When I was growing up in the middle-of-nowhere Tennessee, there were three things that mattered most this time of year: God, family and football.
See, back where I come from we didn’t have a mall. There wasn’t a movie theater. And honestly, I don’t think we would’ve cared anyway.
It was fall, and all we needed was Friday night football.
The stadium was (and still is) substantial. It was the only high school in the county. It was a gathering place – no matter your age, your race or what town you drove from. You were there together pulling for the Dickson County Cougars.
I was ten years old in 1988 when DCHS hit its stride. At the time my Daddy was a county school bus driver. Basically it meant that the north side of the county had a built-in chartered bus to away games. We would pack that bus and drive for hours to watch our team play and eventually win their one and only state championship.
That was the year that I really saw football. I learned about first downs, positions, penalties and special teams. I would ask my Daddy questions about the game. While most of the girls were roaming around gossiping, I was locked into what was happening on the field.
I didn’t know it at the time, but that was a defining season of my life.
I would go on to attend the University of Tennessee – a school that didn’t offer me any scholarships. But what the school lacked in my financial aid, it made up for inside Neyland Stadium – an experience that money couldn’t buy. When I visited the school during my senior year, I was unsure of my college destination. But the second I walked into that stadium and heard Rocky Top for the first time, there was no other place for me.
Again, the fall football seasons and a new knowledge of high school recruiting shaped the next phases of my life as I was hired at Rivals.com and then moved onto Yahoo! Sports. And now, suddenly, I’ve been married to a USC website publisher for four years.
I’m grateful that Ryan had an idea all those years ago, and that his passion and drive saw him through the blood, sweat and tears to make USCFootball.com what it is today.
I never imagined that I’d be part of business that runs off of Friday night lights and Saturday’s college traditions. Not like this.
Yes, there is more work and less time this time of year, but it just takes a heartbeat to go back to that place of innocence – those Friday nights, that crispness in the air, the sounds of the un-synced marching band and the anticipation of how the night would end. Just a second, even a song, takes me back and reminds me of all the laughs, the heartaches, the friends and the foes.
So this week, as we enjoy Friday night lights and anticipate the kickoff to college football, I’ll reflect on this, my favorite time of year, and I’ll count my blessings.
Because through all of the time that has passed and all these miles in between, the three things that still matter most are God, family and football.