As each playoff week passes and teams are done or advance closer to their ultimate goal, seniors begin to realize the amount of effort and emotion they have invested into their high school football careers. Tears are inevitable.
No matter if they are tears of joy that come with hoisting a gold ball trophy with teammates, or the heartbreaking ending most players will experience, their tears are as much a part of the high school game this time of year as muddy uniforms.
The second round of Tennessee's playoffs kicks off tonight, while Alabama opens its postseason and Georgia does so next Friday. The thousands of teenagers making up those teams want just one thing -- to know they will have practice again on Monday. But none more than the seniors.
Whether they have college scholarship offers waiting, or if their career is over with the ending of the season, each senior realizes he is nearing the end of one of the most enduring experiences of his life.
It's why Ooltewah senior lineman Garrett Morrison was determined to fight through three surgeries to repair a torn ACL and disregard his doctor's belief that his right knee would not be healthy enough to return this season. Garrett was cleared to play in tonight's game, and when asked what getting to play in even just one more game meant to him, he told our writer Kelley Smiddie, "Football has been my life since I started playing in fourth grade."
It's why Boyd-Buchanan coach Grant Reynolds and Notre Dame coach Charles Fant still remember every detail of their final games as high school seniors, each more than 20 years ago in the playoffs.
"We call the playoffs a new season. It's basically sudden death," said Reynolds, whose second-ranked Buccaneers travel to sixth-ranked Oneida in a 2A game tonight. "That's why we tell our seniors not to take a single play or practice for granted. There has to be a sense of urgency about everything now.
"If you lose, it breaks my heart for those kids, because you understand it's such a special time for them, and it hits them hard when they realize it's over."
Fant has guided the Irish to a surprising 9-2 season so far and a second-round trip to Class 4A top-ranked Giles County. Of the 22 Irish starters, nine are seniors, two are juniors and the other 10 are sophomores or freshmen. Fant is aware that while the underclassmen won't feel the urgency of the moment, the seniors certainly will soak in every second of the experience, win or lose.
He's certain of that because 22 years after his prep career ended, he can still recite every play of his final game.
"I can still remember the smells from my last high school game, and even how cold it was," said Fant, who quarterbacked his Goshen High team to the Ohio playoffs as a senior and later played receiver for four years at Vanderbilt. "I threw into the end zone and the ball was batted down and we lost 21-14. I got knocked down after the throw and I remember my linemen coming to help me up, and we walked off the field together.
"I don't remember nearly as much about my college career. Every level of the game you play after that is a business. In high school, you're playing with your friends, guys you grew up with and guys you love. You understand when that ends, a part of your childhood ends and it's like a rite of passage. You have to grow up after that. So every senior wants to hold on to that feeling, those moments on the field, as long as they can this time of year."
And who can blame them?