“I’m telling you, #45 is targeting Jonnie!”
“That’s the cornerback’s job, Skyler,” Logan said. “To guard the wide receiver. Ours does the same thing.”
“But he’s taking it too far.” Skyler pointed across the field in exasperation. Our thirty-second timeout was almost over and Skyler had been ranting the whole time.
“Skyler, I’ll be fine,” I told him. “You just get me the ball and I’ll take it from there.” My fingers were freezing standing around like this. We needed to get moving.
“Fine,” Skyler grumbled. He called the play and we ran back onto the field.
He was right, of course, but I didn’t want to admit I was afraid. Their cornerback was huge and fast. And handsy. He wasn’t afraid to reach around for the ball even if it meant grabbing hold of me like he would any other guy. Most defensive players shied away from guarding me as thoroughly as they should, probably in fear they’d grab parts that shouldn’t be touched.
I got into position, knowing I’d most likely be the decoy this play unless Doug couldn’t get open. I still needed to be ready.
I ran hard and fast but forty-five kept up with me. There was no way for me to get open. Skyler would have to seek other options.
The whistle blew and the chain gang was moving the chains after Logan ran for fifteen yards before I could even turn around to see what had happened.
Skyler must have changed the play at the last second because that wasn’t planned to be a running play. Doug was the intended receiver. Period. If Doug couldn’t get open, the ball was heading my way.
For the next play I was set up for a hook, but I thought Doug was the target again. The next thing I knew Jayce had the ball and he picked up another first down. I should have been satisfied we were moving the chains down the field. Instead I had a disconcerting suspicion I was being purposefully kept out of the line of communication.
After another two plays where things didn’t go the way I thought they were planned, I called Skyler on it.
“What’s your deal, Skyler?” I practically growled into the huddle, fighting the desire to scream at him but not wanting the whole stadium to hear my frustration. “Are you gonna tell me the real play this time? Or are you all going to keep me in the dark.”
“You weren’t the intended receiver,” Skyler said. “End of story.”
“How am I supposed to protect myself if I don’t know what the rest of you are doing out there?”
“You could go sit on the bench and let one of the freshmen get some playing time,” Skyler suggested, narrowing his eyes. I narrowed mine right back.
“Dude, she’s right, man.” Connor shoved Skyler’s shoulder. “We all need to be on the same page.”
“Fine. You want the ball, Gillis? You got it. Set up your hook, get away from forty-five and get open.”
“Fine,” I said. We broke the huddle and set up my favorite trick play. True to my word, I was open, and for the first time in the whole second quarter, the ball landed in my hands.
Just as I turned to run up the field, their cornerback hit me so hard the ball flew from my hands and I crashed to the ground. Jayce dove on the ball and we recovered our own fumble without a loss of yardage.
That didn’t stop Skyler from getting in forty-five’s face and challenging him with a few choice swear words and accusations of targeting. Whistles blew, flags were thrown and before we could gather ourselves back to the line of scrimmage, we’d been charged with a fifteen-yard penalty and a warning for our quarterback.
“Ref, that was clearly targeting!” Skyler yelled. “No touchdown is worth a player’s safety!”
Logan pulled Skyler away from the defensive back and chastised him away from my range of hearing, helmet to helmet like two deer with horns locked. A little mini guy-to-guy pep talk, helping Skyler down from his rage. Logan was a good friend. He smacked him on the helmet, and they all ran back into position.
Skyler’s little temper tantrum cost us the lead going into the half and everyone was angry heading to the locker room, not that I had the honor of participating in that tirade. I stomped into the girls’ locker room and seethed while my team yelled at each other on the other side of a concrete barrier. Not even the cheerleaders joined me. I was alone.