Nate Dickinson remembers a time when he was stronger, faster and bigger than Tanner Vallejo. He was the perfect middle linebacker, filled with the promise of the coming years. It was Vallejo who would have to catch up and replace Dickinson at middle linebacker. Yet he reflects upon it with joy in his voice.
Dickinson has just showered after a tough practice. He takes a moment to catch his breath. He calls the memories of their time together “amazing.” He reflects on all the time they have spent as teammates. The excitement in his voice reinforces the desire to end it all the right way. He detours to the “brotherhood” they have all shared.
A normally subdued Nate Dickinson is suddenly animated well beyond his normal self.
He speaks of how they were always there for each other. He reflects on the unique relationship this group of seasoned players shares.
“It’s not odd. We have been through everything together. It has been an incredible journey. We have built such a strong bond.”
Indeed, it is a strange scenario. A group of Nevada Union football players are playing out their final games together. Many have competed together since first grade. What makes it so unusual is that they formed a union that is remarkable.
For more than a decade, the likes of Kyle Cota, Tanner Vallejo, Austin Marks, Gareth Noxon, Nate Dickinson, Hank Humphers, Ian Davis, Davi Pettinato and Miguel Espinosa have fine-tuned their football skills together, as an inseparable group.
They dreamed of one day playing for the Nevada Union High School varsity squad. They went to NU games when they were young. They fanaticized about what it would be like to play before a packed house at Hooper Stadium.
If dreams truly can become reality, this is something to behold. They are all playing out the string together. It is the end of their football era. There is a finality about this campaign for this band of football brothers.
Yet, it has been a very rich run for all of them. Some joined the squad a little later. One took a mini break. All stayed connected in the quest to finish the journey in a way that would galvanize this group forever.
It is unique to today’s high school sports scene.
Tanner Vallejo reflects, “I never thought this group would make it this far. We have been doing this since the first grade. We have all stuck it out.”
He continues, “This is a hard- working group. We have been learning the game for 12 years. There is a special connection. We know each other so well.”
Player after player notes the respect they have for each other. They speak of how they work together, helping the teammate who might be suffering.
Today, Austin Marks is big, tall and strong. He is enjoying an impressive season. At tight end, he is sure-handed and swift. Austin Marks is a game-changer.
However, he relishes the opportunity to speak of his humble beginnings.
“It’s like another family. They are my brothers. We have always had a strong relationship outside of football. This is a successful group. My heart is behind this team.”
They all agree on one thing. Anything less than a strong finish will be a disappointment. They see the end in sight. They are motivated for the postseason. They feel a commitment to each other. The goal is to end this right. It is a significant driving factor that obsesses each individual player and, in turn, the group.
Hank Humphers speaks of their great chemistry and how well they know each other. He speaks of their commitment to the football program. His words echo of “family” and closeness. He reflects on how long they have been playing together. He notes how they respond on the field by instinct. How each player understands the next move by the other.
This is a unique paradigm through which they are travelling. There is joy and yet concern. This must be the year. The performance must be nothing less than stellar. If they are to make their mark, the time is now. No looking back. No complaints at the end. No missed opportunities.
They are on a mission.
Pettinato is a junior. Yet his words echo those heard from other players.
“This is our last year. We have one shot before we all go our separate ways. We must take advantage of this.”
Marks has become quiet as he notes, “We’ll put it all on the line. We have wanted this since we were young. This must be the year.”
Vallejo echoes the emotion. “We know we must do it this year. If we don’t, it will be a huge disappointment.
Gareth Noxon speaks of the many years they have been together and how it must end with success.
Dickinson sums it up by saying, “This is our last year together. We must give it our all before we go our separate ways.”
Who knows exactly when the lights will go out on this season and the final gun will sound. There is so much promise, yet so much competition. These men will define how special a group this really is.
Their commitment is unwavering. Each game is final moments with each other. The clock is ticking. Things grow quiet. Yet there are so many statements still to make. This is a unique group of players. This is what they have played for over these last 12 years.
The talent is there to finish strong. Tonight is a formidable task. If team chemistry is important, this evening may just be amazing.
Jim Adams lives in Nevada City and is a regular contributor to The Union and a broadcaster for TouchDown Productions. He may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org