The Family Quarterback: Chapter One- Buckle Up

photo 3

Chapter One: First Quarter

Buckle UP!

My freshman year at the University of Nebraska was an incredible, almost unbelievable adventure. I was not attending the school on a football athletic scholarship, but was attempting to make the team as a “walk-on.” I’ll never forget the first day I found my locker. It was full of equipment: Helmet, shoulder pads, pants, pads, socks, jocks and cool shoes. I liked that.
One of the first things I noticed was how you couldn’t tell the difference between the walk-ons and the scholarship guys by assessing the gear we were given, or the lockers we were issued,. Actually, I wasn’t even certain who the scholarship players were. The walk-ons, like me, outnumbered the other guys 3-1. We had over 100 players on the freshman team, however only 25 or so of those were on “full-ride” scholarships.
When I put that helmet on for the first time, I felt like a million dollars. Even though the room was filled with great athletes, I felt special just to be there. I’m felt pretty certain I was a lot faster with those red swooshed Nike shoes, than without them. My regret today is that I didn’t keep them.
The equipment managers gave us a mesh bag to place sweaty clothes in every day. Imagine that! Someone else did our laundry! I could go to the equipment counter and ask for all kinds of stuff: wristbands, face masks, sweat towels and special pads. We were catered-to like royalty. Some of the best people I ever met were the equipment managers. They had a thankless, servant’s job. I discovered that if you were nice to them, they were a lot more willing to change out your shoes!After starting out on the freshman squad, fourth team, I worked my way up to sharing first team duties with a redshirt freshman. I had an above average freshman campaign and after the season was over, I was moved up to varsity scout team duties. That was a big deal for me.
The scout team, or “meat squad” as we were called, had the unique responsibility of running the opposition’s offense against the “Black shirts” (Nebraska’s name for their vaunted defensive squad). It was a dream come true for any Nebraskan. I was playing quarterback against one of the top ranked teams in the country, every single day! I loved every minute of it. It was a thrilling experience to play against the same athletes that I had watched on television. I was a little intimidated.
Late in the season, we were preparing to play a Big Eight opponent and I was running their option offense against our Blackshirt defense. This was a Thursday practice, which usually meant that it was a light practice, with no contact. On those days, we only wore shoulder pads, helmets and shorts. It was considered the last major run-through of preparation before game day. It was not designed to be very physical, but the intensity was high. It was during these practices that the coaches made certain we were not making mental mistakes. We would practice the same plays repeatedly to eliminate any errors.
Because I was an eager freshman, I had a tendency to run hard on every play. Sometimes, the defense didn’t like it when I was putting out more effort than they thought necessary. On one particular play, I ran a quarterback option around the right end, perhaps a little more aggressively than I needed to. We had run the same play several times before.
On that play, as I turned the corner to run up field, the strong safety came up and hit me…hard, really hard! It felt like a Mac truck had just laid me out. I went flying, and so did my helmet as it rolled into the end zone and I fell to a heap on the ground.
I could hear snickers and hand slaps from the defenders. They were testing me to see how I handled it. As it turned out over the years, it certainly wouldn’t be the last time I was flattened.
As I gathered my senses and got up, I wobbled my way over to pick up my helmet. I estimate that it went about 25 yards away from the play. One of the defensive coaches started walking over in my direction. I was expecting him to check on my wellbeing. Perhaps he would give me a little sympathy, or better yet, some correction to the defender that just blew me up. Instead, this is what he said: “You really should buckle your chin strap.” This was my ‘welcome to the varsity football team’ moment and I will never forget it. If you are going to play a contact sport, you had better be prepared!
Life is kind of like that too. It’s not for the faint of heart. You had better be well equipped. And, you had better buckle your chinstrap!


If you would like a copy of the entire rough draft, email me


  1. Great start, the main thing writing a life book. Chances are you will lose money, but will gain respect, confidence and the ability to know that you can put life situations on papers that will help others. Go get ‘em. Cam Lind

  2. Jim Dittmer says:

    Sounds very familiar. I would love a rough draft.

Leave a Reply to Jim Dittmer Cancel reply