Season of Life: A football star, a boy, a journey to manhood, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jeffrey Marx, is more than a book about one of Maryland's most successful high school football programs and more than just a football story.
It's about using football as a tool to form lifelong friendships and family relationships and simply making good decisions in life.
Marx writes about his years as a young ball boy with the Baltimore Colts, of the training camps and games of the 1970s and 1980s, and how he formed a bond with "Sack Pack" star Joe Ehrmann, a defensive lineman who helped the Colts win three straight division titles and was selected for the Pro Bowl in 1976. Marx also explains how he took a newspaper assignment to cover the demolition of Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, which led him to track down all of the former Colts players he had known.
And his search led to Ehrmann. After playing 13 seasons of professional football, Ehrmann had become a pastor as well as founder of the Building Men for Others program and co-founder of Baltimore's Ronald McDonald House. He had also become defensive coordinator at Gilman School in the Baltimore area, a highly successful program where striving to win games was all-important. But not as important as striving to be successful in life.
That point is illustrated as Marx follows the Gilman team through a 2001 season that saw many ups and downs, including the fateful events of 9-11 in nearby New York City and Washington D.C. It wasn't an undefeated season. Not like the perfect seasons Gilman had in 1998 and '99. Or the 10-0 season the Greyhounds had in 2002 when they vaulted to No. 14 in the USA Today prep rankings. Then again, players are taught that Gilman football is about living in a community and fostering relationships.
For example, Ehrmann's long-time friend and Gilman head coach Francis "Biff" Poggi tells his players, "We expect greatness out of you. And the way we measure greatness is the impact you make on other people's lives.
"If we lose every game of the year, go oh-and-10 on the football field, as long as we try hard, I don't care. You learn these lessons, and we're 10-and-oh in the game of life."
When one parent asked coach Poggi in the preseason how successful he thought the team was going to be, he replied, "I won't really know how successful they're gonna be till they come back and visit in twenty years. Then I'll be able to see what kind of fathers they are. I'll see what they're doing in the community."
Many of the team's stated philosophies are not what you'd call standard even for Gilman, a private all-boys school established in 1897 that now has about 972 students in grades pre-first through 12.
Among those philosophies, all of the players who make the team and put forth their best effort are told they will see action on the field for at least one play in the first half of any game, not at the end in a mop-up role in a blow-out. The reasoning is simple: If a lesser talented player gives 100 percent, what more can a coach ask for. The lesser talented player has earned the right to play every bit as much as the "star" who was born with God-given talented. At the same time, any "star" who isn't willing to give 100 percent is actually letting the team down.
Victor Abiamiri and Ambrose Wooden, standouts on Gilman's 2001 squad and Maryland's Players of the Year in 2002, now figure prominently in Notre Dame's plans for this coming season - Abiamiri at defensive end, Wooden at cornerback.
Another team rule states that no football player should ever let another student sit alone in the school lunch room. Football player or not, the student is brought over to eat lunch with the company other team members.
Ehrmann says "It's gonna come down to this: What kind of father were you? What kind of husband were you? What kind of coach or teammate were you? What kind of son were you? What kind of brother were you? What kind of friend were you?"
Consider a ritual the Greyhounds follow before the last game of their season when each senior stands before teammates and coaches and reads an essay: "How I Want To Be Remembered When I Die."
Season of Life is well worth reading. Consider the review given by former NFL star Ronnie Lott: "This is not a book you are just going to read and then forget about. You're probably going to read it again sometime. And you'll definitely want to tell family and friends about it. By sharing Season of Life with others, you will be helping to make this a better world."
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