“What time it is?”, gasps an exhausted Greg Bethune. “It looks like it’s a good 7:30, 8, but I know we ain’t been out here that long.” Bethune wipes the sweat from his brow, picks his phone up off the pellet-filled field turf, clears his screen of the little black pellets and checks the time himself.
“Cal, you ready to go? It’s almost 6:30,” he asks his friend of five years, Calvin Robbins, while they both change into their Nike sandals from the cleats they were wearing. Bethune and Robbins have just finished scrimmaging with their flag football team, something they have been doing together nearly every Sunday of football season for two years now after graduating from South Florida football powerhouse Miami Central in 2015. Bethune and robbins have been facing a challenge thousands of players around the country come face to face with every year: learning how to cope with life after football.
The love of football runs deep in this country, and it starts at a young age. According to Bethune, he started playing organized football as early as four or five years old.
“I guess you can say I built my life around football,” recalls Bethune. “No matter what, I always looked at myself as a football player first.”
By the time they are in high school, football dominates the lives of the players who take the game seriously. Many hours go toward striving to become better every day, often sacrificing a social life to do so. Ndey Bojang, older sister of a former high school player, feels it may not have been worth it.
“Most days he would come home from practice in a bad mood…I’ve always felt like Bakary (her brother) gave football everything he had just for it to give him nothing but memories in return.”
Stories like that are abundant among current and former players around the country. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of those players make it to the next level from high school football for various reasons, and even less from college to the NFL. For Robbins, injury brought his career to an early ending.
“I had come to the realization I probably won’t be one of the few to make it to the League by like my junior year,” Robbins admits. “Now when I tore my knee up and my [scholarship] offers went away…that’s when I started to feel some type of way about the situation.”
That same situation is dreaded by thousands of players across the country at the end of every football season. Their high school playing days are over and they have no scholarship offers, effectively ending their career. After living and breathing nothing but football for years, coming to terms with it no longer being the center of the universe is no easy task.
While Bethune and Robbins decided on flag football to fill the void, there are still former players struggling daily to overcome the football-sized hole in their hearts.