A Nostalgic Recall of High School Football: ‘Dawn Patrol’ Preseason in Rural Ohio

John Scanlan is a 1977 graduate of Logan Elm High (Ohio), where he was a senior letterman in football. He won the 1976 “Most Coachable” award in football.

He graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1983 and spent 20 years in the Marine Corps as an aviator. The Desert Storm veteran and Top Gun graduate retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.

In his second career, he is a freelance writer for publications such as “Chicken Soup for the Soul”, Reminisce, and Good Old Days.

He offered this submission to FNF Coaches.

There stood Pat, on our high school’s cinder track right behind the home team bench. Pat, a junior, would be the starting middle guard once football season started. The sun was just beginning to rise in the east on yet another day of summer, two-a-day practices.

I saw Coach Barney, sitting in the first row of our home bleachers, give Pat the sign that he could start.

In full pads and helmet, Pat began jogging on the track toward the scoreboard end of our football field.

Meanwhile, I killed the ignition of my car in the school parking lot, being a little early for the 7:00 start of practice. I opened my car door and winced, asking, “How can rural Ohio be so hot and humid this early in the morning?”

Pat rounded the track behind the scoreboard, passing a cornfield on his right side.

I exited my car and turned about to remove my gym bag from the back seat. When I stood erect, I checked on Pat again.

Then I groaned. When you were on the Dawn Patrol, your pads must seem heavier.

Pat continued his jog, just now beginning to break a sweat.

Upon Pat’s arrival behind the visiting team’s bench, I mumbled, “Poor Pat. He’s only one-eighth of the way done.”

Then I looked across the football field at Coach Barney. He was sitting in our stands with his clipboard – twiddling his thumbs.

To acknowledge his current position, Pat waved at Coach Barney.

He merely returned the wave.

I shook my head and mumbled, “Man, Pat’s running on a cinder track in football cleats – that can’t be good for his feet.”

I shouldered my gym bag, shut my car door – SLAM – and then just leaned against my car to watch Pat.

Pity Mr. Barney. As the freshman football coach, he was the low man on the coaching Totem pole. Thus, Coach Griffith had tasked him to be the lone coach who oversaw the Dawn Patrol. He basically ensured that offenders actually ran and didn’t cut corners.

As Pat passed the 50-yard-line behind our home team bench, he looked up at Coach Barney and yelled, “THREE LAPS TO GO!”

The freshman coach just nodded and gave him a thumbs-up as Pat headed toward the scoreboard.

In the school’s gravel lot, more cars began to arrive and park around me. Meanwhile, the younger players were being dropped off by their mothers.

For the Dawn Patrol, you had to run one mile in full pads before the regular practice even started at 7:00. It was the penance that you paid for a mental error made in the previous day’s practice.

After passing the 50-yard-line behind the visiting team’s bench, Pat looked across the football field again at Coach Barney.

They exchanged waves.

Then, as the baseball diamond neared, I pondered Pat’s sentence.

The idea behind the Dawn Patrol wasn’t to bust your butt with a fast one mile run; but instead – while doing a slow jog – to reflect upon the mental error that you had committed.

Pat rounded the track’s north end as a few teammates joined me at my car to watch.

When Pat passed the 50-yard-line behind our bench, he looked up at Mr. Barney again, and this time yelled, “TWO LAPS TO GO!”

The freshman coach simply nodded and gave him the same thumbs-up as Pat headed toward the scoreboard.

It was funny. Coach Griffith always seemed to enjoy assigning some poor sap to the Dawn Patrol.

Pat adjusted his route and headed toward the visitor’s bench.

Coach Griffith would halt play with his whistle – TWEEET – and then sprint onto the practice field.

After passing the opposing 50-yard-line, Pat waved across the football field again at Coach Barney.

He was looking down at his clipboard and didn’t even notice.

After storming onto the field, Coach Griffith would get right into the facemask of the offending player, state his infraction, and yell, “YOU’RE ON DAWN PATROL!”

As Pat neared the baseball diamond, I chuckled at Mr. Griffith’s methods.

I wondered what sin Pat had committed, and then checked my watch. We still had a little time yet before practice.

Pat passed behind our home bench, where Coach Barney gave him a thumbs-up before he had even yelled, “ONE LAP TO GO!”

Then Pat seemed to quicken his pace toward the scoreboard.

The man behind the whistle was our brand new head coach – Mr. Griffith.

Pat rounded the south end of the track at the cornfield.

Mr. Griffith was a graduate of AAA powerhouse Worthington High School, located in a wealthy Columbus suburb. There, Mr. Griffith had been a football star and state champion wrestler.

Pat continued toward the visitor’s bench, attempting to stride out a little.

Passing in front of the visitor’s bleachers, Pat looked across the field at Coach Barney for the last time. He waved at the freshman football coach, who waved his clipboard in return.

“C’mon Pat, you can do it,” I mumbled. “You’re seven-eighths of the way done.”

Now Coach Griffith had been tasked with turning 60 country bumpkins into – not only winners on the football field – but also winners in life.

When Pat had the baseball diamond on his right shoulder, I pushed away from my car, stating, “Guys, we need to get dressed.”

After which, a small gaggle of football players trooped across the parking lot toward the locker room.

But I knew what was happening behind us.

Pat crossed at the 50-yard-line behind our bench and immediately stopped. He bent over and placed his hands upon his knees, gasping for oxygen.

Pant. Pant. Pant.

Coach Barney had already descended from his seat in the bleachers and walked by Pat, patting him on the back.

“Nice job, Pat.”

Pant. Pant. Pant.

“Thanks, Coach.”

As Coach Barney walked toward the parking lot, he tossed some advice over his shoulder. “Next time, you’ll think twice about grabbing a facemask, huh?”

“Yes, Sir.”

Pant. Pant. Pant.