The Dunmore Bucks break through a banner before running onto the field before the start of Saturday’s PIAA class AA football championship game in Hershey.  Christopher Dolan / Staff Photographer

The Dunmore Bucks break through a banner before running onto the field before the start of Saturday’s PIAA class AA football championship game in Hershey.
Christopher Dolan / Staff Photographer

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I love the game of football.

It’s been that way since I first participated in the Punt, Pass and Kick competition in Quakertown in the fall of 1978. I “earned” a first-place trophy that day and I was hooked.

When I moved to Scott Township many years ago, I couldn’t wait to register for the Lakeland Braves junior football team. I attended Lakeland High School games, watched college games every Saturday afternoon and NFL games on Sunday. I was addicted. When my mother subscribed (that’s what we used to do back then) to Sports Illustrated, I was on top of the world. My favorite team was the Los Angeles Rams and I wanted my father to race home each Sunday after junior football games so we could catch them on the 4 p.m. broadcasts. NOTE: The Rams used to be good and were a marquee team on television, Hollywood and all.

Lakeland vs. Valley View 1987

Lakeland vs. Valley View
1987

I played, and for the most part, I played hard. I was a running back from Day 1 of my first practice, which meant that I endured plenty of hits. Some harder than others, but still a lot. My body crumbled at times. Oh, I had plenty of nagging injuries, bruises that eventually healed, until finally my left knee had to be reconstructed a la Col. Steve Austin and when my three surgeries in five years were complete I was hardly the Six Million Dollar Man, bigger, stronger or faster.

Football, you see, is a physically demanding sport. It’s a battle of wills, a test of strength and it depends on vicious contact.

And it is a sport under siege.

Concussions are real. I am not ashamed or afraid to admit, I had a few. How could I not as a 160-pound running back? The long-term impact of those impacts may not be known just yet, but other than a few migraines, I can thankfully say at this time, I don’t have any apparent side-effects. I played for only 10 years of my life, and can not compare to those who are much more invested in time and agony.

Being a former player, and someone who earns a living covering the sport, I find myself at a crossroad. Full disclosure, I have daughters and neither showed any interest in ever playing football, so I can’t speak for having to make the decision on whether or not the sport is safe. I know this, I have consulted doctors, I did research and a story a few years back where I interviewed experts in the field and I have attended concussion seminars. The statistics can be frightening, the data alarming.

But, I still love the game of football.

There are very few things in my life that I have experienced that compare to those days when I played. And, I actually embrace when people call me “Al Bundy.” Those who didn’t play simply will never understand those memories and the part they play in my life.

I loved playing this sport. I loved being a part of something so special at Lakeland and also at Lafayette College. I can never measure the invaluable contributions this sport has made to my life. I made long-lasting friendships and became a part of a fraternal brotherhood that is unbreakable. Football also made me a better person, a stronger father and, hopefully, a harder worker in society. I learned the value of commitment and dedication, and the responsibility you have not only to yourself but to the person lining up next to you.

Football is a violent sport.

I knew that going in, and in truth, it may have been what drew me in.

My knee aches every day. My once broken tailbone causes me stress in my lower back. My multiple shoulder separations make lifting a cup of coffee a daunting task some mornings.

But, I still love the the game of football.

I have some comfort in knowing that there are people, scientists, out there who are a heck of a lot smarter than me trying tirelessly to make the sport safer. They are developing better, more  advanced, equipment. Rules are changing daily. Players are being coached more stringently on using proper tackling, running and blocking techniques. Officials are controlling the games a lot better. Player safety is ultimately the greatest challenge these days.

Nothing will ever result in having a player completely covered in bubble-wrap. Injuries are going to happen. And the sport we once knew may not look much like the sport we once followed or played. My trust, however, is with all of those whose efforts are pointed at making the game better and safer, rather than those motivated to eliminate it all together, and I can only hope that it is around for a very long time.

Because, I still love the game of football.

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Now onto the opening week of the season:

What can I give you all as we get ready for the start of the 2015 season. Well, first this is my 17th year as the high school football beat writer at The Times-Tribune. That means that the seniors who I covered that first fall are now probably in their mid-30s! Yikes!

How about how great the cover for GameFace 2015 turned out? Photographer Jason Farmer and page designer Conor Foley really did a great job. These guys put in a lot of hours and put up with a lot of dung from me and every year, I can’t thank them enough.

Gameface

 

 

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I always look forward to Week 1 because there are so many unknowns. I never pay any attention to scrimmages. Here are a couple of games that I earmarked:

  • Scranton Prep's Justin Weckel breaks past Dunmore's Colin Holmes (26) to score a touchdown in the second quarter of play at Dunmore High School on Friday, Aug 29, 2014.  Jake Danna Stevens / Staff Photographer

    Scranton Prep’s Justin Weckel breaks past Dunmore’s Colin Holmes (26) to score a touchdown in the second quarter of play at Dunmore High School on Friday, Aug 29, 2014.
    Jake Danna Stevens / Staff Photographer

    Scranton Prep at Dunmore: For the second straight year, it’s a great, throwback Big 11 game. The teams were a combined 22-5 last season. Scranton Prep beat the Bucks, 26-0, on opening week and then Dunmore went on a 14-game winning streak that landed it in the PIAA Class AA final.

  • West Scranton at Riverside: I think both teams are going to be much improved. This game will also feature several big-time athletes including West Scranton’s Andre Chollette and Riverside’s Mikkell Green. Plus, this is a rivalry game.
  • Dallas at Scranton: With all of the talk being about a teachers’ strike, this game lost some attention. Dallas is expected to be a very good team in the WVC and last year, it upset the highly-touted Knights.
  • GAR at Old Forge (Saturday): Old Forge has gained a lot of preseason attention, with good reason, but GAR was one of the opponents last year that gave it fits. The Grenadiers have a lot of speed and this game is on turf.

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Here are some stats that you can chew on as Week 1 approaches.

Top winning percentages since 2010

W

L

Pct.

dunmore Dunmore

56

11

0.84

old_forge Old Forge

54

11

0.83

delaware_valley Delaware Valley

41

18

0.7

Blue Abington Heights

39

19

0.67

scranton_prep Scranton Prep

36

19

0.66

Scrantonnew Scranton

36

22

0.62

lackawanna_trail Lackawanna Trail

33

21

0.61

lakeland Lakeland

34

23

0.6

valleyViewhelmet Valley View

31

25

0.55

susquehanna_community Susquehanna

29

25

0.54