Saturday, July 30, 2016

40 years one night

“The Wild Bunch is gonna ride tonight,” said my old basketball pal, Jeff Wise. I nodded in agreement as we sat shoulder-to-shoulder on chairs in the Woodland Hills (CA) Hilton ballroom. Because only he and I knew what that meant.

Thomas Wolfe once famously wrote that you can’t go home again. Of course, for him, home was some poverty-stricken Tobacco Road affair in Asheville, where everyone was either blasted by noon or jobless, or both.  

Not so for me, Tommy-boy.  Because I was home again: Wise and I were surveying the El Camino Real High School Class of 1976’s 40th Reunion. 

The high school reunion is American folklore, truly the go-home-again scene writ large. Big minds like Wolfe can wrestle with the agonized gestalt of youth; small minds like Nellie can revel in seeing the pals with whom formative, important years were spent.

I had two basic groups of friends in high school – determined jocks and student council brainiacs. I was mediocre at the former and not smart enough for the latter. Hence, I learned a lot from both, for which my gratitude will never end.

For my athlete pals, I start with the tallest:  At 6' 8", Big Al Kennedy, former San Francisco 49er, winner of two Super Bowl rings, now running a large Bay Area security company. Matt Staker, Best Man for the groom in "My Fair Brady" (Chris Knight a.k.a. Peter Brady was a classmate) and a longtime computer company executive. Kurt Vetter, a fast-mover with Coca-Cola and now President of an international food company whose products I guarantee you have in your kitchen. Jim Benkert, one of the winningest high school football coaches in California history, with four state title teams. Roger Lang, former UCLA baseball scholarship man and AT&T executive. And, my Wild Bunch comrade Wise, a well-known Northern California teacher, coach and athletic director.

In minutes, we all dispense with the trivialities like careers and kids and move onto the important stuff. “Vetter was always bummed that season because we couldn’t get past Canoga High”....“Matt started Varsity in 11th grade after getting no PT on BEEs”....“In the Taft game, Benkert body-slammed Fisher (Jeff Fisher, now head coach of the L.A. Rams)....“Roger had that future NBA guy one-on-one with rest of us in the box defense on the corners”..."Check out Al's rings..."

After every season had been rehashed, I head over to the student government table. Emphatically, I tell the wife of Mark Pearl, a onetime neighbor: “Your husband, Futterman, Zipperstein and Shapiro were the smartest guys in the class.” I subsequently learn that ole Zip is a General Counsel for a Fortune 20 company, and Futterman and Shapiro are big-time attorneys in the Bay Area. Then she tells me her and Mark’s son was valedictorian of his high school class. “See, told you I was right!” I say smugly.

On to the “girls,” now women. I tell them all that I had a crush on all of them in 10th grade but was too much of a geek to pursue any of it further. “You weren’t a geek,” they assure me with no enthusiasm and then ask what I’ve been doing in my career. Ascertaining the political winds in the room, I tell them the truth. “I’ve worked for the Evil Party for thirty years” and then I pause dramatically. “But I’m better now.” They nod approvingly and I slide on. Why upset anyone unnecessarily?

The disc jockey – they are now called “DJs” for your information - is "spinning" groups like Chicago, Neil Diamond, Van Halen, and Elton John.  I shudder as I see people dancing.

One kind soul asks me if I have any kids. “Yes,” I say brightly, “Three sons and two have cleared parole.”  Between the throwback Van Halen and the crowd noise, maybe she doesn’t hear me. “That’s nice,” she responds and drifts away.

I always have had a good mind for numbers (though don’t ask Staker and Geoff Horn how we gamed Mr. Reedy’s 11th grade Geometry class;  no wonder I’ll never be Senate confirmable). So I tell the nine athletes at my table what their jersey numbers were in 11th grade. This turns out to be my sole original contribution to the evening.

I understand quite well high school is a super-charged environment in a long life that can be awfully benign, and perhaps I’m unusual that my experience was truly good - except then I glance at my athlete and student council pals. Like them, I had a lot of friends, I was too nervous to get in trouble, I was around guys and girls who were motivated and resilient, and not much of this good fortune ever wore off. I look at these individuals now – many virtually unchanged in appearance and every one of them solid contributors to the great machinery of American society.

Near the end of the evening, I’m with Wise and he confides, “The Wild Bench went out in style, that’s for sure.” He’s right.

It was February 8, 1976, El Camino Real High versus Jefferson High in the Los Angeles City Playoffs.  Wise and I were, in fact, the sole members of the Wild Bunch. It was our self-proclaimed nickname, gleefully familiar to every kid in the school. Because when the Wild Bunch got in a game, everyone knew that game was out of control.

El Camino was behind by 20 points with 50 seconds left when suddenly, Wise and I were thrust onto the floor by our mournful coach. Dribbling, Wise bounced the ball off his knee, it caroomed to me, and he got an assist when I lofted a crazy, off-balance jump shot (two of my four points for the entire season). The El Camino crowd erupted in good-natured laughs and cheers, as though we were up by 20. Take that, Wolfe-man.

Wise kind of muses, “Nellie, I remember that game and man, it just doesn’t seem that long ago.” Looking back 40 years over a room full of once-inseparable friends, I too recalled the game and the lockers slamming in the gym and the school bells and the books thumping shut and the joke sessions at lunch and the yells across the football field and all the years of success and shortcomings and general prevailing.

I paused and then replied, “It wasn’t.”  
  The Wild Bunch flanked by real basketball players.

                                                           (Vetter, Nelligan, Wise, Lang)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Nellie's NCAA Way: Getting Your Kid Recruited For College Sports


Washington, D.C. -- A lot of Dads have sons who are good – maybe very good – at a particular sport. Some are great. Moreover, many of these athletes don’t want their athletic careers to end after the last whistle in high school.  

I had two sons like that.  One now plays NCAA Division III lacrosse. The other was recruited in two sports (football and lacrosse) by a dozen D-III schools. He instead attended a Division I school where he tried out as a long-snapper for the football team and got cut. Yeah, that’s how it goes sometimes and it was tough as hell on both of us. But he's still damn happy at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Hence, during the past four years – and now picking up again with my 11th grade son – I have been closely involved with the college athletics recruiting process. It may appear to be daunting and complex, but here’s the surprise:  it’s not.  Rather, assuming your kid is determined and resilient, and you are as well, the process involves old-fashioned research, a lot of proactive legwork and follow-through, and decision-making.

How did I learn this?  Typical plodding Nellie:  Four years ago, I sought the advice of Dads whose kids had been through the recruiting process. I called and met with a range of current and former college athletes and guys who knew college sports; I read a ton of material on recruiting and I put together a basic plan.  It wasn’t perfect, but it got my sons the attention they sought.   And here it is:

1.    Skill Expectation: This is the honesty part: Simply put, how good is your kid at his sport?  The NCAA is comprised of three Divisions - I, II, and III – corresponding to the level of competition. As a Dad, you need to frankly discuss with your son where his skills fit within this hierarchy. And it shouldn’t be hard: A good athlete gets that way by being aware of his capabilities and those of his peers. Be alert, however: Yes, your son may be truly gifted, Division 1 material, but rarely leave the bench in four years.  At a D-II or D-III school, he may start every game. Once you and your son have established where he fits in these unforgiving Division categories, time to move on.

2.    Geographic Location: Where does your son want to be? This is easy. Ask him. Does he want a big university or small college?  Urban or suburban? A school in the South, the West, New England, the Middle West? Warm climate or one with seasons?  Close to home, kinda close, or wwayyy away from home?  “I don’t know” is not an answer.  Discuss at length with him what he wants – drive him to schools close to you. Walk around and introduce yourself to students and adults you see.  You can’t afford to be shy – hey, this is your son’s future you’re dealing with here.  There are approximately 2,170 colleges and universities in the United States, of which there are athletic programs at 442 Division III, 302 D-II, and 335 D-1 schools. There are more than enough choices. Choose and decide, don’t equivocate.

3.    Academic Interest:  What does your son want to study?  Trust me when I say this is secondary. Because unless you have a single-minded kid who wanted to be a doctor or a businessman or a pilot since age 7, this is probably unanswerable.  The fact is, most kids don’t know what they want to do until they actually get on a campus with other kids, take classes, and find out what they like and at what they excel.  If he has a general idea, then factor that into the equation.

These are the first, basic steps. Now comes the mechanics:

4.    Using the criteria above, sit down with your son in total seclusion – I mean no phones allowed or distractions whatsoever – in front of a computer screen and search for 15 to 20 schools that match the criteria above (Here’s a tip: Start with your son’s sport, and punch in NCAA Division III).  Full disclosure: This may not sound original, but it is the only way to get a sense of an academic institution outside of driving yourself nuts driving around the nation. Start with colleges you know, those that are close, and those that you’ve heard of.  Look over every webpage of these college sites. Get a sense of the place, take written notes.  Repeat: Total isolation – no devices and interruptions.  As well, seek out individuals whom you respect and admire and ask them about their college experiences – they’ll have invaluable advice. 

5.    Review the team pages for the relevant sport at each of the schools in which your son is interested.  Examine the rosters: Where do the kids come from? Competitive high schools?  Geographic distribution of the players?  What are the sizes of the kids?  What are the coaches’ backgrounds? How long have they been there? What’s the team record during the past five years? What kind of athletic facilities? What’s the conference like? What kinds of schools does it contain?

6.    Now apply Nellie’s "Broken Leg Theory.” If your son breaks his leg in spring practice or slipping in the dining hall and is finished with sports, does he still want to be at that school?  

7.    Next: Email the coaches. Send along a highlights film and or statisticcs for sports that don’t lend themselves to film.  Send a one-page “Fact Sheet” on which are the following: GPA, test scores, classes taken last semester, classes for the current semester, your son’s size, 40-dash time where relevant, brief description of positions played, other sports played, records if team is a winner, any athletic honors and any extracurricular activities. 

8.    Bonus round:  If your club team or high school team goes to tourneys, list those on the Fact Sheet. The same with sports camps you attended.  If you are at tourneys or camps and you happen to see a college coach, have your kid - not you! - introduce himself.

9.    If your aim is true based on your son’s skills, you’ll get responses back from coaches.  If not, don’t worry – do a Round II of searching.

The key, as I said in the beginning, is to be proactive, constantly reaching out and then following through.  If your kid is a superstar, coaches will call him. But there aren’t that many superstars.  I know - my sons weren’t.  The Dads and kids who succeed in this process are the ones who grind it out, day after day, never missing an opportunity at promotion.  Moreover, it’s wise to print and catalog the emails and responses and all other notes and documents, placing all as a measure of progress in a three-ring binder. If you're diligent, it will be two binders.

When to start?  If you and your kid are serious, start the summer after his sophomore year. Don’t worry about scholarships – they are few and far between for those at the D-1 level, funds are only partial at the D-II level, and they are nonexistent for sports at the D-III level.

If you have any questions, just email me ( ).  I’ve been through this twice. Yep, I made some errors - some were embarrassing to me personally and were a result of being a rookie and being too aggressive.  But hey, when you are in contact with a cumulative 53 schools, you're going to make mistakes. I'd rather be shot down than miss an opportunity.  

The success the boys had was based on their athletic abilities and academic consistency, and most importantly, because of their follow through and desire to play beyond high school.

Sports as a profession is not going to lead anywhere for 99.9 percent of high school athletes.  But athletics of any kind places your son in a situation of camaraderie and competition, from which he learns resilience, drive, and ambition.  Those are the qualities can’t be taught in a college classroom, but will be the most important qualities your son can ever possess.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What Makes a Good Kid?!

Annapolis, Maryland -- In the workaday world, whenever a gracious parent says to me, “You must be so proud of your boys,” I reply sincerely, “Yes, I am. They get their intellect and athleticism from their Mom. They get their low cunning from me.”

With that humble arrogance, let’s turn to the second installment of the foundation of the agent-in-waiting book, My Three Sons: How A Bad Dad Raised Good Kids. What’s a good kid? I’ve considered that phrase for a decade and a half – yep, ever since I became a Dad. All-encompassing, but an amorphous term, behind which is a catalogue of behaviors and attitudes: loyalty, thoughtfulness, dependability, discipline, determination, drive, enthusiasm, and toughness. Yeah, nice list - but Dads want precision, not a thesaurus.

My Three Sons is my straightforward take on the four realms of the good kid: his Personal Conduct; his Worldview; his Resilience and Adaptation; and, his Aspiration. Grounded in these four areas, the good kid is reflexive in making the correct decision in every situation he encounters at home and school, with his peer group and in his community.

Here are some definitions – see if they make sense to you.

Personal conduct: A kid responds with confidence and poise in every aspect of social interactions. He carries himself with ease because he has developed self-control and patience.

Worldview: A kid knows and grasps his environment. He appreciates the intrinsic good that everyday life offers and understands the bad. Equally important, he develops the maturity to limit the prevalence of electronic media - the narrow, glowing rectangle - in his daily life.

Resilience: A kid moves out with drive and clarity when circumstances large and small go south. He absorbs challenges and failures head on, handles pressure, adapts, and discovers a route to recovery.

Aspiration: A kid habitually sets goals and holds himself accountable. He is realistic in evaluating personal benchmarks and resists obstacles with determination and endurance.

Working from this baseline, I then contemplated how to inculcate these ideals in my three sons. And my reflections yielded this:
I would seize upon examples of sheer right and wrong found in everyday life, create a simple parable, and then identify each with an unforgettable exhortation.

These maxims - Dad’s “sayings” as my three sons labeled them - became a pounding soundtrack in the boys’ lives. Virtually every important aspect of their adolescence was viewed through the lens of one of my appeals. Over time, constant reprise and explanation of these adages helped develop instinctive, habitual responses to the situations in which my sons found themselves. Indeed, nearly a decade later, all four of us still repeat these aphorisms. Some are nutty and comical; others are harsh.

I found that given simple, constant, and memorable guidance on temperament and behavior, a young boy will thrive, becoming comfortable with himself and his surroundings; he settles into a pattern of conduct, which leads to a pattern of accomplishment. Repetition builds character.

Next up: “Dad’s sayings…”

Friday, April 24, 2015

A Book For Dads

Like every chimpanzee and "sensitive" adult in the United States, I just finished writing a book. That’s right – because I have so much to give the world, donchaknow.

The title is as brazenly simple and cunning as the author: “My Three Sons: How A Bad Dad Raised Good Kids.” Why and how it came about is actually something of true interest to all of us who are Dads.

First off, and believe it or not, I certainly wasn’t destined to inform American fathers of my keenness of mind. Oh no. Rather, in my stolid and regimented fashion of existence, the idea came to me during a conversation with a fellow Dad at work, who was tiredly giving me the litany on his own son: “Not working hard enough at school…doesn’t listen to us…gives a lazy effort on the field…plays too many video games…always staring at his damn phone.”

In fact, I have heard a decade’s worth of these lamentations – in thousands of informal yet often compelling conversations with Dads; and, from innumerable interactions with adolescent boys - my sons and their peers. These exchanges have taken place in every situation known to the suburban Dad and his son: At workplaces, on middle school, high school and college campuses, at social and community events, watching television in basements and on athletic fields throughout the country.

The single and persistent refrain I’ve taken away from these thousands of encounters is frustration: Dads are confused and disheartened by the progress of their sons through adolescence. These are fathers – good, decent men – who struggle with a corrosive, electronics-saturated, trophy-for-participation culture that encourages conformity, erodes self-control and devalues masculinity.

Unfortunately, these Dads simply don’t know how to develop and sustain a sense of resolve and purpose in their boys.

Well, I do.

Moreover, I also know these aren’t simply random anecdotes. The facts are there. This cohort of kids and its corresponding older cohort are floundering; a less gentle description is failing. Today, approximately one-third of men ages 22 to 34 are still living at home with their parents; 35 percent of men between the ages of 16 and 25 are unemployed; and, one-fifth of all men ages 18 to 34 are living in poverty. My personal fave is that the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Ashtoln Carter, notes that that only 31 percent of the 10.5 million American males age 17 to 21 are eligible to join the military, with half unable to pass the entry examination and the rest ineligible because they are unable to meet the physical fitness or character standards.

Collectively, these numbers illustrate a staggering pathological drift. And it goes beyond numbers.

Today’s popular culture has damn near made an icon of the “slacker” male – the sullen, unshaven, flannel shirt-wearing cool “dude” clutching his IPhone and video game console. This chump is nearly ubiquitous in today’s broadcast and print media advertising. Indeed, regardless of your political views, it’s telling that the signature figure for the Obama Administration’s health care pitch to youth was a bespectacled, 20-something male wearing red plaid pajamas. If that was my son, I’d disown him.

Of course, child psychologists are very helpful in this arena, bless their credentialed hearts. They’ve penned a lot of serious, thoughtful books about adolescents featuring disturbingly colorful anecdotes. Indeed, the sincerity of these therapists and tenured faculty professors - some of whom are even parents - cannot be doubted. Neither can the case studies of “synergistically unpacking” the “personal space” of well, “let’s call him Sebastian,” and his desperate need for “holistic empowerment.”

My modest work starkly diverges from this gibberish. First, I’m a Dad, not a psychologist. I am around fathers and their sons all day in every venue under the sun – and none of these encounters is an office visit.

Second, I tend to see kids in a straightforward, unflinching common sensical way. I know firsthand the language - and landscapes - of Dads and their sons. It’s about all I really know. I believe in old-school candor and judgment, and I know what it takes to guide sons toward basic values and behaviors, the acquisition of which leads to solid, accomplished young men.

But Nellie, you ask, what’s in your book?! If you want to know, tune into the next Nellie Blawg…

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Unceasing Pressure"

Annapolis, Maryland

It’s all about “pressure” said the man. “Constant, unceasing pressure – which often leads to failure, then recovery. And resilience.”

I gaped in total, utter astonishment. The Nellie Theorem had just been enunciated to 1,800 serious-minded adults. Two things were at major odds here: 1. It wasn’t me speaking; and 2. People were listening. Intently.

Readers of the Nellie Blawg know that in between the monograph I’m writing on the synergistic modalities in “Caddyshack” and “Animal House,” I am a cheerful advocate of an expansive and cunning worldview composed of small, precise habits. These are the aspects of personal conduct – endurance, decisiveness, quick assessment and adaptation, empathy, and reliability -- I have inculcated in the lives of My Three Sons.

On those rare occasions when parents and colleagues have asked about the paths of the boys, I have responded with a delightful summation about self-control and resistance to obstacles – all in the worldview -- as the foundations for success. Of course, these same people have then looked at me with a measure of sympathy, maybe even a certain amount of sorrow. Poor man, they surmise: Having squandered his professional life with slow horses in fast political races, he's a hopeless sideline Nietzschiean. Undaunted, I have pressed onwards.

Pressure, adversity, conflict – they are all constant and crucial proving grounds. The themes are eternal, whether its Barnabas and Paul taking on the heathen in Iconium and Lustra in Acts, or Brett Favre with the Vikings in the NFL playoffs. In fact, in speaking once to a fellow QB, Ron Jaworski, Favre said, “Jaws, you know that if you’re panicked under pressure, you’re not prepared.” Simple, true, enduring.

Hence, this was behind the reasons for wanting my kids on defense when the score was tied, the offense had the ball, and there was a minute left in the game. Or emphasizing to them that the four-hour test they were about to take held almost as much weight as three years of classroom grades. Or conduct in a tight spot in a social situation – here’s one: Leaving them at a bar mitzvah where they know two people and telling them that the world doesn’t belong to the shy or lonely.

Feeling that pressure is essential to gradually beating it. To be prepared, as Barnabas or Favre, a kid must build up muscle memory through hours of drudgery doing homework, or throwing a ball against a wall, or memorizing a script for a play, or running miles and miles, or practicing an instrument, or -- you fill in the blank.

When the pressure to perform is then on, there indeed might be failure, but there’s going to be recovery and as the man said, resilience for next time. Repetition builds character.

In a self-absorbed age and way, I’ve often thought of postponing the Shack/House Ph.D. thesis and writing instead a book – “My Three Sons: A Crazy Dad’s Guide to Parenting.” It will be filled with the sparkling aphorisms I routinely inflict on my sons, such as “If you’re five minutes early, you’re late.” And, “Just get the damn thing to midfield.” Or, “If you aren't baggin', you aren't mowin'." Then there’s my personal favorite: “If this was EASY, every geek in the nation would be starting at linebacker!”

Pressure. Failure. Recovery. Resilience. In fact, the man speaking this mantra was a Navy Captain, addressing the parents of 1,191 Midshipmen in the Class of 2018 at the United States Naval Academy, in Annapolis, Maryland. “Unceasing pressure” was my favorite line. Words to live by.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Combine Grind

Autumn starts where the summer grinds to an end -- on a green turf field crisscrossed by white lines. Have you ever noticed the sideline boundaries are always thicker than those measuring progress down field in yards?  It’s too prosaic to contemplate -- or maybe not.
Summer of 2013 – the season of competition.  Two sons, four athletic camps, and six tournaments stretching from Boston to Virginia Beach and seven cities in between. Forty-six officiated lacrosse games, more than 51 football skill sessions, 23 7-on-7 games, and at every one, the ever-present figure of  good-natured Nellie, with free advice for all.    
For the eldest son, it’s a drive to be noticed and ultimately coveted by NCAA college coaches, no less in two sports. For the younger Boys’ Town grad, all fields are testing grounds of skill and athleticism to prevail over top talent in order to compete at the level where both of his older brothers now reside.  Eldest son, the steady Nellie Junior, triumphed in this fast-paced crucible and is now playing college athletics.
Sports, kids – what I’ve seen this summer in 2,700 miles of driving from New England to the Old South is most of all the American Dad: indefatigable, generous, hopeful, persistent and always folding up the chair at the end of the day – yes, on those prosaic sidelines -- thinking about tomorrow’s 8 a.m. session and how the heck their kid can improve his performance.
The football camps are the notorious “combines.”  A hundred select young men, 400 non-select kids -- all instantly organized, sorted by primary position, offense or defense, and then given identifying jersey numbers.  This is the wonderful mechanics of these camps.  There is little discussion or confusion, just a quick following of orders and hustling to get in line. 
Next comes the long and detailed regimen of workout drills watched by alert coaches with the Career Beginning and Ending Clipboards.  Your kid does closely watched drills with, for example, dozens of Outside Linebackers.  The coaches watch intently and dispassionately for hours, and what they write on the Clipboard means your kid may have a shot at their school, or it’s time to back home to Momma.
And they’re not asking for anything complex here. In fact, it’s simple and repetitive, just perfect for your correspondent.  Bulky, leather practice bags are laid out and kids high-step through them.  The bags are placed at oblique angles at various distances and kids high-step through them. Kids are thrown a ball as they run through the bags. They either catch it or keep high-stepping to the parking lot.
Four guys are placed in a square, a few yards apart from each other, and told to react to hand signals from a coach. Up, back, left, right.  Stopwatches are everywhere. 
Across three wide open fields these drills go on. Linemen push sleds, QBs and receivers and cornerbacks try to outwit each other.  For running backs, it’s running through pads carrying the ball: “Nose to the sky!” “Eyes up!” “Back straight!” Then passing drills with QBs and linebackers:  “Sharp routes!” “No cross overs!”  “Burst! Burst!”  The drills run for hours, yells floating across the fields like a long muted drone.
Every kid is trying their best, giving everything they have. They’re prepared.  Just to get here has required thousands of hours of practice, weight rooms, hot fields, cold mornings, pass routes long after dusk, countless collisions and snap counts.  What a remarkable set of circumstances has propelled them here. And it’s certainly not Real Life because there is not a single slacker to be seen.
And the parents.  Imagine the sheer production of getting Billie from Nashville or Pittsburgh or Seattle or Houston or Miami all the way to Boston or Annapolis. 
Having attended these camps and tourneys for years, I measure success by two critical elements:  Foot speed and size.  And you can’t teach size.  The eldest son, Nellie Junior, no behemoth, worked for years on agility – ladders, the parachute, shuttle runs, endless sprints -- and became one of the quickest kids on any field on which he plays (Yeah, I’ll brag a bit.  What are you going to do? Throw a clipboard at me?)  The value of foot speed is inestimable.  The coaches are entranced with it.
It takes about three reps of drills on day one, hour one, for someone to see where a kid stacks up. The competition is ferocious.  It doesn’t mean a darn thing that you were All League at Big Bad High in the Tri-County Conference.  Can you move out fast?  How tall are you? 
And last, and the coaches have a stock phrase when approached by a kid introducing himself:  “Howareyourgrades?” It’s one word.  It’s direct and hard, but hey, football is a direct and hard sport.
Little Nellie is 6’1”, 210 pounds, a linebacker who in addition, plays fullback and tight end.  To really seal the deal, about three years ago, I encouraged him to take up and get good at long-snapping because as former football great, Richie Petibon, once told me, “Snapping is THE tie-breaker.”  I.e. if a kid can do that, and play one, even two more positions, he’s going to make a team over someone else.
So my son and I practiced snapping, and I mean endlessly.  We’d have four footballs and he’d shoot them back to me, one after another, as I stood in punt formation.  Then then he’d shoot them back to me as I simulated a holder and Boys’ Town son kicked, all to get the tempo and rhythm down right. It no doubt looked comical to folks coming across us on a field. We read up on hand placement on the ball, how to use the legs to increase ball speed.  Over time, the snaps got faster, held a tighter spiral, and now Little Nellie is a machine.
And yes, if you really think hard about all this, you recognize instantly there’s a defining element of sheer madness. “Yes, I’m on annual leave from a serious job, driving 450 miles to watch my kid jump around bags and catch passes and push sleds all over a field – for eight hours.”  Once, a well-meaning Dad on the sideline affably asked me about my son.  I was distracted and said robotically, “Punt snap average zero point seven, zero point five on PATs.”
It was 10:15 p.m. at the Princeton Camp, and the hotly contestd 7-on-7 games had ended.  We’d arrived here about 20 hours ago from a lacrosse camp in Providence, RI. After 48 hours here, we’d split for a three-day Under Armour lacrosse tournament in Baltimore.
I was walking Little Nellie back to the dorm.  He’s beat. Heck, I’m even beat from sitting in a chair all day and spinning college intrigues in my head.
We’re passing darkened classrooms and buildings and big lonely quads.  “My man,” I say, “I know this a grind. But if you’re going to play college ball, this is where you gotta be.”  He was carrying his shoulder pads and helmet, his hair was matted to his scalp, his shirt soaked with sweat and his cleats clicked and echoed on the pavement.
“Yeah Dad,” he said and then added, asking and answering a question at the same time, “Where else would I be?”