It was a day they they have been preparing for as long as they could remember. In the town of Backwater, football was life. For the upcoming Freshman at Midland High football tryouts marked the end; the end of being a child, the end of being coddled, the end of being told not yet, and the boys were ready, most of them anyway.
As Tom rode his bike towards town, he could not stop thinking about how fast the summer had gone by. He had spent the past eight weeks on his grandfather’s farm, a few hours North, and he was not ready to come back to town. Tom had enjoyed football growing up, he moved to town in the fifth grade, and being a good athlete made the move easier than he had anticipated, as his family was the only in town not originally from Backwater. Raised by his mother, who worked three jobs to support the family, and her long time boyfriend Joe, Tom had always been independent and mature for his age.
Gordon looked out the window eagerly, he was ready to get to tryouts, ready to get it over with at long last. “Boy I’ve been trying to get you ready for this day since you could walk, don’t fuck this up” Dale told his son. Gordon nodded agreeably, he couldn’t help but notice the pile of Bud cans were especially high today, he couldn’t wait to get out of the house, even if it was for football. Gordon’s slight frame and nearsightedness were something he had always been teased for, and certainly did him no favors on the football field, but not playing was never an option, not with Dale as his father, not in Backwater.
“Gotta go Dad, Tom’s here” Gordon attempted to slip out without the inevitable alcohol induced story he’d heard since he could remember. “Don’t fuck this up son. When I was you’re age Coach and the boys made me the man I am today, enjoy every second of it. And don’t you dare be the weak link out there, no son of mine will be the weak link.” Gordon was pretty sure his father was still talking when he shut the door, but it didn’t matter, nothing he hadn’t heard before.
Tom and Gordon had arrived to the high school a full half hour before the tryout began, yet the parking lot was already filling up with pickup trucks from the men in town. Some were fathers of boys on the team, others just came to take in the ritual that was Midland High School’s football tryouts. Boys becoming men, no grater rite of passage out there, at least not in the eyes of the people of Backwater.
As Tom, Gordon, and the rest of the boys hit the field for the first time, two things stood out, the heat and the number of people in the crowd. Not yet ten in the mourning, and the temperature was nearing triple digits, but that didn’t stop what seemed like every man in Backwater from attending. “These boys think it’s hot, in our day it was twice this hot, and we didn’t get water breaks. Kids today have gotten soft” belted Dale, the men around him nodded agreeably.
The boys had been prepared for this day, yet they knew nothing of what was to come. For as much of an emphasis the town places on the tryout, it is shrouded in mystery, no one could attend the tryout unless they had completed it themselves.
The team was lead in stretching by Simon, who at six foot two, and two hundred pounds was the biggest guy on the team. Simon was the team’s captain since the first grade, he was Gordon’s second cousin, but the two did not get along.
As stretching drew to a close a strong man in a sweatshirt and dirty white Midland Football hat. “I’m coach Heins, if you don’t hate me yet, I promise you will soon. Work you’re asses of and prey that that’s enough. Trust me boys, you don’t want to be the weak link, not in this town, not on this team.” Tom could see the fear on Gordon’s face growing. “We got this man, don’t worry about it.” he assured his friend.
The field sat at the bottom of the large hill nearly covered with spectators, with packed bleachers on one side of the field. “We’re going to get started with some Indian Sprints today boys, hope y’all are ready.” Coach Heins barked. “Back in my day we called ‘em savage sprints, this town’s getting soft” said Dale. The men around him nodded agreeably.
The boys formed a single file line lead by Simon, they jogged around the field with the man in the back having to sprint to the front of the line, and then the next man went. When it was Tom’s turn he dug deep and quickly made it to the front of the line, but as he looked back he could see the heat was getting to Gordon. Tom sprinted to the back of the line and ran forward with his friend, “we got this man” he assured him.
Next up was the Oklahoma drills. The drill involved two men lined up facing each other, when the whistle blows the two run into each other full speed, whoever takes down the other is the victor. Tom went first and effortlessly flattened the guy he went against. Next was Gordon, he had to face Simon, when the whistle blew Gordon was immediately knocked to the ground. “You two, go again” Coach Heins barked. Four times in a row Simon speared Gordon the the ground. When coach Heins ordered them to go again, Tom chimed in: “Coach let me get another go” Coach Heins shrugged and motioned for him to take over for Gordon. When the whistle blew Simon and Tom collided like fright trains, with Tom coming out on top. “Fuck you foreigner, and your four eyed friend”. The men in the crowd liked what they saw, “finally some fire out of these boys, bout damn time.” Dale said, as the men around him nodded agreeably.
As the Sun reached its highest point, many of the men from the bleachers walked to the hill on the other side of the field, forming a single path up the hill, a few feet wide. “Alright boys, now its on to the fun part, hill sprints” barked Coach Heins Gordon’s face dropped as he looked up the steep hill. Tom comforted his friend, “it all right man we got this.” The hill was over a quarter mile long, with a steep incline. “Alright boys, lets see if we can find our weak link” coach said, in a more light hearted town than he had used to this point.
First up was Simon, he struggled initially but glided to the top once he found his stride. One by one all the boys were making it to the top, where they rejoiced together, officially members of the team, officially men. The last two to go were Tom and Gordon, Tom asked who he wanted to go last, “I’ll go last man, if I see you make it then I think I can too” Gordon replied. Tom made it up the hill faster than anyone else, through the crowd, onto manhood. “You got this man!” he assured his friend from a top the hill.
Gordon had just began running up that hill, and he was already loosing steam. He had to make it, he told himself, he couldn’t be the weak link, not today, not in this town. Yet, he began to stumble and fell. Tom watched from the top in disbelief, he knew he needed to help his friend. “Fuck that loser, you’re on the team now.” Simon told him. It didn’t matter, not of this mattered, not to Tom. He ran down the hill lifted Gordon up, and helped him up the hill. As the got to the top, the two friends hugged, they had made it, together.
All of a sudden Tom awoke with a piercing head ache, taped to the goal post of the field. “He who helps the weak link, is the weak link”. A line formed behind Simon, one by when every man on the team speared Tom as he remain tied to the goal post. “He who helps the weak link, is the weak link” the all said before driving their helmets into Tom’s chest. Finally it was Gordon’s turn, with a fire burning in his eyes, and a look of pride that troubled Tom, “he who helps the weak link, is the week link” shouted Gordon before delivering a bone crushing hit on his only friend. As the team walked of the field, Tom motionless on the goal post, Dale put his arm around his son. “Proud of you boy” Gordan nodded agreeably.