Don’t be THAT GUY.

Don’t be THAT GUY.

Somewhere along the line — at some point of three levels of football (high school, college and er, um, semi-pro) — a coach instilled that phrase in me.

On the eve of the beginning of the latest installment of the annual fall rites of passage that is high school football, I want to dispense a little knowledge of what that phrase means to the hundreds of young men toiling around football fields throughout Eastern Jackson County.

THAT GUY is the guy that just doesn’t seem to buy in to what the coaching staff is selling. He’s the guy that can be a cancer in the locker room, the guy that can literally ruin an entire season with self-absorbed, self-indulged and self-serving behavior.

I speak this truth not to preach to the young lads, but to help some of them avoid the pitfalls that befell me and my football teammates back in the fall of 1991.

Oh yeah, I was a hot shot Division I football recruit; full of myself from a decent enough junior season at Eureka High (in Suburban St. Louis). All-conference and all-district as a wide receiver — I even grabbed honorable mention all-metro status — my individual accolades mirrored the success of a team that was 9-3 and qualified for the state playoffs for the first time in school history.

We even won a sectional playoff game, but were then spanked by eventual state champion Jefferson City 49-3 in a quarterfinal game at home.

The next season, we thought we were hot stuff. One high school publication had us as the No. 1 large-school team in the state, ranked ahead of perennial powers Jeff. City, Rockhurst, McCluer, St. Louis University High and the Nate Minnis-Lou Shepard-led Blue Springs Wildcats.

Jeff. City of course, reported as champs that ‘91 season, downing SLUH in the process, and McCluer was the runner up to the Jays in 1990.

Blue Springs would win their first-ever state title the following year.

My point is this: We — and when I say we, I can really only speak for myself — I got to believing my press clippings and informal recruiting letters from Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State, Arizona and Arizona State.

I became THAT GUY.

I had a terrible summer before my senior year. I skipped the offseason weightlifting program to play summer baseball and attend basketball camps. The one camp we attended as a team ended in disaster at the University of Missouri.

I can remember it like it was yesterday.

We had spent the previous two years of team summer camp at Nebraska and emulated the Cornhuskers’ Power I offense to a ‘T.’ Because we had a big-time recruit at running back, our coaches decided that Bob Stull’s staff in Columbia deserved a chance to take a look at him so we headed to MU for camp instead of traveling back to Lincoln.

Within days, our season was in shambles.

Halfway through camp, we gathered in a defensive huddle during a drill. Defensive backs were standing behind a wall of massive defensive lineman. The linemen were bent over in a traditional ‘hands on knees, head up huddle’ stance when one of my defensive back brethren decided to loosen a little the intense camp.

He grabbed my hand and shoved it up the rear end of an unsuspecting and defenseless defensive lineman. In a whisker, the d-lineman turned to me and socked me below the waist.

I flipped out, tossing my helmet and pleading my innocence. After letting go a few expletives on the lineman, a coach intervened and ask me to explain what happened. I couldn’t, so the lineman explained for me.

“He stuck his finger up my butt,” the lineman hollered.

“No, I didn’t,” I screamed. Keep in my mind, I was one of the team captains, a returning letterman and expectant leader. I totally failed at that. “It wasn’t me.”

“Who was it?” the coach asked.

“Not me,” I said.

“Well then, who?” the coach continued, turning beat red by the moment. He was also the strength and conditioning coach, so his bulging neck muscles, were, um, bulging. “Who stuck the finger up the (rear end)?”

“It was (name of player withheld),” I screamed with youthful defiance. “Are you happy now!”

“Yeah, I’m happy!” the coached yelled. By this time it was complete and utter silence amongst the 50 or so teammates and coaches that were there. “And if you ever talk to me like that again, you little pencil neck geek, I’ll kick your (butt).”

I look back on the situation and all I can think is I should have and could have handled that situation a lot better. I could have been a leader and set the example of how to handle adversity — and we all know handling adversity is a major part of football. But, I didn’t. I became THAT GUY and we finished 7-3 that season and didn’t even make it out of district.

What could have been a dream season turned into mush and I warn all of the young lads that may be tempted by their college letters, post-season accolades and press clippings: Don’t be THAT GUY.