We're within four weeks of FRIDAY NIGHT.
Sure, there's a Friday night every week, all year, but FRIDAY NIGHTS are different. Those are the times where the weather cools, the hot dogs warm, the band plays on and high school football players beat the mess out of each other.
We can see FRIDAY NIGHT on the horizon. As Bart Scott would say: Can't wait!
“Being in class during first period on game nights, you're ready for the game right there,” North Side senior Russell Collins said Friday during a media event at North Side. “The day takes so much longer, it seems like a 10-hour day. But when you walk in the fence, with all the crowd and there's the news coming, you get those butterflies and you're ready to play right there.”
They'll be getting ready for real in less than a week. Official two-a-day practices for high school football starts July 30. The first night of games is Aug. 17. That's summer you're seeing in the rearview mirror.
Collins was part of a North Side team that broke through last year with wins over Snider and Bishop Dwenger, two of the area's perennial powerhouses. In other words, nice wins on the resume.
But the attraction of FRIDAY NIGHT, in Collins' mind, goes beyond the final score. If you've ever played prep football you know the feeling. You can't describe it fully, other than the woefully inadequate term “camaraderie.”
“I love the contact,” Collins said. “I love to hit people. I love how competitive it is. I like being in a brotherhood with my other teammates. I only have two brothers and they're grown, 10 years older than me. Now I have my big brothers and little brothers on the football team. I like that.”
Football keeps growing in Indiana. The fall sport has expanded into summer, with 7-on-7 leagues and tournaments, the football equivalent of AAU basketball.
Columbia City wide receiver Jared Murphy, the fastest kid around with the smoothest hair style (yeah, I'm jealous), earned his scholarship offer to Miami of Ohio during his summer days with AWP's 7-on-7 team that went to the national championships.
He's grateful for summer ball, for the doors that opened and the recognition. He thinks it helps Indiana shed its reputation as a basketball only state.
“A lot of people down south look at us as powerhouse, Big Ten, run it,” Murphy said. “But we can throw it around, too, and have some fun.”
Yet for all of the notice he gained this summer, Murphy says nothing compares with FRIDAY NIGHT.
“Columbia City has awesome fans,” Murphy said. “The fans, the atmosphere, it's indescribable.”
North Side coach Ryan Hall has been coaching in some capacity for 19 years.
He long ago stopped measuring the beauty of high school football through wins and losses.
“The best part is definitely the relationships you get with the kids,” Hall said. “Last week, I got a call from Javon Reese, who played at South Side. He called me out of the blue and I didn't even know he still had my number. He said, 'Coach, I graduated from college.' I haven't coached him in seven or eight years, but it's those relationships you build.
“Hopefully, five or six years from now these guys remember the good times they had at North Side and all the fun stuff we get to do.”
FRIDAY NIGHT remains different, in part, because there are so few of them. Only nine regular season games, only a handful of home games.
High school football is an event, more so than any other sport. No others sport owns one night. No other sport owns as much lore in that night. Is it over romanticized at times? Sure, I'm guilty as charged.
But there's just something about the feel of FRIDAY NIGHT that separates it from every other prep event.
“Friday nights are the times that never really leave us,” Columbia City coach Randy Hudgins said. “And when you're in teaching and coaching, you never really graduate in a sense. It's exciting and worth working hard for and enjoying.”
Those who are part of it – players, cheerleaders, fans, band members – should savor it.
“I've talked to college athletes and even NFL athletes and they all say, 'Don't try to hurry up and get to college,' “ Murphy said. “Friday night is the best you'll ever play in, better than Sundays and Saturdays.”
Four weeks until FRIDAY NIGHT. Let the countdown begin.