A Series In The Swamp

I wanted to write something that would be about the holidays and the Gators because I've never seen a Gator holiday story. (I have seen Gator children's books.)The following is a complete work of fiction, but I've tried my best to keep everything factual. Hopefully, you will enjoy it. If you have any comments or questions, you can leave a comment or email us at alligatorarmy@gmail.com. Happy Holidays and we'll see you back here Wednesday.

Charlie Hutchison wasn't sure what to do with his grandson Chris. Not even his impressive performance as the Gainesville PeeWee Gators' new center could make Charlie feel better. As they rushed home for the start of the Florida-Kentucky game, Charlie wasn't even sure a Gator win would help the boy.

"You were fantastic today," Charlie said to the boy sucking on a Gatorade in the back seat. "I don't think either of their tackles got into the backfield."

"No, 98 did on the last series in the second," Chris corrected him. "But I jumped on him and he was scared of me after that."

Chris looked like Charlie when he was ten years old too; both were bigger than everyone else on the team. Chris was long and lean, though. He might have weighed 100 pounds in pads, but it wasn't fat like the other offensive linemen. Up until the prior week, Chris was a fullback and tight end. Charlie saw him as a future defensive back or wideout just like he was for the Gators in the 1960s.

Chris wasn't upset about the game. He wanted to be good at everything for his parents, whether it was today's game or his spelling test yesterday. That's the way they would have wanted it. Since they died on Archer Road in July, every achievement Chris had was followed by the same look of grief he had now. He knew how well he played. The problem was that he still could not get over that his parents would never be able to see it.

Back at the house, Charlie and Chris sat down to watch the Gators. After Kentucky drove down for the first score, Tim Tebow took over, throwing for three touchdowns in the first half. During halftime, Chris asked his grandfather about the differences in pass blocking and run blocking, the different responsibilities each lineman has. Charlie had taught enough offensive linemen in his anthropology classes to learn some of the nuances.

They lined up across from each other in the living room and Charlie showed how to steer a defensive lineman by grabbing under his arms or chest plate. He had Chris punch his shoulders to show how he had more power if he tried to extend through the defender. Charlie even got to show his footwork to demonstrate how a tackle pass blocks. Chris learned more about techniques in 15 minutes than in the three practices before that day's game.

Chris watched the rest of the game with a studious eye, watching the offensive line protect Tebow and pull to clear holes for Percy Harvin. Charlie pointed out Carlton Medder and Jason Watkins, two linemen who he was teaching in the anthropology department. Chris saw how center Drew Miller would point out who he thought was rushing the quarterback. He did not realize until today how much the center really did. At first disappointed he would no longer be getting the ball, Chris was now excited that he could control the offense.

For the next few weeks, Chris' play rose to a level even Charlie did not imagine. Chris could snap the ball with his right hand and pop the nose tackle with his left before the other kid knew what was going on. Practice during the week was not enough. Charlie had to bring home notes from Watkins about drills Chris should run and ways he could get away with holding. Chris kept with it and he almost started eating like Watkins or Miller. But Charlie got rid of all the junk food in the house and reminded Chris he was almost over the league's weight limit. The most important thing was that the gray cloud that had been hanging over Chris' head started to disappear.

The Gainesville PeeWee Gators were unstoppable, winning their last three games, all with Chris at center. Their 6-2 record was good enough to win their division and play in the championship game. Against Santa Fe, the Gators started with Chris' favorite play; I-right 32. Chris would take out the nose tackle or defensive tackle to his right, the fullback would hit the linebacker, and Chris would hopefully get back to hit someone else. This time, Chris popped the tackle so hard on the snap, he fell over. His first assignment done, Chris found the mike linebacker and pancaked him. As he was pinning the Santa Fe player, he felt his fullback and halfback go over him. Chris looked up in time to see them both running 80 yards for the first score. The Gators would score on that play three more times and won 33-6.

To reward Chris, Charlie pulled some strings and got two field passes for the Florida State game. As the Gators' rolled up and down the field, Chris really understood how the line worked as a unit. Each play was a different block, a different assignment, and each time Tebow would be protected.

As they drove home that night, Chris asked about Tebow winning the Heisman and when he would play in the NFL. He seemed a little relived when Charlie said he could not go until next year, and he probably would wait until his senior year anyway.

"Well, how long would he play in the NFL then?" Chris asked.
Charlie ignored the track record of Gator quarterbacks.
"Tebow's a pretty good kid, so he will last a while."
"So, would he be in the NFL when I get there?"

Charlie finally realized why Chris was so excited about playing center. He realized not everyone could play center, because you have to be smart and big. Plus, Chris was not fast. It might be easier to make it as a center than as a receiver or back. Not every ten year old would think this way, but Chris was not an average ten year old.

"Sure," Charlie said. "In Tebow's 10th year, you'll be a rookie."
"Awesome."

---

Christmas was coming and Charlie had no idea what to get Chris. The Native American history set he had bought for Chris' birthday in August was still in the plastic. And forget a Wii or 360. So much of Charlie's money had gone towards his wife's battle with terminal cancer and the expenses that followed his daughter and son-in-law's deaths. Five years ago, his pension could pay for his little house off 34th Street and retirement. Now, back teaching, he had to worry about putting another kid through college. He had an idea, but he wasn't sure it would work.

Charlie asked Watkins to meet him at his office on December 12th. When Watkins came in and sat down, the normally social kid was worried.

"What's a matter?" Charlie asked.
"Well," the man from Lake Gibson said as he started to play with his team issued sweatshirt. "I thought I did good on the final."
"Oh, it's not that. Yeah, you got a B-plus, you're fine."
Watkins was beaming.
"Good, then! So why did you need to see me?"

Charlie explained how his grandson had become a menace for the Gainesville PeeWee Gators, using the notes from Watkins to learn how to become an offensive lineman. Charlie was hoping Watkins could take some time to work with Chris one-on-one Friday. Watkins was flattered and said they could get together before practice.

Charlie and Chris walked with Watkins through the locker room, past the trophies and the alligator, through the double doors, and onto the green carpet of Florida Field.

"So you want to be a center?" Watkins asked Chris.
"Yeah. I was a tight end and fullback, but I think I might get too big," Chris said. "Besides, the center touches the ball every play."
"Ok, but left tackles are pretty important too," Watkins replied as they set up near the south goal line. "We protect the QB's blind side. If I'm not there, the offense falls apart."
"Wait, Tebow is lefty. Wouldn't Medder be on the blind side?"
Watkins was surprised at Chris' response.
"Well yeah, but in the NFL, there aren't many lefty QB's. Remember, Tebow's not normal."

Watkins had Chris get in his three point stance and watch him fire off. He showed Chris how to position his feet and keep his butt down so he stays low. Watkins got in front with a blocking pad and Chris practiced driving through the defender and how to use his hands. They worked on pass blocking footwork and ways to keep the defender off balance.

They had been working for about 15 minutes when the double doors opened again. Out stepped the guy who looked like Chris' G.I. Joe men. His right hand was still wrapped in blue tape, but he was smiling.

"So, are you my center today?" Tebow asked.
"Y-yeah," Chris said with his jaw hanging to the ground.

Tebow introduced himself to Chris and shook hands with his left hand. Charlie was surprised that Tebow came and was starting to figure out how much extra credit Watkins was earning.

Tebow knelt down to take snaps from Chris. He knew how to grab the ball, so when he curled his hand, the laces caught Tebow's left fingers. He would look up and fire off into Watkins' pad, pretending like it wasn't Santa Fe he was playing, but Florida State. Chris did well on shotgun snaps too, which he wouldn't have to worry about until next football season when he moved up.

"We got about five minutes until practice," Tebow said. "Let's run a series from the 20. Chris play receiver and Mr. Hutchison will be DB."

Watkins put the ball down at the 20 the three of them huddled up. On the first play Chris would line up on the left hash and do a five yard square-in. Chris lined up with his grandfather on his outside shoulder. Watkins snapped it to Tebow and dropped to pass block the imaginary rushers. Chris got five yards and jabbed outside before cutting in. He caught the pass at the 15, before getting tagged at the 12 by Charlie.

Watkins was yelling encouragement has he spotted the ball and took Chris to the huddle. Now Tebow wanted a tight end screen. Chris lined up to the right of Watkins, where Cornelius Ingram would be. On the snap, Chris dropped back and Watkins slid down towards him. Charlie knew what was coming and braced himself for Watkins. Chris caught Tebow's pass and was tagged by his grandfather at the three yard line after Charlie was laughing hysterically at Watkins' attempt to block an old man.

Chris knew this would be the last play of the series, so had to catch it. Tebow had him line up in the middle of the field, with the ball on the right hash. Chris would drag right across the back of the end zone and Tebow would hit him in the chest.

On the snap, Chris fired out of his stance and cut five yards into the end zone. As this happened Tebow took two steps towards Watkins and braced as if he was running into a defensive lineman. Charlie, at 66 years of age, couldn't keep up. He stood there watching Tebow jump in the air and lob a pass right into Chris' arms for a touchdown.

Tebow and Watkins congratulated Chris, and posed for a picture.

"You know, you could play for us right now," Watkins said. "You're pretty good."
"Well, you guys are pretty good too," Chris replied. "You could play on my team, but I think you're over the weight limit."

---

Chris finished school that December but the dark cloud reappeared as he thought of a Christmas without his parents. On Christmas morning, the new football cleats and Tebow jersey lifted his spirits some. Then Charlie pulled out one last gift. When Chris opened it, he didn't say anything and just smiled.

On the last play with Tebow and Watkins, Charlie had dropped off Chris so he could take a picture. It was perfect timing. Watkins had his hands open and crouched down to take on the invisible defensive lineman. Behind him, Tebow was still hanging in the air, the ball halfway to Chris who already had his thumbs together to make a perfect catch. Charlie had the picture blown up and signed for Chris;

"Merry Christmas to our favorite tight end/center. And thanks for our series in The Swamp! Tim Tebow, Jason Watkins"

Chris ran and hugged his Grandfather, both with tears in their eyes. It was going to be a good Christmas.

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