What It Was Like Playing High School Football Years Ago
Playing High School Football Years Ago
Memories of playing high school football years ago are still vivid in my mind.
During the years 1958-59, I learned the basics of football and how to block and tackle while on the junior varsity team.
Then, during my junior and senior years, 1960-61, I became a starting lineman. I played primarily left tackle on the offensive line but also saw playing time as a defensive lineman.
In this article, I recall what it was like playing high school football years ago.
First Interest in Playing Football
As a young boy, I was a lot more interested in playing baseball than football. Up until the eighth grade, I played baseball with neighborhood kids whenever having the chance.
In the fall of eighth grade, however, I started to become more interested in football. At that time, some of my classmates organized an eleven-player flag touch football team. Being fully grown at 5'9" and weighing 145 pounds, I was chosen by the captain of our team to play left guard. Although there was no tackling allowed during the few practices and games we had, I learned how team football was played. In addition, I started watching football on television.
High School Freshman Year Football
I entered Burlington High School in the fall of 1958. When the school's new young football coach saw me for the first time in the halls, Coach B asked whether I had signed up to play junior varsity football. Now at 165 pounds, I was one of the bigger boys in the freshman class.
After talking with mom and dad, they agreed that I could play football. There would be problems, however, with my transportation home late in the afternoon after practice.
I remember going to practice for the first time with a new pair of football cleats and being surprised at all of the equipment I had to wear. In addition to shoulder pads, I had to put on rib pads, hip pads, and thigh pads before stepping into football pants and having someone pull a jersey over my shoulder pads. Before putting on a helmet, I also had to buy a mouthpiece to protect my teeth and a protective cup or athletic support for my private parts.
Although not going through many practices, I will always remember the first. After doing warm-up calisthenics, we had to practice pushing a blocking sled and then tackle a padded dummy held by another player. The practice concluded with a few laps to run around the football practice field. Since I had never practiced this way before, I could hardly walk after I got out of the shower.
I only went to a few practices and never played in a game. This was because I had no transportation home after practice.
Sophomore Year Football
I was able to play football during my sophomore year in high school in 1959 because the junior varsity coach Mr. Anderson gave me a ride home after practice.
During the football season, we had a lot of practice in blocking and tackling. I was assigned to play left tackle on the offensive line. In our scrimmages, I learned how to block and open holes in the line for running plays. I also learned how to pass block.
My first contest was a home game against Mukwonago on a Monday evening. I remember staying at school after classes ended at 3:30. The game wasn't until 7:00 and like a fool, I ate a pizza around 5:30. I paid for this stupidity by vomiting on the field during the game. Although I don't remember who won the game, I made some good blocks and even recovered a fumble.
After the football year ended in early November, I was rewarded by earning my "62" numerals which I immediately sewed on my school jacket. "62" signified the year that I would graduate.
Junior Year Football
My high school junior football year began with excitement and optimism. I was now on the varsity and our preseason training and practices began during the last two weeks in August.
Before beginning practice, however, I had to pass a physical and dental exam. I passed the physical but was required to have a tooth pulled before the dentist passed me. After getting a new mouthpiece, I was ready for my first summer practice.
We practiced early in the mornings and sometimes twice a day. I was assigned to play left tackle on offense. Many of my junior classmates like LeRoy, Wayne, and Brian also had positions on the offensive line. The defense primarily had members of the senior class.
During practices, I butted heads with a senior, Paul B, who was much bigger than me. I was now almost 180 pounds but Paul P towered over me at 6'3" and about 220 pounds. Paul B was assigned to play defensive tackle and always lined up opposite of me in practices. During one practice when I was trying to block Paul P, I recall coach B saying, "Good job, Paul," to me and "Good job, Paul," to Paul P. My practices with Paul B were always harder than the opponents I faced in games.
On the day of our first home game, Coach B introduced me and other starting players on our team to students at our first pep assembly. I never felt so proud and important in my life.
After the football season began, I remember having a home or away games every Friday evening. During the games, one of the school audio-visual instructors would film all of the football action. At away games, he usually had his movie camera mounted on a tripod which was placed on top of our team school bus parked near the football field.
At practice on Mondays, our first order of business was watching the film of the previous game. While running the film in slow motion and sometimes rewinding many times, Coach B showed how we were making mistakes blocking, tackling, and running our offense and defense. Our coach would get so mad when he saw backs not hitting a hole in the line which had been opened. Coach one said that anyone can be a back but that it takes someone special to be a good lineman. This encouraged me very much.
The football season of 1960 was not very good because we lost almost all of our games. In a practice before the second last game of the year, I broke the leg of one of our defensive tackles while blocking him. The result was that I had to take his place on defense and play both ways during the last two games.
Before the last game of the year at home against Mukwonago, I remember writing on the chalkboard in the team room, "Wolf says Mukwonago by 10. Will it be that way?" Wolf was the sports reporter and editor for the Burlington Standard Press paper.
We wound up tieing Mukwonago 12-12. During the tieing touchdown, Andy W also known as The Big Bopper ran a kickoff back to the five-yard line while having a nosebleed. I thought we had originally scored but we certainly did on the next play.
At the end of my junior football year, I was rewarded by winning a big orange "B" which I immediately had sewed on my school jacket which was now a letter jacket.
Attending the University of Wisconsin Varsity-Alumni Spring Football Game
In April 1961 toward the end of my junior year, Coach B took me and three other junior teammates to Madison to watch the University of Wisconsin Varsity-Alumni Spring Football Game.
We rode in Coach's car and arrived on the University of Wisconsin campus late in the morning. I remember first going to the Shell an indoor building where the Badgers practiced. Some of the players like guard Sparky Stalcup were doing blocking drills.
In the afternoon, we went to Camp Randall Stadium and saw the game. What I can still remember is seeing Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch from the alumni team catching a pass and using his leg movements to get away from defenders. Hirsch played for the Badgers 1941-1944 and was an All-Star for the Los Angeles Rams 1949-1957.
Senior Year Football
Prior to my senior year, the football team had increased optimism. We had an experienced offensive line and everyone was eager to show that we were better than our 0-8-1 record of 1960.
All players now had a playbook which diagramed all of our offensive plays and designated them with numbers.
I started the season playing left tackle on offense and defensive tackle on defense. Playing on special teams, too, did not give me any breathers during games.
My best blocking game was the first one against Mukwonago which we won 18-14. I was fired up for the game because some of the Mukwonago players had gone to grade school with me when I lived near Mukwonago.
I did alright until the Lake Geneva game which was a disaster and embarrassment for me. Being up against a much bigger lineman opponent, I was spooked and allowed Lake Geneva backs to run over my hole in the line for at least two touchdowns in the first half of the game. It is no wonder that Coach B benched me from both offense and defense in the second half. We wound up losing to the Lake Geneva Badgers 24-13.
During the next two games and especially against East Troy on Homecoming, I was back on the field and playing well on offense. I was no longer playing on defense.
Even though we lost the last two games, 30-0 to Whitewater and 19-0 to Union Grove, our Burlington Demons team finished the year with a 3-5-1 record. It was the best record BHS had had in many years.
1996 - Elkhorn versus Burlington High School
In looking back on my high school football years, I was an average player at best. I could have been better but I was afraid to throw my body around. I was also not very athletic and could never master cross blocking and trapping. Just the same, playing football taught me the value of hard work, practice, teamwork, and sportsmanship.
© 2019 Paul Richard Kuehn