Morningside High football Coach Ron Tatum constantly struggles to find players for his team. It's not that Morningside lacks good athletes. The problem is finding more than a few students willing to put in the time and energy to become top-flight players.
"Football is one of the oldest traditional activities, but it is not socially accepted anymore to do the things needed to succeed in football," Tatum said. "The things that football demands, society doesn't demand anymore. That's why the number (of players coming out to play) has dwindled. Discipline is not as important as it used to be."
What Tatum and other high school coaches look for is a student with the discipline to endure the long, hot practices of summer, work out during the off-season and stay academically eligible.
"It is difficult to get kids to come out," Tatum said. "We get some, but after they run a few times, get up early a few times and get hit, they disappear."
Commitment, dedication and drive: Coaches work as hard to find high school students with these qualities as they do to design game plans.
However, the problem might not be the shrinking number of potential prep stars with commitment. To play high school football and succeed in the classroom, 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds need organizational skills, attitudes and sophistication that some adults couldn't muster.
Being a high school football player has become a tough, year-round job.
The required commitment began to increase when the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. introduced Proposition 48 and raised academic requirements for athletes entering college.
The high schools followed the NCAA's lead and began demanding respectable showings from athletes in the classroom. Before that time, school was seen as an obstacle standing between the athlete and the football field. Today, coaches view grades as part of an athlete's contribution to the team. Doing well in class is as vital as coming to practice every day.
Football players must also lift weights in the off-season, participate in summer passing leagues and, unless they are playing another sport, be available for workouts and meetings during the day.
The season ends with the last game in the fall, but the athlete's obligations remain the same in March as in September.
"Back in the '50s and '60s, coaches were trying to get dedication from their players, but they really didn't have to try that hard to get it," Carson Coach Gene Vollnogle said. "Then it became a year-round thing, with the weight-lifting and the passing leagues, and it took dedication to do this."
Yet football wasn't easy on a teen-ager even when it was played just in the fall. During the season, a player's typical day includes a team meeting, practice, taping, and getting in and out of uniform.
At Carson, for example, players meet during lunch and practice after school for two hours. The practices, which Vollnogle describes as "exhausting but necessary," are highly concentrated and strenuous.
Still, Carson linebacker and team captain Edgar Ta'ase enjoys keeping busy with football. When not involved with the team, he might be taking care of his duties as student body president or studying to maintain his 3.5 grade-point average.
Ta'ase must work hard, but he says he enjoys trying to maintain excellence in his many activities.
"I don't feel any disadvantage (in the classroom)," he said. "I enjoy football and I don't see it as a chore. I'd rather be going to meetings, doing constructive things all the time, instead of sitting around. You have to be willing to give up the time if you are going to get what you want."
But if you add football duties to the usual commitments of a high school student, such as classes, dinner and homework, there is little time for anything else.
Many forces tend to pull students off the football field, ranging from extra time for school work to pressure from friends and family obligations.
"For a kid to be successful, kids need to have vigilance," Tatum said. "There are so many things that deter kids today."
At Bishop Montgomery, tight end-linebacker Mike Hall plays football and baseball, carries a 3.7 GPA and serves on the student council. Maintaining his hectic schedule takes time away from other activities, but Hall has seen the rewards of keeping organized: He has received recruiting letters from schools such as Stanford, USC, Notre Dame, Washington and Colorado.
"You have to keep you priorities straight," Hall said. "You do make sacrifices. You can't mess around with your teammates after practice; you have to go home and work. It does put a dent in your social life."
Coaches say a player's first responsibilities are to school and family, but being a football player takes up most of the rest of a student's time. There is no limit to his need to build muscles or refine his football skills.