The Brotherhood of Football — Learned Through Fatherhood

Brock and I after a game his senior year (Photo by Fabiana Beatriz Photography)

Last night, I went to my son’s last high school football banquet. It’s crazy: I started at my school in 2001. I have pictures and memories of packing Brock around the practice fields in one of those weird baby backpacks during the summer because we were too poor to pay for daycare. My son grew up on those practice fields — and our weight room, our gym, our wrestling room — a young kid running around, having fun, always at the school, always playing ball, always around our practices.

Then, it became youth sports, youth camps, and youth summer workouts.

Then, he was in middle school sports, middle school camps, and middle school summer workouts.

Soon, it became high school sports, high school camps, and high school summer workouts.

Too soon, he was a junior and senior starter on our football team and we had a tremendous run of success with him leading us.

And then, last night, it was all over. How the hell did 20 years happen so fast?

Today, I am overcome with emotion for the brotherhood of football. I have a lot of writing that I want to do and it’s interesting to me that I am choosing to start and publish this one first. That tells me that right now, this is the most important thought I have.

This article is inspired by every person I have ever played football with, coached football with, coached football against in some cases, and to all the players who are now adults that I was lucky enough to coach.

The brotherhood of football is weird. Trying to capture the emotion of it and the power of it escapes me, but it is so palpable in practical situations. I’m going to try and give some tangible examples of the brotherhood.

For example, after our banquet last night, my son and I talked for about 40 minutes. It was one of the most in-depth, father-son conversations we have ever had. Brock told me that without me coaching him, he didn’t believe our relationship would be as strong as it is. And he’s right. I know exactly what he means. He went on to tell me that he knows he wants to play college football because of this year and his teammates. He doesn’t know how to recreate that love — that brotherhood, that feeling — without a football family.

“There is nothing like pursuing a goal, with all of your heart, with all of your buddies. Nothing Else Matters.”

And Brock is right. I have told many teams and many players there is nothing like pursuing a goal, with all of your heart, with all of your buddies. It’s a straight Metallica moment: Nothing. Else. Matters.

You will never be able to drink enough, snort enough, smoke enough, jump out of enough planes, or drive fast enough to reproduce the chemical high that comes from pursuing a goal with all your brothers. Lots of people try but there is no replacement for the brotherhood of football.

I remember my days at Canyonville Junior High playing football in the 1980s. We had to walk from the junior high to the little school (the elementary) every day for practice. We had to cross a main road, walk past a Christian bible school, and cross a foot bridge over a creek on the walk to our field. This trek could be deadly for 7th graders as they dealt with the physical harm of the 8th graders. I remember how badly I wanted to be on the 8th-grade team as a 7th-grader (I was) and how I longed to be a big, tough, cool 8th grader. That was my first group of brothers, many of us lasting through high school, but this was the beginning of the bonding that would shape my life for the rest of my life.

And then I was finally at South Umpqua High School, where football was king. As a freshman, I was the quarterback of an undefeated 9th-grade team. The bonds created on that team would carry me for all four years of high school. I vividly remember how much I wanted to start as a sophomore on Varsity on defense. I didn’t care about playing offense, even though they made me play receiver. All I wanted to do was play DB and hit people. I wanted to show my brothers I deserved the vaunted and highly valued South Umpqua Hitman t-shirt.

As a junior and senior, I was lucky enough to play with such tremendous brothers and athletes who would play multiple sports at the next level: Matt Gross, Tyson Vermillion, Chad Remington, Luke Gross, David Britt (nickname Psycho), Scott Barnes, Timo Hirvonen, the Cole Brothers, the Mann brothers — I don’t stop listing people out of disrespect, but rather out of space, because I could go on and on.

When people ask me why I’m a teacher, I always answer truthfully and honestly: I had awesome teachers and coaches in high school who made me better than I was. I had an awesome family life and didn’t need a father figure; however, I found them all over the place. I had people who cared about me and made me want to be better in the classroom, on the field, in the weight room, and in the hallway. John Srholec, Todd Shirley, Kevin Hubbard, Jim Walker, Bruce Kaufmann, John O’Malley, Brody Guthrie, and others all helped me become the man I am and created a deep sense of love, a deep sense of brotherhood, and a deep sense of work ethic that still carries me today.

Coincidentally, South Umpqua made the state championship game in football this year. As I was having my best season since 2016, South Umpqua was having its best season since the 1980s. It was awesome to see. My old teammates were posting and changing social media profile pictures to our old high school pictures. I joined in the fun. Again, the brotherhood of football was tangible again, even for us old people as we lived vicariously through the younger generation.

The brotherhood of who I played against in high school would soon change as they became my teammates and opponents in college: Kevin Tommasini (whose two sons would play for me 15 years later in a different state and would both be all-state linebackers. Football is a small brotherhood), Josh Bidwell, the Henderson brothers, Ryan Morgan, Griff Yates, Stacey Collins — again the list goes on.

Last week, I had a former college teammate reach out to me. I was in his wedding party and have not talked to him in over 20 years. Time got away from me. However, my son has a mutual friend who knows Brent Maxey and so and so asked if I knew this guy from Southern Oregon, and again the small brotherhood of football reared its lovely head.

As Brent and I reconnected and waxed nostalgic, we both acknowledged how much our time playing football at Southern Oregon University made us the men we are now. Brent is a 20-year police officer and a dude that anyone can respect. And all he wanted to talk about was playing and coaching football. Here I am, in awe of the job he does and how he handles his business, and he wants to talk about my son’s senior year.

Brent and I revisited The Lake House, The Talent House, and the house on Ashland street — places that Mark Hubbard, Kris Thomas, Ben Murphy, Danny Walters, Dan DeLeon, Brent Maxey, and Nathan White had lived. When you spend five years living and playing with your buddies, you will define brotherhood in a way that even after being a shitty friend for 20 years, you will reconnect and fall in love again in one night.

About eight years ago, I sat in front of someone at a Mariners game in Seattle who knew my former teammate Jake Glaze. Again, I am a crappy friend and had lost connection with him, but a quick selfie and some more catching up and #7 and I are good again. Now, we “talk” quite often on social media. I believe I would be that way with all my SOU brothers. I may not have talked to you lately, but know you are in my thoughts, because of our brotherhood: Vern Nichols, Mark Helfrich, John Tunick, Jenner Yriate, JJ Jedrokowski, Brandon Saysette, Ian Reid, Brad Eaton, Brandon McLean, John Musser, James Gravelle, Casey Jackson, Ryan Long, Beau Canfield, Robert Metcalf (Dirty Greaser Bob), Joe Padilla — again, the list could never end.

I think about how many former players have turned into career coaches from my time in Ashland. That is a testament to how awesome our time was and how awesome our coaches were at that time. Jeff Olson, Jeff Weiss, Tom Powell, Stan Gida, Charlie Hall, Bill Singler, Shay McClure, and others made Southern Oregon the place to be and play football. So many of my former teammates are now excellent coaches and mentors in the game of football, as they try to create the brotherhood for the next generation because of the template we lived through.

I have had a football team in the fall — a brotherhood — for the last 35 years. The previous paragraphs only cover 11 of those years when I was a player. There is no way I continue on and cover the next 20 plus years of coaching at Phoenix High School, Mountain Home High School, Rocky Mountain High School, and Eagle High School. I will save that for another article.

The Brotherhood continues every fall (Photo by Fabiana Beatriz Photography)

But I set out trying to define something for my son about the brotherhood of football. I have failed at capturing the feeling of the brotherhood for people who don’t already know it. Maybe that’s because I have lived my life — enveloped, encased, engraved, engrossed — in it for the last 35 years and I don’t know any other way. But I see it in my son and recognize Brock’s yearning as my own from 25 years ago: it isn’t possible for him to be done with football. He has a burning desire to play in college. F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in The Great Gatsby, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” Every fall, there is a new team. A new battle. A new challenge. A new brotherhood.

The first place I look every day (Photo by the author).

Each year, I give certain seniors a copy of Vince Lombardi’s “Commitment to Excellence.” I have the seminal quote of that speech prominently displayed on my classroom wall and it’s the first thing I see every day of my professional life.

I still have my copy of the paragraph that Jim Walker gave me in 1994. I was a high school senior, with a sense of brotherhood and longing to keep that brotherhood going and I was given a piece of writing, with a personal note on it, that has guided most of my decisions for the last 27 years. I hope — I try, I strive — to give something to seniors who I think will gain something from it and might serve them in the future.

I hope Brock gets something from the one I gave him yesterday. I wrote him a personal note that ended with “I am proud to have been your coach. I am far prouder to be your Dad.”

The brotherhood of football is alive and well in my house. Thank you to everyone I know that has been in my brotherhood of football for the last 35 years and prepared me for this past football season of brotherhood and fatherhood with my son, Brock.

I have many hugs that I will remember forever from the last two seasons. This one is after a road playoff win (Photo by Fabiana Beatriz Photography)

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Written by: NathanWhite