Ch. 1: The Real Jam (Troy)
The sweltering Texas heat was getting to me. Sweat was coming down my face it would make Gatorade fans want me to do a commercial for their product. I’m on my knee watching a scrimmage between our offense and defense. I had seen plenty of scrimmages in my life. But this was the most meaningful one.
I look at my helmet once again to see if its a dream come true. The back of the dark blue helmet has the NFL logo on it. I know that it’s real. I am officially on an NFL squad.
“Paulson,” I hear a shout. “Get in there.”
That’s my defensive coordinator who tells me to go. What he says goes I feel. I put my helmet on and run on to the field to take my spot. I’m a linebacker you see. That’s the defensive position in between the big strong linemen in front and the speedy defensive backs behind me. From the outside linebacker spot, I wait for the offense to break the huddle. The quarterback is wearing a red jersey while everyone else on offense is wearing blue. I’m wearing white because the defense wears white today.
The offense breaks the huddle and approaches the line of scrimmage. The quarterback calls out the signals. I wait for the ball to be snapped. I can see a run coming because the running back is in I-formation behind the quarterback.
“Hike,” said the quarterback.
The ball is snapped and I take off. I easily get by my man and head to the ball carrier, which is now the running back after he got the handoff. Now even two seconds in the play, the running back has no chance.
I hit him so hard he fumbles the ball. I try to recover it, but my fellow defender gets it first. Everyone goes crazy on the hit. Some players jump and holler while others are shocked. There’s a crowd of public people in attendance and they all like what they saw.
“Great hit Paulson,” my coordinator says.
I then went to check on the running back I hit.
“You alright?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says with a grimace. He’s slow to get up. “I’ve had worse.”
I pick him up and pat him on the butt. Then, I got back to my spot and do it again. It was then that I now realize I’m on an NFL team.
It’s been a few months since that night when I was drafted by the Houston Texans with their first-round pick. I was angry. Not because I didn’t want to play for Houston. But because I had been slated to be in the top five picks that I dropped in the draft. When Houston finally selected me, I was determined to prove the teams who passed on me wrong.
For now, I was focused on making the team. There are a lot of players on the squad and only over a third of them would make the roster. My goal was to be on the roster because I was making myself some life choices.
Practice ends as our head coach gathers us around.
“We had a great day of practice men,” he says. “But we also need to improve on things. Those things will be exposed if we don’t execute properly. We got a tough schedule in the regular season and I want us to be successful in those areas. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir,” we all reply.
“Great job today. Paulson, great hit as well. Keep it up and you might be on the team soon. Break it down and let’s go.”
I go to the center of the huddle and break it down.
“Texans on three,” I say. “1-2-3.”
“Texans,” we shout and the huddle is broken up.
After shower and interviews with the media, I make my way to a car. It’s an old gray Volkswagon that was bought for me by my mother. Even though I was expected to make a fortune in salary, I still wanted to remember the roots. We weren’t rich, but we weren’t poor in my family. I had not earned the right to expose my salary.
As I approach the car, I see someone inside. A blonde-hair hotshot wearing sunshades and a black Dallas Cowboys shirt. Why a Cowboys shirt? Because anyone that’s not a die-hard football fan knows about one team in Texas and that’s not us.
“Hey baby,” she said as she sits on my car.
I stand there crossing my arms.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me?”
“Why are you wearing that shirt?” I asked. “Take it off before I get in trouble.”
“If I did,” she replied. “I might get arrested for public exposure.”
That made me laugh as I went to kiss my girl. Bethany was her name. You might remember her? I’ll explain more in a bit.
We got in the car and drove off.
“How was practice?” Bethany asked.
“Great as always,” I replied. “Forced a fumble.”
“How hard of a hit?”
“Better than you against Florida State in January?”
“For practice, yes?”
“How did I get attached to you?”
“Thank our classes for that.”
We turn and smile as we both knew what I meant.
So you might have read a book called Bases Loaded Jam starring my best friend Huey and Bethany’s best friend Jordan. It’s about how those two had their moment at the Little League World Series and years later tried to not find each other attractive but submitted to each other. You might have also been told that they’re still together in the epilogue. That’s true to this day. They’re happy and in love.
I was asked to contribute to this story. But even though I got my few cents in, it wasn’t the story I was hoping to tell. Nor was it Bethany’s as we both felt embarrassed about how it all went down. Fortunately, I was glad the person writing this story decided to put together a sequel so that we would tell our story. I think some of y’all wanted to understand how Bethany and I came together. Well, unlike Huey and Jordan, we didn’t have a moment that linked us forever. We just connected.
Like Huey, I grew up in San Antonio. My dad was a construction worker while mom worked as a waitress at a diner. It was actually my dad who got Huey’s dad to join our little league team. When he first came on, Huey sucked as a hitter. That was because he wasn’t used to pitching after years of playing tee-ball. But then, he got going and we got rolling as a team. We had some good years in Little League, but our best year was when we won the Little League World Series. Along the way, we got by Jordan’s team thanks to Huey’s home run. Then, we beat Japan to take the ship.
Afterward, we went to school and had our groups. My group included Huey, Jimmy, Wade, and Peter. The latter two stopped playing sports after middle school as Peter got into music while Wade was a genius. Fortunately, Jimmy, Huey, and I continued until high school when an injury ended Jimmy’s athletic career. We dominated our high school year as we won a state championship. Although Huey had decided to call it a career in sports after high school, I knew I had plans to make it to the league.
The first part of my plan was to play high school football and look to get recruited by major universities. I could’ve gone to any school in Texas to be closer to home and Texas did recruit me. But fortunately for me, I received a splash offer to play at the biggest football school in America. That would be the University of Alabama. I never like the idea of leaving home, but I felt that I needed to go play with the best and I always felt Alabama was the best.
So I said bye to the group and was on my way to Tuscaloosa. When I first got there, I found out my roommates were going to be fellow freshmen trying to get on the team. One of them was named Jawon Rhodes, who was a defensive back from New Orleans. I rarely had friends who were black, but he was the first one that treated me like he was a close brother.
“What up Watt?” I would always hear him say.
He called me Watt because my hairstyle was almost like J.J Watt. I was blonde-haired and had muscle, by I weighed fewer pounds than J.J Watt did. Jawon was obsessed with just talking. He reminded me of Jimmy, but he was crazier that Shannon Sharpe would have a hard time competing against him in talking.
My other roommate was Eddie Finston, who was an offensive lineman from Montgomery, Alabama. He had always wanted to play football for Alabama. But when I first met him, he was coming off a major argument with his parents because they went to Auburn and he was a part of the Crimson Tide. There’s a rivalry between the two schools that still exist today. Eddie was a great guy. But I felt that he was a lazy person because every time I came back to my dorm room, he would be in his recliner watching TV, eating goldfish, or sleeping. I didn’t think he would make the team. Boy, was I wrong?
We had drills where it would be me against him going one-on-one and I would have to work extremely hard to knock his ass on the ground. But it would take me longer with him than with other players. I thought I was strong, but he was Stonehenge. At that moment, I felt he deserved to be on the team.
When I first went to practice, there were at least seventeen players that were looking to play linebacker. I was determined to make it to the top eight. These were the eight players who would be on the active roster and would play in the game. I worked entirely hard to make the squad and by my freshman year, I had beaten out the other nine soon-to-be practice squad members to make the roster.
I wasn’t a member of the first-team defense, but I didn’t care. I was glad to be on the roster. I played sparingly in my first two games because the games were all won by blowout. Then came our third game against Mississippi State. We were in a tight game going into the third quarter and I hadn’t played in the first half. I had been promised to play in that game because we figured it would be an easy win. However, no promises were kept because the SEC is a tough conference.
So I’m sitting on a bench on our sideline watching when the player ahead of me on the depth chart went down. He had torn his ACL and was lost for the season. So, I went into the game and immediately made my presence felt. When I came in, we were up 21-17. By the end of the game, we won 38-17. I had five tackles, forced two fumbles, recovered one, and batted down three passes. Because of me stepping up late in the game, my head coach gave me the game ball and I was happy.
It was such a great win and a great moment for me. I couldn’t wait to call my parents and my friends. But I also couldn’t wait to tell my pen pal. It sounds crazy to have a pen pal, especially in college. Yet, I had a pen pal.
My freshman courses were expected to be a lot. However, one of the courses I was taking was something called online psychology. Why that way was something I never understood. But my professor, we’ll call her Ms. O’Brien, was adamant about having online psychology at the school Her method was to have friendships with other students from around the nation in talking about problems with class and life in general.
She had agreed with Online Professors at UC-Irvine, Kent State, and SUNY-Oneonta to have this idea and so it was arranged. One student from each university would be assigned a group. I had a football player from Kent State University named Carter Jefferies, who on occasion would throw in jabs about how he would juke past me if we met in college, which wasn’t going to happen. From SUNY-Oneonta, it was a nerd student named Anthony. He wasn’t too keen on sports, but he loved broadway and science. The final member of my group was of course, Bethany.
I’m not sure how it came to be for us to be booked together, but I’m glad it happened.