The Trade-offs I Made To Play High School Football

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Youth Radio's Garrison Pennington talks about his decision to quit football.
Youth Radio’s Garrison Pennington talks about his decision to quit football.

Growing up in my family, there were a few indisputable truths: one, the San Francisco 49ers were, are, and always will be the greatest football franchise to exist. And two, football was going to be part of my life, and if I had a problem with that, too bad.

My dad was a wide receiver in high school. My older brother was MVP when he played. And when I joined the team my freshman year, my teammates and coaches had high expectations. But my play was not MVP material. Just three weeks into my freshman season, I bruised my femur during practice in a very unimpressive fashion, and I was out for the season.

The next year, my brother broke his ankle. It ended his football career and a year later he still has a limp. And for me, nagging injuries kept adding up. I had ankle issues, cuts and bruises that never seemed to heal, and once I even raced straight from my doctor’s office to the football field after finding out it was okay to play with shin splints.

On top of that, the regimen became more intense. Our coaches had us constantly working: more practices, testing us on the playbook, running hour-long agility drills. There were guys downing five scoops of protein powder a day. It turns out the phrase “tastes like cardboard” isn’t always an exaggeration.

This new routine took its toll. My grades slipped because I was simply too tired to do homework after practice. But most importantly, football wasn’t fun anymore. So I asked myself: Is this what I really want? The answer was no, so I left the team.

I saw my friends looking for Division I scholarships. They were willing to sacrifice their grades, social life, free time, and even their physical well being. To me, it all started to seem crazy, because the odds of making it were so low, and the risk was so high.  

When I played football, there was nothing better than a big hit. Whether I was watching, hitting, or even getting hit, it was great. But now, I’m a lot more aware of the downside of that thrill.

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