The first time I officially saw him kick a football was when he was in 8th grade. He scored a PAT at the end of a middle school football game (unheard of back then) and the bench and crowd erupted in cheers. Little did I know that kick would be the beginning of a journey of 100,000 miles.
This week marks the end of Ben’s college football career. Lord willing, he will play in his last game as a Chanticleer on Saturday. This milestone brings back a flood of memories over the past nine football seasons. As a freshman at West Rowan, he and I began road trips that would take us literally all over North and South Carolina. I can still recall the Saturday morning he told me, “Football is a brotherhood. These team members are my brothers and I would do anything for them.” It was one of those “morning after” Friday night lights when we were going to Dr. Comadoll’s office for “treatment.” I really think it was just another reason for the brotherhood to gather together.
I recall the road trips to Happy Appy for football camp and the same to NC State and then on to Laurinburg to meet up with Jay Wooten so they could work on Ben’s recruiting video. Many, many mornings we left before sun up and didn’t return for days. Ben and I had our “songs” …. “Skin” by Rascal Flatts, and “Better Together” by Jack Johnson. We talked about football, school, the future, God and, naturally, girls. We solved many of the world’s problems, only to be confronted by new ones.
Like moving to Georgia. In 2005, when Rich felt led to move to GA, Ben and I were very excited. Ben was anxious for new beginnings and new friends. But once he was there, he felt the tug to return to West Rowan football and leave us at 16. Oh how I remember the day we were driving northbound on I-85, crying together. I told him I felt like a terrible mom … he told me he felt like a terrible son. I recall going to the lawyer’s office to “give up my rights” to the Nelson family so that it would be legal and we could protect West Rowan from anything illegal. I remember the long, long, long trip back home. But I also remember the tender loving care of the Nelsons and the graciousness of my school administrator who also had a love for football sons. She was so very, very good to let me leave early on those crazy Friday afternoons of rushing to Mt. Ulla for the 7:30 kick-off. (She even went with me once, but don’t tell anyone) And oh, how Rich and I remember those traffic issues in Charlotte.
There were many things I missed during his last two years of high school, but I didn’t miss many of his games and I didn’t miss his Homecoming King ride around the track! I didn’t miss his senior night for football, nor did I miss his senior night in baseball. But, that was a fluke! I was only there because he had broken his nose the week before and I came up for the surgery!
I definitely remember the summer we went to Carol White Kicking Camp at Coastal Carolina University. Rich and I were there when Coach David Bennett got his first look at Ben Erdman. Coach Bennett was talking to someone when he noticed Ben get up and address the entire camp about sportsmanship and coming together. His senior year quickly came and also meant signing day for Coastal Carolina and that was a hallelujah moment. There was a lot of rejoicing in that room that day. And so began the hunt for teal and black. I recall the day Rich, Ben, and I stood in our Georgia driveway and Ben said, “Here it is. This is what we worked for.” And then he was gone.
College football took us in the opposite direction. No longer were we heading north, instead, I-20 became our friend. That first year when we were tailgating rookies and football rookies was really hilarious now that I look back on it. That dorm room was TERRIBLE and even more terrible was the accident that almost took Ben’s life. But God was gracious and healed him to bounce back and have the sophomore ride of his life. Sophomore season opened at Penn State. We traveled with friends and witnessed the game of Ben’s life. It was a glorious weekend, even though I am unsure if Rich will ever forgive me for forcing him to go. (It was at the worst possible time of his life.) Junior season had Ben hanging his head and saying, “I am the Job of punting,” but we all learned there was more to life than football. Senior season took us with the same friends to West Virginia University and then making a resounding statement to Liberty University this past weekend: don’t mess with us at our house.
I tried to compile a list of things I have learned in the past nine years and have come up with a short list, one that I am sure I will add to as the days go by.
1. All fast food tastes the same, it just comes in different packaging.
2. If you can’t find a rest area, Flying J has the best restrooms. (Even though my father-in-law swears by Cracker Barrel.)
3. The most scenic rest area is Lake Hartwell, SC.
4. It is humanly possible to change clothes in your car without anyone seeing you.
5. KOA Kamping Kabins are a great place to spend with your 18-year-old son during his orientation week at college and especially if you want to sing “Father, I Adore You” in a round.
6. Broadway at the Beach makes for a fabulous family weekend.
7. And speaking of rest areas, if you frequent the Georgia rest areas as often as I have the past five years, you can accumulate enough literature to teach your Georgia history classes.
8. You can knit 238 scarves and crochet 72 baby blankets/afghans if you are the passenger.
9. Eighth grade essays are much more enjoyable to read on the way home if we win the game.
10. There is more to life than football.
11. And speaking of rest areas, I found the best quote there just today: “The little moments? The little things? They are not little.”
12. Big boys not only smell bad after football games, they also cry.
13. Some of the best moments are spent in the sand at Disney World boardwalk while your son and his girlfriend pray for you and then you pray for them.
14. That athletic plaques are great, but the best ones say Academic Excellence Award.
15. That you brace yourself when your youngest son calls to ask you something and then breathe again when the question is: Mom, have you ever heard of Charles Spurgeon?
16. That a 1996 Toyota Corolla is, by far, the best ever car built.
17. That motorcycle riders carry guns and know how to use them.
18. That you really can go an entire football season and not use a credit card.
19. That when you hit a dead object in the road, it is best to hit it while doing 80 mph so that the impact is not so great. (and, there again, kudos to the Corolla)
20. That good administrators are a gift from God.
21. That wonderful husbands are a gift from God.
22. That safe travel is a gift from God.
23. That God has plans that dwarf yours.
24. That little boys grow up to be men right before your very eyes.
When Ben was a senior in high school, Rich and I were in a Chinese restaurant here in Georgia. On my refrigerator, I still have the fortune attached to Ben’s picture: “Ships are safe in harbor, but that is not why ships are built.” But, oh how I would love to hold on for some more time, for some more football, for some more teal and black.
Thanks for the memories, Ben, and thanks for running the race in a worthy manner. There were lonely nights and crazy classes, but you finished well. You did not disgrace your team, you took your responsibilities seriously, and you made your family proud.
We are very, very much looking forward to the next chapter.