They walk onto the practice field day after day in torn jerseys and unmarked helmets. They run play after play taking hits from the first team defense. They try relentlessly to hold back the first team offense. They are the walk-ons, the true freshmen, the transfers and the hopefuls.
They are the pit team.
A love of football rests in their hearts but frustration lingers behind it all. They practice with the team Tuesday through Thursday, but on game days they blend in with the crowd, watching from the stands.
“It’s a thankless job but someone’s got to do it,” said Rattler football head coach Billy Joe.
The pit team is a group of football players who hope to one day gain a position on the Rattler football roster. They come to practice each day and run the upcoming opposition’s plays.
The offensive pit team players take massive blows and unrestricted tackles. The defensive pit team players are discouraged against hitting the starting offensive players too hard.
The ultimate job of the pit team is to prepare the Rattler football team for the upcoming games.
“The pit team is designed to simulate the opponent in our daily practice sessions,” Joe said. “We can’t win without the pit team.”
Last year pit team members looked forward to two events. They were permitted to dress and stand on the sidelines for the homecoming game. That didn’t happen this year. The Pit Bowl, a game in which the pit team athletes get to show their talent and abilities to the Rattler coaching staff, was supposed to take place Thursday.
It was cancelled.
Although many pit team members were expecting to play in the pit game Thursday, Head Coach Joe said, “There never was a set time for pit competition.” He admitted, however, that the game was cancelled for “fear of injury to pit players.”
The cancellation of these two events negatively affected the morale of this season’s pit team. Many players talked disapprovingly of the Rattler football coaching staff. Some talked about transferring to other schools. Others emphasized the frustration they feel inside.
“I’ve been told that I have enough potential to make it to the NFL by every coach that I have ever played for,” said Lucan Walters, a running back from Brooklyn, Ny. “It’s hard when you know that you’re better than some of the players out there. When you’re sure that you could play at least up to their potential, if not better, it affects you mentally.”
While many pit players feel their skills are overlooked, Coach Joe disagrees. “We evaluate them everyday and we know what they can do and usually it’s not much.”
Many members of the pit team say there is nothing positive about it, but there is a driving force that makes them return for practice each day.
“The main thing that keeps me out here is that I love football. I’ve played football ever since I was big enough to hold a football so I don’t know anything else but playing football,” said Chris Daniels a running back from Cincinnati.
Maurice Hayes, a wide receiver from Monticello, remains on the pit team with a determination to improve and demonstrate his abilities.
“I come out here every day looking to make myself better so that when that day comes for me to move up I will be prepared,” Hayes said. “I’m a hard worker. I go out there every day on both sides of the ball really playing 100 percent. I just give my all and when I’m on the sidelines I try to motivate everybody to just keep their heads up.”
Most of the members of this season’s pit team look with a positive eye into the future. After all, Earl Holmes, inside linebacker for the Cleveland Browns and Jamie Nails, guard for the Miami Dolphins, both started on the Rattler pit team.
“I try to think optimistically,” Daniels said. “I think if I keep working hard then possibly next year I’ll be able to dress and maybe get on some special teams and work myself up.”