38 pm
Good story. Good thoughts. Good prayer. Thanks, Sean. We, too, pray for the young man’s success and that God will restore his abilities and confidence and roll some new achievable opportunities his way. Geaux Tigers.
Debbie Robinson - January 9, 2018 3:43 pm
Everyone is worthy. Our Savior paid the ultimate price for us all a long time ago.
Thank you for your words and stories.
Barbara Schweck - January 9, 2018 3:49 pm
And Roll Tide they did!!! Prayers for that young man!!!!
Jack Quanstrum - January 9, 2018 3:59 pm
Amen! Amen! Amen! Yes Sean, I agree, confidence can leave at a moments notice. To get it back we have to work on it the reminder of our lives!
Vw - January 9, 2018 4:36 pm
In my life’s work I have known kids like this young man. Society has, due to one circumstance or another, deemed them dispensable. But we also know that one, yes ONE, adult who reaches out, believes, lifts up and encourages while creating structure can contribute in a powerful way. May this young man come in contact with just that ONE person who can assist in the orchestration of his success and self-worth.
wendy - January 9, 2018 4:40 pm
RTR ! ! !
Pamela McEachern - January 9, 2018 8:01 pm
I believe in the power of prayer and that was a good one. He will now be on my list and I believe with an attitude like he has he will go far just wish someone would take him under their wing. He needs some guidance and positive words. RTR
I just knew they would pull it out!
Peace and Love from Birmingham
Judith - January 9, 2018 10:15 pm
I pray this young man learns that he is worthy. Praying for him.
Gigi - January 10, 2018 2:31 pm
Amen. And Roll Tide?
Jo - January 10, 2018 4:00 pm
Thank you for this story. I certainly hope that someone can reach out and convince this good kid that he has a future. One shattered dream does not a life define. Unless you let it.