Our first practice was at Dodge Field on a blazing Tuesday afternoon during the first week of August. I spent most of the practice walking around and observing each position group to get a better sense of what we had to work with.
As I walked past our wide receivers, I overheard one of them say he was “keen to start catching some balls.” I watched wide receiver drills for a few minutes and saw the same player drop a few passes in a row and say he was having a “jolly tough time.” I marched over and yanked him out of line.
“What did I just hear you say?”
“Oh, sorry. I was just telling the other chaps that it’s a little tough trying to catch real passes!” And with that, my worst fears were confirmed. This kid was speaking in a goddamn British accent.
“Take your helmet off right now,” I snapped, and the kid complied. He had an expensive haircut and looked clean and hygienic—never a good sign.
“Son, I think you’ve wondered onto the wrong practice field. And probably into the wrong country. What’s your name?”
“You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me. So you’re the new kid who can supposedly run fast? Are you British or something?”
“Yes, sir. I’m from London.”
“Then what in god’s name are you doing out here?”
“I’m an exchange student. I’m lodging with the Johnson family this semester. Marshall and Jeanie Johnson. They thought it’d be good for me to experience some real American football.” Ian smiled earnestly, making me angrier.
“First off, Ian, if I hear you say the word ‘lodging’ again, I’ll call the police and have you deported. This is America. We stopped saying shit like that in 1776. Second, have you ever played football before?”
“Mr. Johnson has tossed the football with me in the back yard a few times.”
“Super,” I said with no enthusiasm. I’d known Marshall and Jeanie Johnson for years. They were local do-gooders who graduated from Berry College, lived in Atlanta for a time, and then moved back here to “give back” to the community where they grew up. They owned a “sustainable, locally-sourced” coffee shop, The Ethical Brew, that employed every sour, lip-ringed teenager in a twenty-mile radius. Marshall and Jeanie spent their free time volunteering at the humane society. Marshall and I played high school football together. He was a gangly and a terrible wide receiver who only got pity snaps on special teams as a senior. I had no respect for him as player or a person. The same went for Jeanie, who was a bassoonist in the high school marching band and a National Honor Society member.
“Well, Ian, it’s obvious from the drills so far that you couldn’t catch tea if you fell into Boston Harbor, so we won’t be calling you by your real name. From now on, you’re Lord Stonehands on this field. Is that understood?”
“Now get the hell out of my sight.”