By Naomi Wall
I shouldn’t have taken a shower. Damn football practice. First day of class and I’m
already 15 minutes late. Which one is it again? 5...6...7...8...okay here we are, lecture center 9.
A lot of different faces in this class. Hate that guy, and there’s that stalker kid. Oh wow,
no way, she’s in this class. Is it her? Can’t be. I’m just going to quickly turn around to look at
her, maybe make it look like I heard someone call my name. Could play off how badly I just
want to catch a glimpse of her. Okay, quick turn around, go. Wow, she has a beautiful smile. It is
her. We’re in the same class. This is my chance, and I’m not going to mess this up.
Coach stands in the middle of the field. “Hustle up, ladies,” he says. As we all reach the
middle of the field, coach looks around, taking attendance. He nods at one of us. “All right,
Justin, get everyone stretching.”
“Okay, Coach,” says Justin, “right leg over left...1.”
“2,” we echo.
After spending 10 minutes stretching, we break off into our positions. I jog over to the
end zone and see Mark standing there looking at me.
“Yo, Tyler! What’s up, bro?” he says, adjusting his shoulder pads.
“How you liking the school?” he asks.
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“It’s nice, tryna focus on my game though. I really want some playing time at the
homecoming game.” I take a deep breath, already anticipating that I’ll be busting my ass this
“Think you’re ready for that? You realize that’s next Saturday, right?” he asks. He looks
toward Coach B making his way to the end zone and adjusts his pads again.
“Yeah, I do. I think I can get Coach to switch me on and off with Darren.” Mark laughs.
“Darren’s earned the spot for the whole game. If you think you can prove yourself in less
than 2 weeks, then damn, good for you, man.” He slaps my shoulder pads.
Darren walks over with two of the other juniors that play the line. They give Mark and I a
head-nod and stand next to us in the end zone. Darren isn’t a big dude, but it’s his speed and
agility that makes him the star lineman. He can get around an offensive lineman and get to the
quarterback seconds after the snap. Last season he had 13 sacks. He’s an animal.
“Listen up, we’re going to run through the Angle Tackle Drill 10 times each and then
we’ll move on,” says Coach B, looking at each of us.
As we begin the last drill, I fantasize a hot shower. When we’re done, Justin calls the
team to the middle of the field and we jog over. I pray his speech is short today because I need to
get to class on time. He wraps up with some motivational shit. Then Coach takes over.
“Good practice today. I’m seeing a lot of improvement amongst you freshmen. Makes me
proud. Hit the showers, ladies,” Coach calls out, and I bolt towards the exit ramp.
“Yo, Ty, where the hell are you going, rushing and shit?”
I look back and see Justin jogging up behind me.
“Bro, I have class in 20 minutes.”
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“Oh the one with bae?” he asks.
“Yeah, and I’m trying to get in the shower first so I’m not stuck waiting.”
“She must be real special if you’re still pushing yourself to rush after that hard-ass
Mark comes up from behind.
“Who’s special?” he asks. I look over at his face and notice the sweat dripping from his
“No one,” I answer, and give Justin a look.
“This chick Tyler’s crushing on.” Justin says, ignoring me.
“Oh shit. Little freshman’s got a girlfriend or what?” He starts laughing with Justin.
I look over at Justin, wondering if I should shove him, but he’s standing there, smiling.
Mark looks at me, expecting an explanation.
Ha! I make it out of football practice with ten minutes to spare. If I’m actually on time for
this class today, it’ll be a damn miracle. I wonder if Nataly’s here yet. Whatever, I’m sitting here.
I check my phone to make sure it’s on silent. Check.
I show up early and the professor is 10 minutes late. Thanks for showing up, Teach, I
want to shout. Now what is he blabbing about? An in-class group project? Has he even taught us
anything yet? I don’t know how I’m going to find 9 other people to work with me. The 5 people
next to me all seem cool with it, though.
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“We have 5 people, how many are you guys?” I turn around and see Nataly looking at
me, like she’s waiting for something. I continue to stare and then I realize she’s talking to me.
“We’re 5 too,” says the kid next to me, reading my mind, knowing the words weren’t
coming out of my mouth anytime soon.
Where is she going? Shit, she’s moving next to me. Weren’t kidding when you said group
work, huh Teach?
“Hey,” she says.
“Were you in my orientation group over the summer?” she asks, looking away from me
as soon as the words leave her mouth.
“What?....me? Yeah, yeah I was.”
“Yeah, I recognize you, it’s Tyler, right?” she asks.
“Yes, and you’re Nataly?”
“Yup,” she says, smiling, “I’m glad I stuck with my decision to come here.”
I smile at her because I don’t really know what to say. What does she mean by that?
Okay, now the whole group is staring at us. I didn’t notice any of them until now. There are six
guys, four girls. Two girls are nerdy looking, they probably can’t wait to start this project. Then
there’s Nataly and another girl, a foreign exchange student. I think she said she’s from Scotland,
her accent is really heavy, so I don’t really know. I look at Nataly. I’ll just start working on this, I
guess. I can’t get enough of her smile. She really is so beautiful. It would’ve been great if this
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was a partner kind of thing because the whole 10-person group is making it awkward to ask her
The next 45 minutes we all work on our project and, surprisingly, actually get shit done.
The alarm on the professor’s computer goes off and class is over. We all get up, ready to go our
separate ways. Nataly packs her bag and looks at me. I rush to put everything in my bag, to
hoping to walk with her out of class. Our eyes meet, and before I can say a word, she says, “see
“Yeah, see ya.”
“I think I’m feeling a burger today,” Adam says, pulling out his student card.
Adam is my best friend from home and we’re sitting in the college plaza now. I got re-
cruited for football, and the economics program here is “top 1, no other 1,” in Adam’s words.
And now we’re here. He isn’t an athlete, but he’s not fat either. He’s smart as hell though.
“I’m getting a grilled chicken sandwich,” I say.
“Yeah, me too. Last time I got a burger, that shit was gross,” says Justin.
I look around the plaza, checking out the girls, and seeing if anyone I know is here. I see
a group of the other freshmen from the football team and give them a head-nod.
I pay for my sandwich and pick a spot in the back corner. Justin grabs a chair from the
table next to us and pulls it up to ours. I look around for Adam and see him walking over to us,
struggling with his tray.
“Shit, Nataly’s here,” I tell him, glancing over at the line.
“Where, where?” Adam asks, turning around.
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“Dude, you’re making it obvious as shit, stop.”
“The girl in your class?” Justin asks.
“Yeah that girl.” Adam turns back around, raising his eyebrows up and down about five
“Who’s she with?” he asks.
“I don’t see anyone next to her. She’s probably by herself.”
“Go ask her to sit with you,” says Justin.
“No shot,” I answer.
“Dude, why not? This is your chance to ask out the love of your life,” says Adam. He
flashes a grin then takes a bite of his burger and everything falls out the opposite end of the bun.
“She is not the love of my life. Wait, she’s looking over here. Shit. She’s waving.”
“Wave back,” they say in unison.
“I am, I am,” I mutter, waving back at Nataly. I notice she looks different today. Her hair
is pushed back in a ponytail.
“Bro, you’re turning red,” Adam says, bursting out laughing.
“No I’m not, shit, she’s walking over here. Do I stand up? Am I supposed to hug her?”
Adam and Justin continue to laugh as Nataly walks over.
“Hey, Nataly, what’s up?”
“Nothing really, just getting a bite to eat before my next class,” she says, looking over at
Adam and Justin.
“Oh, Nataly, these are my friends, Adam and Justin. Guys, this is Nataly.”
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“Nice to meet you,” says Justin.
“Yeah, Tyler has told us all about you,” Adam says, raising his eyebrows again. I picture
myself shaving his eyebrows off while he’s passed out, drunk on the futon this weekend.
I stare at Adam then look up and see Nataly smiling.
“I think tomorrow is the last day we have to work on our group project,” she says.
“So, we’re handing it in to him after class?” I ask.
“53. Number 53,” someone shouts.
“Oh, that’s my food. I’ll see you in class tomorrow, Tyler. Nice to meet you guys.” she
“Yeah, you too, Nataly,” the guys say, but it’s too late, she’s already by the pick-up sta-
I caught myself staring at her smile while she spoke to us. It wasn’t only how straight and
white her teeth were, but how there was a genuine feel to the way she smiled. It just wasn’t like
some of these girls who smile at you and 5 seconds later they’re back to chronic bitch face.
“Yo, bro,” says Justin while waving a ketchup packet. “You good?”
“Yes?” I say, finishing up my sandwich.
“All I’m saying is, if you don’t ask her out soon, then I’m gonna have to take her up to
“Oh you got jokes, Justin?” I ask, looking over. But I’m laughing now too.
“I’m serious,” he says.
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“For real, dude, if you don’t ask her out tomorrow, I’m gonna call you ‘lil bitch’ from
now on,” says Adam. I stand up and pick up my tray. I look at Justin and Adam to see their faces
I’ve got 45 minutes to make a move. I got this. I have to have this. We will probably nev-
er sit this close to each other again. Okay, focus Tyler, what’s the plan? You could just grow a
pair and come out and say it, point blank, “let’s go out.” No, no, she probably wants a solid game
plan. “Let’s go out to the movies,” or “let’s go get something to eat.” Too demanding? A polite
gentleman would say, “will you do me the honor and go out with me?” Ha, I can’t even take my-
self seriously. I’m screwed. Might as well tattoo ‘lil bitch’ on my forehead.
“Tyler what do you think?” someone says.
Think about what?
I look up and say, “yeah sounds good.”
“Okay so everyone knows what they’re doing? Good. Anyone have the time?” the blonde
“We’ve got a little less than 40 minutes. I think we’ll finish just in time,” Nataly says.
Everyone nods, grabs their pens and starts writing. I look around to figure out what exact-
ly is going on. Too busy getting nowhere with Nataly to pay attention. Good job.
“Hey what’s everyone doing?” I whisper to Nataly.
She smiles and it makes me smile. “We’re all writing out different definitions to add to
the powerpoint,” she whispers.
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“Oh, okay. Do you remember which ones I was assigned? Sorry, I wasn’t listening,” I say
trying to hide my embarrassment. She nudges my shoulder and laughs.
“Yes, you have the definitions on pages 113-127.” I nod a couple of times.
Nataly checks in with everyone at the end.
“I’m on my last definition,” one of the nerdy girls says. Others nod in agreement.
“Me too.” I say.
“I have 2 more to do,” says the blonde guy.
“Okay, I’m going to start putting everything together.” says Nataly.
“I’ll help,” I offer.
“Thanks,” she says, “just pull up powerpoint on your computer and I’ll email you all of
“Okay. Are you coming to the Homecoming game tomorrow?”
“Yes, I am, actually. Pick that layout, right there,” she says, pointing to one on my screen.
“Good good. It should be a good game. You should tell your friends and everyone to
come out too.” Nice going, you just said ‘good’ about 7 times in a row and basically said you
want all her friends.
“Sure, I guess. Are you going to play?”
“There’s some competition with me and the junior that plays the same position.”
“Oh, well I hope you get the spot.”
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I can’t stop smiling as I add the last definition to the slide show. “I think it’s all finished.”
“Perfect. Make sure to send it to the professor, and then we can leave.”
I send the email, and we start packing up. I look around to see some of the guys in our
group dap each other up and hear some of the girls say how relieved they are that this project is
“Good job, team,” I say.
I get some dirty looks. I turn around to Nataly and say, “tough crowd.”
“Don’t take it personally, but they all just think you didn’t do much for the project.”
“What the hell? I did just as much as some of them.”
“I know. That’s what I told them.”
Wow. She’s perfect. Defending me and shit. Get ready to eat your words Adam! I ask her
if she wants to grab lunch. She gives me a big smile and the rest flashes before my eyes like a
lightning bolt. A guy comes up behind her and kisses her on the cheek. Nataly turns her head to
kiss his lips. “Ready to go, babe?” he asks pulling her jacket closer to him. They make eye con-
tact and I can feel my stomach twist. It was like cramping up during practice, but I can’t stretch
this one out. Where was this guy before? I’m ten times better looking than him. She turns away
from me and answers, “yeah, I’ll be right there.” “Okay,” he says, walking up the steps. I feel my
hands getting clammy.
“Sorry about that,” she says, “but I already have plans to eat with my boyfriend, Eli,” she
says, pointing in his direction.
“No problem,” I say “see you around.”
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“We’re gonna take this game against Maine and think about all the alumni out there
watching, thinking about their times at this school, and remind them why they love coming to
these football games. Go out there and play hard. Justin any words for the team?” says Coach.
“You all heard, Coach, let’s get out there and win one for the fans. Clear eyes, full
hearts,” yells Justin. Jesus. Another line from Friday Night Lights.
“Can’t lose!” the team yells in unison. I look over at Justin who is now jumping up and
down, pumped up for the game. He smiles at me, “You ready bro?”
“Yeah man, this is it.”
We wait in the tunnel for a few minutes. I can already feel the cold air creeping into my
jersey and between my pads. Everyone is moving around to keep their body heat from escaping.
Coach gives us the cue to run onto the field and Justin starts the chants. All fifty five of us run
out, a herd of buffalo, arms pumping to get the crowd going, shouting every chant we know. We
huddle up in the center of the field like a mosh-pit of some sort. More motivational shit from
Justin, Coach gives us advice, and then we run to our sideline. I look back at the crowd and no-
tice the usual: kids bundled up in blankets, an almost endless sea of silver and navy blue, the oc-
casional few supporters of the other team, and then I spot her. My eyes flit back to the field. My
stomach feels tight. Get it together, Tyler. You know she was going to be here.
Part of me is pumped for the game I’ve been waiting weeks for, but part of me still feels
like shit. I really thought I had a chance. I pictured us walking to class together, me carrying her
books and being that couple holding hands around campus everyday. Everyone hating us. That
sort of thing. It’s that false hope that girls feed you that really hits hard in the end. Be straight-
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forward. Stop with the mixed signals and bullshit. Fuck. That pep talk really works until you
think of shit like this.
I spend the 1st quarter on the sidelines. We’re already losing. 10 to nothing.
“Tyler! Ty! Tyler!” I turn around to see Adam waving and sitting next to a big group of
girls with the biggest smile on his face. I can’t imagine how much he paid to sit with them.
By the 4th quarter, the score is 25-20. We’re still losing.
Maine snaps the ball and the quarterback looks around for the open pass. Darren gets
around the lineman and goes for the sack. He runs, heaving his body forward like a rhinoceros
heaves his horn forward when charging. One of the offensive lineman sees Darren coming and
runs over for the block. Darren goes down hard, he is motionless with his arm bent unnaturally
and the lineman loses balance and falls on top of him. The quarterback gets the pass out to his
receiver and Justin tackles the receiver. Down. It’s a gain of 16 yards and everyone jogs over to
line up at the 34 yard line. Everyone, but Darren. He still hasn’t gotten up.
The trainers run onto the field. I look over at Coach. He looks worried. Darren finally
gets up with one of the trainers holding him under the left shoulder. His right arm is dangling by
his side. They get over to the sidelines and I hear the trainers yell at the Coach, “It’s just a dislo-
cated shoulder, we’re gonna take him into the locker room and pop it back in.”
Coach nods his head and yells, “Tyler, get over here.”
This is it.
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He puts his hand on my shoulder. “You’ve got less than 5 minutes to prove to me every
reason you’re here. Show me why I shouldn’t let Darren back in. Get out there.”
I run out to the 34 yard line, look back at Adam, and give him a salute. This time, I see
Eli, sitting next to Nataly, his arm around her. I feel myself getting heated, I think about the way
she smiled when I asked her to get food. The way he looked at her when he asked if she was
ready. The way they kissed. I might throw up, right here, right now.
I join the guys in the huddle.
“Time to show ‘em what you got, Tyler,” Justin says.
I nod and we walk over to the line. This big guy lines up in front of me. I picture Eli un-
der that helmet. We both bend down into position. There’s a rage inside of me as I set my feet. I
hear their quarterback yell, “Set, hike.” I throw my hands in front of me and feel my momentum
explode. I overpower him and throw him to the ground. I get around him and see the quarterback
looking around for the pass. He’s right there. I reach out for his body. My hot hand grabs his cold
arm, I squeeze my body around his back plate, reach over his shoulder pads and pull my body
towards the ground. Got him. Yes.
“Sack by #13, Tyler Runsler,” says the announcer.
I look over to the sidelines and see Coach clapping. That’s it, Tyler, keep it up. Check the
clock. We have time to get this turnover and score a touchdown. I look over again and see Darren
standing next to him.
We line up. At the line, I see Eli in every uniform. I hear the quarterback yell, the ball
gets snapped, and I am moving swiftly around the lineman. The quarterback hands the ball off.
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Run faster. Run faster. Get him. I run Eli down, warp my arms around his torso and slam him
into the ground . Yes. Fourth down.
Maine punts the ball off and we receive it. The returner gets past the 30 yard line, the 40
yard line, the 50, the 40, then he’s tackled by one of Maine’s special teams player.
Justin gets the ball. He looks around for the pass. One of the receivers goes long. He’s
running. He’s wide open. Justin sees the pass and throws it to him. It spirals in the air. He catches
it. Go. Go. Run. No one can keep up with him. He’s in. He’s in the end zone. The refs throw their
arms up. It’s good! Touchdown!
It’s 26-25. The kick is good. 27-25. The clock runs out and we shake hands with Maine.
I look over to the stands and see Adam hugging the girls. I see Nataly hugging her
boyfriend. Fuck that girl, I won the game.
“Tyler.” someone yells.
I turn around to see Darren jogging over.
“Yo, how’s the shoulder?” I ask.
“It’s fine. Good game out there. Don’t get used to it,” he says hitting my shoulder pads.
He smiles and walks away.