Strong Side (Eastshore Tigers Book 1)

By: Alison Hendricks


CHAPTER ONE

- Derek -



Putting on that blue and black jersey for the first time feels like coming home.

Sure, it's just a flimsy mesh shirt that barely stretches over my pads. But to me, it represents a hell of a lot more: A long road full of struggle, and a way to move on with my life.

Mostly, it feels fucking amazing to get the chance to play football again.

As a recruited walk-on, I was offered the chance to attend the Tigers’ summer camp. While it’s technically voluntary, it’s pretty much expected for anyone who wants to start this season.

Honestly, I probably would've gone even if it wasn't mandatory. Lifting weights for hours a day and running sprints in the sweltering Florida heat isn't exactly my idea of fun, but it's helped me get my head back into the game. And it's given me a chance to meet some of my teammates. Considering I've been at Eastshore College for two years already and can only really count my roommates among my friends, it's probably a good thing.

But summer camp and fall practice are two totally different beasts. This is the first time we’re all together on the same field, and it’ll be the first time we run actual plays. Of course, that doesn't mean there aren't conditioning drills hammered into us from day one.

Weighed down by my practice equipment, I'm put through my paces with the most grueling drills imaginable. Up-downs that lead into bear crawls that lead right into suicides.

It's fucking brutal, and if I hadn't experienced something similar in high school, I'd probably be puking my guts out right now. As it is, I've seen at least four guys run off the field and start retching. Either they're not used to this level of heat and humidity, or the hard work required of them. Maybe it’s a combination of the two.

Either way, they're probably not going to make it to the first game. That's why coaches do these drills right at the start—to send the weaker guys home. There's nothing even remotely relaxing about college football, and I knew that going into it.

It's not like my thighs aren't jelly by the time we’re done, or that my chest doesn't burn from trying to wheeze in a few extra breaths during sprints. But compared to what I've gone through in the past, it's almost a privilege to be able to do all this shit.

And it honestly could be worse. The NCAA regulates the first few practices of the season, so Coach Garvey blows the whistle on us at regular intervals, switching out groups of guys and letting the rest of us take a much-needed break.

Some of the guys almost collapse, and I don't really blame them. Just an hour and a half into it, and I'm completely drenched in sweat. My pads are sticking to my shirt, and that’s practically plastered to my body. Even still, there's a flood of endorphins running through my veins right now as I jog over to the sidelines, desperate for a drink of water.

I find the tepid cooler and pour myself a cup, unsure where I left my actual bottle. One gulp downs it, and I fill up a few more times before I have competition.

"And I thought my coach was a hard-ass," a familiar voice says.

I look up to see Troy Sanders, a freshman walk-on, recruited the same way I was. Troy is one of the first guys I talked to here.

"Guess Garvey didn’t get his rep from letting his team slack off,” he continues. “I'm gonna end up icing my shoulder by the end of this, I know it."

“You won’t be the only one.”

I have a feeling the locker room is already stocked with a freezer full of ice packs to handle the demand. And probably a supply cabinet’s worth of athletic tape, too. It's always rough like this over the first few weeks. It has to be.

I clap Sanders on the back, his pads rattling underneath his practice jersey. None of us have names out here. Just numbers that have been used again and again. For the guys who don't start, this is all they’ll get for the entire season.

Guys like Sanders will get to stay at Eastshore whether he starts in every game or not. The chances of me earning funding for the rest of my time here are pretty fucking slim, but they'll be absolutely demolished if I never play a game.

"You looked good out there during pass drills, man."

His compliment makes me feel like an asshole, but I guess that's the world of college football.

"You did, too. Could tell when your shoulder started giving you trouble, though."

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