By the time the high school football season ended, I had to admit the truth to myself. I let myself care too much.
Between the Gunnison Bulldogs, the Manti Templars and the North Sanpete Hawks, football in Sanpete County was one heck of a bumpy ride in 2021. Going on my sixth year of gridiron coverage, I remember how excited I was to get it started.
Why shouldn’t I have been? The Bulldogs were going to finally put it all together. Manti was going to have a fun year as usual. And then, of course, the small matter of the best offensive player in North Sanpete football going into his senior year was going to keep my attention all season long.
Things didn’t exactly go according to plan, but I had more to learn in a postgame chat with Hawks’ Coach Rhett Bird.
As I had done every weekend, I had Bird on the phone after their beat down loss at the hands of Desert Hills. With a streak of losses, combined with suspended players and a rough year from the star quarterback so far, I was digging into the sixth-year coach a bit more than usual, trying to make sense of a season that was very much not what the Hawks had been doing the last two years.
Then Bird uttered a phrase that rang in my ears for the rest of the season: “Football is just football.”
This was coming from the coach who, for three years, had been on the cusp of bringing his alma mater its first football championship ever, and grew only hungrier for it each year. It turned out that eight young men on Bird’s football team learned that who they were off the field mattered so much more than what they did on it; that ethics meant more than winning.
Bird also said the last few weeks had been some of the most fun weeks he’d had coaching, and it showed. North Sanpete was losing more games than usual, but a Philly Special for a touchdown against Juab showed that these kids were having a blast. There had also been a significant increase in coaches dancing at practices, Bird said.
Sixteen days after that conversation, University of Utah football player Aaron Lowe was gunned down in Salt Lake City. It was a day that changed everything, not only for the Utes’ program, but also for their fans. Social media was flooded with thoughts and feelings about the unspeakable tragedy.
The Utes, like the Hawks, were a team hungry for a so-far elusive title, the Pac-12 South title in this instance. After Lowe’s death, coupled with still-vivid memory of the late Ty Jordan, who was killed nine months earlier, it just wasn’t about that anymore. The importance of winning gave way to the importance of remembering. The admonishment to “Live Loud” inspired Ute fans.
In six years, I’ve never tried all that hard to move on from high school sports into the college level like most would. College football is a spectacle like no other; but since the first game I covered in 2016, what I’ve personally fallen in love with is watching players grow as people. Teenagers are notorious for being self-centered and rebellious. Year after year, these players have made their community proud.
Football is just football. See you next fall.