Lincoln East High School football: “It’s Labor Day, isn’t it?”

Story by Wade Hilligoss, NewsNetNebraska

Sophomore wideout Justin McLaughlin didn’t love the Labor Day practice.

He disliked the hot ground. The morning sun had a warmth to it. Not uncomfortably hot, just enough warmth that your girlfriend would remove her cardigan. But the early morning start, paired with the fact that Monday morning was a school holiday and the temperature added up to a miserable mood in the north red zone.

“Let’s scrimmage,” he yelled out. “C’mon coach! It’s the right day for light scrimmage!”

The Lincoln East Varsity football team had just played a game in Kearney on Friday night, so they got first choice to stay inside for the morning. Being inside meant easy lifting in the air-conditioned and newly renovated weight room. That relegated the reserves outside to the smoldering field turf. Millions of tiny rubber shreds always make the day fun.

Getting coach to let the team scrimmage meant skipping wind sprints and fumble dives, and often having a little fun. And for Justin, he would enjoy scrimmaging and staying away from wide receivers coach Shannon White, the most intense and demanding reserve coach.

“All right guys, first team offense line it up,” White yelled. “First defense, get over there.”

Justin flanked wide left. Then the situation became obvious to him; the reserves only had 21 players to call their own. JV and freshman teams made up the rest of their rosters on game day.

“No worries everybody!” White shouted. “I’ll be a defensive back!”

The 6-foot man took his position, towering over the head of the noticeably thinner and lanky Justin. At 5 foot 10 inches and 135 lbs, Justin looked like a child compared to White. Justin was decked out in full pads. His coach in a blue T-shirt and short white gym shorts.

The ball was snapped. Justin made an inside move on his coach. The throw was high, but Justin got a hand on the ball. Boom. White nailed Justin in the small of his back and shouted at him to make a better route. Justin made a muffled scream that was both angry and hurt.

His ego bruised, Justin lined up wide left again. Another batted away by White.

“You’ve got to mix up your moves, man!” the coach shouted.

Justin’s body language told the story: His bulky shoulder pads sulked beneath his tattered blue practice jersey. He was not having it.

He lined up again. Hike. Throw. Catch made by Justin. He had finally made his contribution, but he looked down at his feet. Both of his black and white Riddle cleats stood out of bounds on the white turf surrounded by his teammates’ 20-year-old practice gear.

White laughed. He mocked him and joked to the other players Justin had learned to improvise. With that, Justin was furious. He took his helmet off. The bulk of the thing made his head look huge on his body. He dumped water on his head, and resumed his position.

The ball was snapped. Justin sprinted at full speed. Not a playbook route, but a full-on crossing pattern. This time, Coach White lagged, huffing aloud like a bull charging a matador.

Justin scored on the play. Coach White looked slightly confused.

“Wow Justin, I haven’t seen that before,” he taunted.

“Yeah I’m working on something new,” Justin spat. “It’s Labor Day isn’t it?”

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