MADISON – If you’ve played high school football, you know the feeling. The lights, the nights, the fans and your teammates. The memories are endless.
The same goes for the Wisconsin football players who, at least one more time, will lace up for one more game under the lights on a Friday night. On September 1 against Utah State, the Badgers will take the field at Camp Randall to a ruckus crowd of students just arriving for the fall semester and fans who have been deprived of football for eight months.
They’ll be no shortage of energy, no shortage of motivation. But with the game being on a Friday night and memories of high school football flush in the minds of players and fans alike, I asked some of the players and coaches what their favorite memories from high school football were.
“High school football was, for a lot of guys, something they wish they could go back to,” starting fullback Austin Ramesh said. “Back to Friday night lights and stuff. Even after playing here. Not taking anything away from here but it would be nice to play under the lights on a Friday again.”
And for some of the Badger players, looking back, they remembered performances of their team as a whole or of a best friend having a career night.
“My favorite high school memory is my friend Christen, he plays for NIU, he had the game winning touchdown with 28 seconds left. We were playing against this school called Dillard and he scored the touchdown and I remember how hyped the crowd was,” receiver George Rushing said. “The game was just like, we were losing like 24-3 at half and we came back and he scored the game winning touchdown. He’s my brother, he’s one of my best friend so getting to celebrate that moment with him was special. It was a turning point not only for him but for the team.”
Starting cornerback Derrick Tindal’s favorite memory also was of a teammate shinning under the lights of Friday night.
“My favorite one was not even my own game, I was watching my teammate, Eddie Jackson who plays for Alabama now, I was actually watching him one game. It was his first game ever playing high school ball and we were playing against Temple Plant,” Tindal said. “He just went berserk that game like a kick return touchdown, a receiving touchdown, an interception for a touchdown and it was the best high school football player I’ve ever seen in my life.”
For some though, the taste of sweet victory over an arch-rival is better than any taste. For starting linebacker Jack Cichy, this rings true the most.
“My junior year we won the section semis by one point and it was against our arch rival who we had lost to the previous two years. So kind of getting that monkey off of our back and getting to the state tournament was a lot of fun,” Cichy said.
With the first game on a Friday, Cichy is hoping that energy and atmosphere surrounding Friday night lights will descend upon Camp Randall.
“It’ll be fun, it’ll be the first game of the season, it’ll be a night game at Camp,” Cichy continued. “Everyone, all the students kind of coming back, all the fans will have a little bit of a different energy so it’ll be cool to see this place rocking.”
As the Badgers are full of players who dominated high school football, there are also memories of once in a lifetime performances.
Sadly for starting receiver Jazz Peavy, that performance came in a lose to a rival school.
“Favorite high school football memory? Oh man, I scored five touchdowns in the second half against our rival team. But we lost and that part sucked, but the stats I put up that game was fun,” Peavy said.
For starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook, it was the wrath of mother nature and it’s impact on a game that stuck out most as he looked back on his high school days.
“We were a private school, we played a lot of Saturday afternoons. But probably one game I remember, there was a thunderstorm and it was a Saturday night but we ran a Wing-T and we’d probably run it seven or eight times a game but this game for some reason this game when it was raining we ran it 40 times,” Hornibrook said.
A lot of fans and even players would assume that everyone watching and playing fell in love with football at a very early age.
Some though found that love on a cool fall evening, under the lights of their high school football field. For Rafael Gaglianone, this was the case as he did not even play the sport until his junior and senior years of high school.
“We played McColey, which was our city rival, and it was just one of those games,” Gaglianone said. “It was special, everyone was there, first big game for me. It was just a fun memory for me, just seeing everyone preparing.”
“It’s kind of the game that made me fall in love with football and made me understand why this game is so big and why there’s so many people following,” Gaglianone continued. “That kind of changed everything for me and I’m excited to play on a Friday night. But you know any time we play under the lights at Camp Randall it’s pretty special.”
Most of all, especially for those of us who no longer play, and can only watch, living our football experience through others, you just miss the feeling of being a part of something larger than yourself.
That feeling is similar for the coaches.
“I think my memory is that I miss the huddle. Obviously when you step in the huddle you look at your teammates in the eyes. So I miss that. More so than having a favorite play or something I did or didn’t do. It’s that feeling of stepping into the huddle,” receiver coach Ted Gilmore said.
There was no shortage of nostalgia, no shortage of joy and smiles as the players and coaches looked back on times when Friday nights ran supreme. Lucky for all of us, we get to experience that feeling one more time.