In this country, everyone is entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Once upon a time, most able-bodied young men realized that dream on the high-school gridiron.
"All I thought about in high school was playing football," Greenbrier football coach Mickey Derrick said of the days when he lived to suit up for his North Augusta Yellow Jackets.
The story was the same for Harlem head coach Jimmie Lewis. When he played for the Bulldogs, there were no water breaks, and the undersized Lewis was accustomed to taking a beating.
But even when he was seeing stars, Lewis had the prize in sight.
"Football practice is work and the only pay you get is on Friday night," he said.
Back in the good old days, quitting wasn't an option.
Fast forward to the present.
"I just don't understand some of these kids not being here," Lakeside coach Randy Hill said on the first day of practice for the 2003 season. "What do they do all day? Do they just sit at home? They should be playing football, because they could get something out of it."
Hill wasn't venting because his team was coming off a poor season. He was lamenting the loss of something more substantial than a football game.
"The work ethic is gone," Hill said. "Who do you blame it on? There's probably a hundred parents at this school that played high school football, yet their kids are doing nothing. Why aren't they at least asking their kids to play the game, telling them that they might get something out of it?"
Among the rewards reaped from football are confidence, learning team work, and making a contribution to school spirit.
In football, the secret to success is speed and strength, and those qualities take time to develop - but it seems that sacrifice has become a foreign word.
"Kids are not willing to put forth the effort for the game of football. I guess it's just the easy way out," Lewis said.
At Lakeside, Hill says several potential starters skipped football season to play fall baseball.
Specializing in a single sport is one thing, but in Georgia, high school football is supposed to be king.
Lewis knows why it's not for everyone.
"There are people in Harlem High School that could be playing football, but they don't have the drive, determination or willpower to handle 2 1/2 hours of practice every day. It takes a special breed," he said.
Harlem had four or five players quit the football team last year, and some he was counting on this season didn't come back.
"If they don't want to play, I don't need them out here," Lewis said. "Their heart has to be in it. It's the player that makes himself stay."
Derrick echoed that sentiment.
"We have kids that decide football is not for them, and I don't try to make them feel bad. There's no use in my trying to put a kid down or make him guilty about not playing football," he said. "I hate to see any kid give it up, and I tell them that."
The ones that don't listen might be in for a rude awakening.
"Quitting is a disease, and it starts spreading," Lewis said. "All of the sudden you've got a wife, kids and a job, and if you quit then, all you'll end up being is a loser in life."
Therein lies the most valuable lesson of playing prep football.
The winners aren't just the players that earn championship rings, and the losers aren't the ones that shed blood, sweat and tears during an 0-10 season.
Just ask Lakeside lineman David Szerlip. His team didn't taste victory in 2002, and although the Panthers could use some help, he hasn't tried to talk anyone into playing football this year. "We don't want those people on our team. I'd much rather have people out here that want to work," he said.
So, as another football season draws near in Columbia County, the heroes are ready to go. They don their pads with pride, and even in defeat, they are the real winners.
"The guys that want to play are here," Hill told his team after a tough day of practice. "There's nothing better in the whole world than Friday-night football."
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