IT WAS the beginning of school football season, and the boys of fall were anxious to rough the field between the two goal posts. New faces filled the coaching staff of Fayetteville High School’s football team. Though the team had played a few seven-on-seven scrimmage games against neighboring schools, those padless games did not equate to the real thing. But this that was about to take place underneath the glowing stadium lights was real. This would be the first official game of the 2019 season. The night would serve as a primary indicator of how the rest of the season would play out.
As you can imagine, emotions and adrenaline levels were high for both coaches and players of the Fayetteville football team. However, from the moment the Tigers stepped out on their 50-yard line, all of the negative and worrisome emotions were put behind them. The team focused on executing all they had been practicing over the summer. The result was one of the most memorable games, defensively, in Tiger history. The Tiger defense held off Marion County with ruthless fury. Defensive safety at the time, Isaac Pace recalled the night like this, “The first real game of the season was an opening home game against Marion County, and we held them scoreless. I think they might have had one first down in the entire first half. We completely shut them down on defense. It was a blast. We had so much fun doing it.”
Pace beamed as he reminisced at how thrilling it was to execute defensively at such a high level. And the excitement he felt was not something he experienced in isolation. The enthusiasm expanded to his teammates, coaches, cheerleaders, band members, and Tiger fans scattered throughout the stadium. With each blocked pass and every swift tackle, a feral roar was brought forth from the increasingly impressed crowd.
The exhilaration didn’t end after the opening game. The Tigers continued to dominate each opponent they played, spreading more and more excitement throughout the town of Fayetteville. Pace recalled how the community rallied around their team. He said, “We always had really big crowd turnouts. The support in the community for our team was always amazing. There were many times when I’d be walking through Walmart or somewhere. I would be wearing Tigers football workout gear or a team shirt, and someone would reach out and say, ‘Hey! You all played a great game last Friday night.’ I wouldn’t know who it was, but they obviously saw our game. It was neat.”
The Tigers finished the season with an undefeated record. They achieved this even after the heartbreaking loss of a beloved teammate, Tate Tuten. Amidst the tragedy, the guys on the football team remained eager to play and make the community proud. From the sounds of it, the community was well beyond proud.
After an incredible senior year of playing football, Pace graduated and received an offer to continue playing football at Rhodes College in Memphis. Pace was on the team both his freshman and sophomore year at Rhodes. However, Pace tore his labrum during his first year and then broke his thumb in four different places his sophomore year. This led Pace to end his football career earlier than expected. Pace is still enrolled at Rhodes College and now spends his time and efforts primarily focusing on his education. He is pursuing a degree in International Business.
Though his time playing football is over, Pace holds a deep appreciation for the game and for his time spent on the field. He said, “Playing football made me become a much more structured person. I am usually a pretty “go with the flow” type of person. I don’t plan a lot. However, playing football definitely helped me become more structured, self-motivated, and diligent.” Due to the unexpected disappointments and heartbreaks Pace had to face throughout his football career, he has a unique outlook regarding sports in high school. His advice to current athletes may appear harsh because it is a striking reality. However, his words are laced with compassionate wisdom. He shared, “My advice to young athletes is this: Sports aren’t going to last forever. So you might as well get something more out of sports than just the ability to play them.”
The thought was shared in hopes to encourage those connected to athletics to glean all they can from high school sports. No one is guaranteed another season of play or even another day. If one can receive a free college education from high school sports, work toward that. If one can better themself by growing in mental, physical, or emotional health while playing high school sports, focus on that. If playing a high school sport simply provides a positive social environment, that is a great benefit. Make friends and positive relationships. If high school sporting events are nothing more than a common denominator for diverse community members to connect, count it as a win. As long as we, the people, whether players or the larger community, are getting something more out of sports than just the ability to play, it is good news in the eyes of Isaac Pace. GN