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(Tim Ehlerding of Decatur has written a novel, “Always a Loser, Forever a Champion,” a story inspired by the 2008 Bellmont High School football team's state championship. “If you read the book, it’s pretty clear who the various characters are,” Ehlerding said. The general story line follows the actual events, “but I took quite a bit of literary license.” Following is the first of five edited installments being published by the Daily Democrat.)
A football season has a way of imparting permanent scars, scratches, and sores all over the limbs of a high school running back. For many athletes, the level of exposed skin damaged and discolored by bruises and scrapes at the end of the football season was well over 50 percent. In Nick Hodge’s case, it was much more, indicative of the way he approached the game of football.
Most people, when talking about Nick, would comment on his ability to break or injure nearly every bone, muscle, or tendon in his body through his participation in sports at North Adams High School. Nick approached sports much like he approached life, with 100 percent of his ability.
In front of the junior laid a distance of twenty yards, a continental span between him and the last opportunity for the 2007 edition of North Adams High School Braves football team—twenty yards of eternity, twenty yards of pain, twenty yards until the end zone. If he covered the length successfully, the football team played another day. Missing the mark and falling short would mean the end of yet another disheartening season.
The first hit rattled inside his helmet for what seemed an eternity. Eyes full of hatred, glaring with the desire to decimate his much smaller body, pierced through the few bars of plastic which provided the only barrier between the predator and the prey. A twist and a sidestep he learned from fellow junior running back Trent Bussman caused the opponent to lose his grasp, and allowed Nick the freedom to move forward.
A crevice of light glimmered between the massive wall of humanity rapidly bearing down on the running back, reminiscent of a wave crashing down on a helpless surfer.
An opening! The thought flashed through his mind.
“He broke through!” Head Coach Tony Glandorf yelled, witnessing Hodge slither past the initial column of defenders still massed together with the Braves offense at the line of scrimmage. “C’mon, Hodge!” he screamed over the sound of the other players as they jumped behind him along the sidelines, witnessing what they perceived to be a historic win.
All Hodge saw was green.
Enjoy the run, Hodge thought as he relaxed and, even with the mouth guard between his teeth, grinned a smile of satisfaction. All I need to do is not fall or drop the ball. Why worry? After all, there’s nothing but open field between me and …
Crunch! The weight he suddenly experienced on his back was exceeded only by the sounds of his pads absorbing the momentum of the mass that wrapped its hefty arms around his shoulders.
As he fell to the ground, enveloped by the successful tackler, Hodge heard the collective sigh come from his team and the fans, countered by the deafening cheer from the visitor’s bleachers. Grass jammed itself between the bars of his facemask, obscuring any view of the monster who pushed his helmet into the dry and hardened turf.
“Eat that, loser!” was all the tackler offered Hodge.
Five yards short, stopping him and the Braves from playing again this season.