“Wake up! Wake up! Wake up!”
This was only the second morning he’d had to deal with it, but Plex already hated the cylindrical contraption that his coach used to amplify his voice. He wasn’t sure how long he would be on this team. At the end of that time, though, he vowed that he would destroy that annoying thing. When combined with Coach Sprout’s high pitched voice, it gave him an instant headache.
It didn’t help that Plex was tired. He had spent a long night trying to get to know his new teammates while they ate. While he walked among them, he noticed that they had three extra players on their team. Originally, they were told that each team was to have a fifty-three person roster, just like the teams on the realm in which this sport originated. Plex counted fifty-six players. He assumed that it was done that way to keep the number of players from each race even. Sure enough, after counting, he found that there were seven players from each race on his team.
Plex also noticed that despite the bonding experience they shared at their previous meal, the majority of his teammates had reverted back to sitting with those of their own race. There were a few mixed groups, the offensive line all sat together, but most of them stuck with their own kind. Plex made his way from group to group with mixed success.
The gnomes and the rest of the elves were incredibly nice to him, though he suspected that the gnomes were just happy that someone from a higher ranking race was acknowledging them. Kalant left when he saw Plex approaching, but the rest of the dwarves were cordial with him. The minotaurs, trolls, and ogres weren’t nice to him, but they were respectful. In particular, the minotaurs were only concerned about with winning and they thought that Plex as quarterback gave them the best chance of doing that.
Orcs, however, were another matter.
Things between the elves and orcs had been bad ever since the Orc War. So, when he went over to the orc group to introduce himself, he was met with cold stares and short replies. Plex hoped they’d be able to put it behind them, on the field at least. He didn’t care if they never connected on a personal level as long as they could work together as a team.
His pounding head brought him back to the present. He wasn’t sure what it was, but waking up to his coach’s voice made him feel like he was hungover, despite him not having a drop of ale or wine since he began training for football. As the team gathered around Coach Sprout, he could tell by some of the looks of his teammates that he wasn’t the only one who felt that way.
“We have a game today,” Sprout said to his players. “That means we’re not going to do anything strenuous before then. We’re going to do some stretches and a few light exercises now. Then, we’ll eat. After that, we’re going to do some walkthroughs of our plays so, hopefully, everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing tonight. Any questions?”
A spattering of mutters and grunts were all the coach received in response. He smiled his knowing smile and then led them in a light jog onto the training field. Then, after a series of stretches, he had the team break into their various strings for a few quick drills.
The quarterbacks and kickers were pulled into groups of their own. The kickers were given target yard lines and were given five balls to kick down the field and see who could get closest. Plex wanted to watch that to see how the orc and gnome stacked up but his attention was drawn to his own throwing exercises.
Coach Sprout came over to give instructions personally. “Quarterbacks, you are like the heart of the team. The life of each play starts with you, flows through you, and depends upon you. “
Plex wasn’t sure he cared for that analogy. He could understand it, it made sense, but he didn’t like comparing a game to life. Life was sacred. Football was a game.
“I need you at your finest tonight. This game won’t make or break us and I have full confidence that we will get better with each game but I want to start with a win. With that said, I expect you to follow my game plan. This game, win or loss, will be on my shoulders. I saw you, Plex, working with the team yesterday while I was otherwise occupied and while I applaud your effort to step up and take charge, I will not tolerate that tomorrow.”
While Plex hadn’t considered doing anything but running the plays as Coach Sprout called them, the fact that the coach was threatening him in this manner did not sit well with the elf. Still, he managed a curt reply of, “I will run the plays you assign.”
“Good,” the gnome said, once again flashing that same knowing smile.
Plex wanted to smack the gnome and wipe the smile from his face. To keep his hands occupied and not tempt the wrath of the dragon, he tucked them behind his back. His fingers dug into his wrists and he used the pain to keep his own anger in check.
“I have a new play I’m formulating that will require the quarterback to potentially catch the ball downfield. So, I want you to take turns running a route, I will draw it out for you here, and throwing to one another.”
Plex couldn’t help but ask, “You want us to what?”
Coach Sprout pulled out a piece of parchment and quickly diagrammed what he wanted the quarterbacks to do. Seeing it on paper made a little more sense to the elf and he would, as he’d already stated, run the plays as the gnome called them, but the whole thing seemed ridiculous.
The first time through, Plex let the ball slip through his fingers when it was thrown to him. It was a good pass. He just wasn’t used to catching while running at full speed. The second time through, he adjusted his frame slightly and managed to bring the pass in.
After that, he never dropped it.
With the trick play figured out, the rest of the practice was limited to the team walking through the plays. They acted out the actions they would take at a quarter of their game speed. It really did nothing to improve their skills, but it was helpful in getting the players to remember their assignments on each of the plays. Judging by the number of mistakes that his ogre and troll offensive linemen made, the walkthrough was sorely needed.
After that, Coach Sprout called for breakfast and the players ran to get in line. Plex took his time, not starving like the rest of his teammates seemed to be. When he finally got through the line, he took a seat off to the side by himself. As he ate, he kept going through the plays over and over again in his head. He wanted to be sure he was ready. While it was bad when another offensive player missed their assignment, that didn’t always spell disaster for the team. If the quarterback didn’t know what they were doing, the team was in big trouble.
Plex spent so much time in his head that the rest of the day went by in a blur. One minute he was eating lunch and then the next he was at the arena warming up his arm by tossing the ball back and forth with Nograss, the troll who was his backup. Shaking his head to clear the stupor he was just coming out of. He looked across the field and was surprised to see his sister, Gilania, stretching out. Plex wanted to go over and say something to her, but a few of the dragon’s Honor Guard stood in between the two teams.
The thud that shook the ground announced the arrival of Lavalandinarial to the arena. Plex didn’t want to look up at the dragon, but found himself doing it anyway. Due to the setting of the sun, it was beginning to become dark on the field. The dragon made a motion with one of its claws that resembled someone snapping their fingers. Every sconce in the arena burst into flame and brought quite a bit of illumination to the field.
“Welcome,” the dragon said to the crowd in the stands. “This is the first official game here in the arena to be played between the Whipstaffs and the Axes. There will be three more games in this opening week. One will be played immediately following this game and the other two will be played tomorrow.
“In the realm this sport originated in, the teams normally play a series of games and will determine a champion based on a game between the two teams that win the the most games. I don’t have the patience for that, so I will be doing something that the fans of the amateur teams have been asking to have for years. They call it an ‘eight team playoff’. This ‘playoff’ is a tournament where you have to win to stay in. The winners of the two early games will play each other next week and the two winners of the late games will play each other, as well. The losing teams are done.
“And, to give them all added incentive to play as well as they can, both the players and coaches of the team that loses by the most number of points in these opening games will be killed. Not just killed, though. They will serve as my every meal until it’s time for the second round of games.”