Father knows best
When Andrew Metroka hears talk of Friday-night football being a “battle” or a “war,” the 17-year-old Nevada Union running back knows the games he plays are really nothing of the sort.
Such games fall well short of the actual life-and-death struggle that his own father lived – and his fellow Marines continue to face Ð serving in Iraq.
Col. Sean Metroka returned from his second tour in August, just in time to catch Andrew’s senior season as a Nevada Union Miner. Serving as a liaison officer at an air base about 35 miles north of Baghdad, Sean said he felt much safer this time around in comparison to his first deployment, a six-month stint at the height of the invasion to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
“This time, for me, it had the feeling of being more secure,” Sean said. “We had indirect fire sent our way by the enemy on a daily basis. But there were only two times that I felt like my life was at risk.
“Last time the enemy fire was a lot closer to home and I felt like it was more dangerous.”
Those two menacing moments came in the form of a missile attack and ground fire striking a helicopter in which he was a passenger.
“Fortunately,” Andrew said, “he kept that from us.
“It was worse the first time he was gone because we didn’t really get to hear his voice. The second time was much easier to deal with, because he called all the time.”
But even though his father sounded safe and sound, he was a half-a-world away in the midst of a war that brought TV images of death and destruction on a daily basis. Nearly 2,800 American soldiers have made the greatest sacrifice in the war, according to the Department of Defense, and more than 20,000 others have been wounded.
Though they wouldn’t dwell on such numbers, the Metroka family knew the reality of war when Sean was sent back for a second time. Still, Andrew said, he simply tried not to think about it. He focused on his work in the classroom and preparing for his final football season this fall.
One of Sean and Margaret Metroka’s three children – along with 20-year-old Sarah and 13-year-old Adam – Andrew was the man of the house with Dad off to war. Knowing that his father was laying it all on the line for his country, he said it wasn’t easy to hear the voices of those in opposition, especially those with political tones.
“The people saying all that stuff don’t know what it’s like to have someone over there,” Andrew said. “And the people who stand out on the bridge (across Highway 49) on Thursdays and protest … they just don’t know … That’s frustrating.
“I’m extremely proud. I love to tell people my dad was been overseas and in the war. I’m proud of that.”
His father, seated alongside him during a recent interview at Nevada Union’s Hooper Stadium, understands the politics of war, but he fears that voices of opposition are no longer born from honest dissent but rather out of political motivations.
“We know our servicemen and women are over there, were ordered to be there and are doing the best job they can,” Sean said. “As a Marine, I have to expect my countrymen will support me in what I’m doing for our country. But a lot of countrymen are saying – on one hand -they support the troops, but their actions really go against what we’re doing.
“It’s gone beyond just trying to voice a difference of opinion and now it has become detrimental to the safety of our armed forces and that’s what really bothers me.”
Though the son knows full well that Friday-night football shouldn’t be casually classified as a war, there are similarities in the relationships he shares with this teammates and his father shares with fellow soldiers.
While he’s thoroughly enjoyed all the highlights, the victories and the championships he’s helped produce as a Miner, they’re not his favorite part of playing high school football.
“It’s the family, the relationships between all the teammates. It’s just like a bunch of brothers,” said Andrew, who was a junior on last season’s Sac-Joaquin Section championship team. “It was exciting (to win the section title). I’m happy to be part of something like that, something that future teams and the young guys are going to be talking about. Everyone still talks about the ’93 and ’94 section championships.
“I imagine 20 years down the road, we’ll still be talking about the section championship and the fun we had out on the field. But it’s definitely the family and brotherhood that mean a lot to me.”
Such a sentiment is music to the ears of Dave Humphers, a coach who has helped build a tradition-rich program based on building trust between teammates. Humphers said the entire concept of the Nevada Union’s Wing-T offense begins with an unselfish attitude, especially among those lining up in the backfield.
In posting a 5-2 record this season, Nevada Union has shared the load among four running backs, including Jesse Ettlin (82 carries, 626 yards), Dave Zealear (86-521), Corey Browning (73-477) and Metroka (39-138).
“I think every running back wants to carry the ball, but we ask our players in the Wing-T to share the ball and be all about the team,” said Humphers. “They’ve got to block and fake just as hard as they run when they have the ball.”
Andrew, who rushed for 417 yards and seven touchdowns as a junior, and has three touchdowns this season, says he knows what makes the Miners offense so potent.
“Even though I don’t get that many carries in a game, we’re all still working for each other,” Andrew said. “I’m still blocking for the guys. I think I had more yards last year at this point, but I still feel I am a better player this year, whether I am blocking or running the ball.
“Whoever has the ball, we’re playing for that guy, to get him in the end zone.”
Sean says such strong relationships are likely why the Miners have been so successful. He said that bond is what allowed him and his fellow Marines to find success in the field. The greater cause, the common goal, he said, supersedes selfish motives.
How else does one explain such selfless acts as amputee veterans re-enlisting to return to war?
“It is a sense of responsibility and loyalty to those with whom you serve,” Sean said. “There’s a lot of truth to that. In fact a lot of the guys I’ve served with on my two tours in Iraq are guys I’ve served with many years. Some of them are dear friends of mine.
“The need to be able to rely on the guys on either side of you is very real … We tend to be successful because we are so dedicated to everyone around us.”
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Highs will drop into the 60s early next week, as a chance of rain enters the forecast, the National Weather Service said.