Almost and so far away: Football challenge shows wide gap between athletes and challengers

Published 9:25 pm Friday, August 4, 2017

If you have a challenge for Rocky or I, drop us a line through email or Twitter. While we won’t be able to say yes to everything, we do hope to make this a regular series.

All challenges should be on the high school level of competition and be a serious attempt at those sports.

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Have you ever watched a high school football game from the crowd and wondered if you’d have a chance to make a play if you stepped on a field?

Hunter Guyette all over the stylings of the Odell Beckham, Jr.-like Eric Johnson on a pass. Rocky Hulne/

While I never played high school football, I did play a lot of back yard games of football as a youth and I am a big fan of the game. So when the Austin football team approached Eric Johnson and I and asked us to run some routes against them for the next Herald Sports Challenge, we couldn’t pass it up. Austin head coach Brett Vesel was kind enough to let us pick the athletes we would go up against.

Foolishly, I picked Luke Hawkshead to play wide receiver. Hawkshead, a senior, has played mostly defensive line and offensive line over the past two years for the Packers, but he played tight end for one season when he was a freshman living in Iowa. He is a standout player up front for Austin, but I thought he may be a little slower than some of the other Packer wide receivers Eric and I might have a slight chance of keeping up with him for a brief spurt.

Boy was I wrong.

With Austin senior quarterback Tate Hebrink throwing the passes, I was helpless to do anything to stop Luke. I played off him, I jumped routes, and I even made a desperate attempt to jam him at the line. Everything failed.

The end result was Luke hauling in five-straight 25-yard TD grabs against me.

On the last of the five routes I guessed right that Luke would be running a fly route and I watched Tate’s pass sail right towards my shoulder. It was my golden moment.

However, my 38-year-old legs weren’t able to get off the ground while sprinting and I helplessly lifted my arm in an attempt of desperation. The ball sailed just out of my reach and into the hands of Luke.

Rocky Hulne just misses breaking up a pass to Luke Hawkshead. Eric Johnson/

I was heartbroken.

Eric had much better luck against Luke as he held him to three TDs on five attempts. But that was merely because Hawkshead let a couple of passes slip through his grasp.

When I asked Luke if he had heard Eric’s footsteps on one of his drops, he simply smiled and said “I heard him breathing.”

If you’re thinking I fared much better when I lined up at receiver, you had better think again.

Since there would be no safety help or pass rush, I figured Eric and I could go against a tough corner, so I picked junior Hunter Guyette, who started at corner last year for Austin, but is coming off an injury that caused him to miss most of the summer for baseball.

I didn’t realize how much of a gambler Hunter was until my first route, when he jumped a slant and immediately picked it off. The sad part was, I thought I had beaten him, but his burst of speed was something I could never match.

I turned to Tate and told him we should try some double moves and Tate smirked. I kind of laughed to myself as well.

Tate and I both knew I had a better chance of Hunter simply slipping on a well-placed banana peel than he did of getting beat on a double move by me.

I did have one moment of success when Tate hit me on a short ‘out’ route to salvage the day. But the overall experience was quite humbling.

When Eric took his turn at receiver he proved that he is clearly at home in the Herald Sports Challenge. After coming up with a big single off Austin pitcher Tori Gardner in his softball challenge, Eric hauled in a TD on his first play against Hunter, and he also made an impressive diving grab.

Eric’s other three routes ended up with Hunter having his way as the competition began to heat up and Hunter began to talk a little trash.

All in all, everyone in the challenge had a good time and I think it was nice for Eric and I to interact with Tate, Hunter and Luke in a fun competition before the grind of the season gets underway. It’s fair to say that Eric and I also learned about the speed of the game, even at the high school level.

Eric scores after the first of his two catches. Rocky Hulne/

When you’re standing on the sidelines or in the crowd, it’s easy to underestimate how fast these players are moving, but up close it’s clear to see they’re at another level. When Luke ran his first route against me, I turned my head for a second in the wrong direction as he closed in on me. By the time I regrouped, he was 10 yards past me and jogging into the end zone.

You simply can’t simulate speed like that in your back yard and you also can’t simulate the physicality these players bring to the field. As bad as it was for Eric and I without pads on, it would’ve been much worse if we were in pads and participating in a full contact drill.

While the failure I felt on that football field stung a little, I suppose it’s what I deserve for trying to fly with a Hawk and run with a Hunter.

From now on I’ll stick to the sidelines when the Austin Packers are on the football field. However, I’ll always remember that one time that I almost broke up a deep ball from Hebrink to Hawkshead.