Buddy, we made it. This weekend was the final game of your first season of tackle football — and we made it.

Almost three months ago I sat through your first practice and knew it wasn’t what you expected. It was hard to watch. It was a different game than you’d played in flag football for years. It was a different team with different coaches and different teammates and you’d be playing a different position with different expectations and requiring different skills. The whole thing was a new and different level of intensity — for both of us. And I struggled to know the right way to handle it.

I didn’t grow up with sports the way Daddy did, and now that we’ve graduated from the years in which no one really keeps score and everybody’s in it for the post-game snacks anyway — I regularly feel in over my head. And this year just started out heavy. We got home after that first practice and talked – briefly – about what it means to play for a team, and if the team needs you to play on the offensive line (?!?!) then all you can do is be the best darn offensive lineman Colt Hood can be.

And somewhere, somehow you gathered yourself after that first practice that ended in frustrated tears — and you showed up for practice two days later a completely different kid. Your ability to adjust your attitude and your expectations — I was blown away. Practice after practice you worked harder than I’ve ever seen, and earned a spot as the center. As it turns out, you’re smaller than a lot of kids in your grade — but you can snap that ball with the consistency of a pitching machine.

After a rough start that left me worrying about you really finding your place on the team — you snapped the ball for every single offensive play in every game all season. You were selected as a game captain in the second game. I heard you encourage your teammates after practice and during games and in the huddle.

I was so proud of you so many different times this season I can’t describe it. You are braver and more determined than I realized — and I should know better by now than to underestimate you. Daddy and I cheered from the sidelines and excitedly relived every game with you on the rides home. Our village of friends-who-are-really-family came to games and clapped and cheered and let you give them sweaty hugs. The football moms in my life who I’d confided in that first terrible week checked in on me throughout the season and provided steady encouragement that, “yes. Really. It’s all going to be fine.”

And yesterday, you and your team got to play your final game inside Razorback Stadium, and it was such a fun day. Then you turned in your pads and helmet, and we started up the stairs and out of the stadium —  the season of growth and work and change and grit was over.

At the last minute, I asked another mom to snap a photo of us — Team Hood. What a season.

Team Hood

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