After the game, which had turned into a total rout in the second half, I sat in Coach Rinaldi’s office, listening to the distant celebrations of the Hillside fans. I was all showered and clean, dressed in my street clothes, and the band was still out there playing while the fans chanted. The final score was 45 to 23. We had scored six touchdowns in the second half. Dorchester had scored only one and missed the extra point. It was kind of embarrassing, actually. For them, of course.
Outside the glass door to the office, Coach talked to the scout from Penn State. Penn State. Here to see me. I still couldn’t wrap my brain around it. The guy was at least six foot five, three hundred pounds, and looked fairly imposing in his suit and tie. He kept nodding, and I could see that whatever he was saying was pleasing the coach. Rinaldi’s eyes gleamed with excitement.
Finally the door opened and I jumped to my feet, remembering my manners. This could be one of the most important meetings of my life.
“Mike Riley, I’d like you to meet Richard Klint, the football scout from Penn State,” Coach Rinaldi said.
“Hello, sir,” I said cordially, extending my hand.
“Call me Richard,” he replied, his voice booming. His hand was huge and calloused and his grip firm. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, son. A real pleasure.”
“Thank you, sir . . . uh . . . Richard,” I said.
He laughed and slapped me on the back. “Let’s have a seat.”
We did, and he pulled his chair close to mine so we were facing each other. Coach sat in his desk chair on the edge of his seat. A cheer went up outside, and Richard sat up a bit straighter.
“Well, thanks. But it was a team effort,” I replied.
“Humble, too,” he said with a grin. “Listen, Mike. I like the way you played out there today. I like it a lot. We all know that first half was not your best, but you showed real heart and conviction coming out there the way you did in the second. That takes some real strength of character to put something like that behind you and to elevate your play the way you did. I was impressed.”
“Th . . . thank you,” I said.
The irony of these compliments was not lost on me. I wouldn’t have had to show any strength of character if I hadn’t been totally character-free in the first half and cheated my teammates to save my own skin.
“And you were playing with a fresh injury. That shows some real endurance, he said.
I was blushing now and touched my arm. “That was just incidental,” I said. “Nothing big.”
“I like this kid, Rinaldi!” Richard and Coach both laughed as if they were in on some private joke together. I shifted in my seat, my pulse racing with excitement. It seemed as if this meeting was going rather well. Though whether I deserved it, I had no idea.
I glanced at Coach uncertainly and he nodded, prodding me to take the credit. I guess he really wasn’t mad about that.
“Yeah, well, I thought it would be good to show them that we weren’t just going to slink off the field,” I said. “I wanted to show them what we were made of.”
I was dumbfounded. Yeah I have, I thought. I’ve wanted to go to your school my entire life. Just say the word and I’m there. But somehow I managed to keep it together and not say too much. Didn’t want to show him all my cards right up front.
“No, sir,” I replied.
“Well, good. Because a decision like that takes a lot of deliberation, and you need to have all the facts,” he said. “I’d love for you to come out and take a look at our program. In fact, don’t just think of me as a football scout, think of me as an emissary for the entire school. We need a stand-up guy like you at our university.”
A stand-up guy like me. Right. The guy who just spent thirty minutes of football taking a dive.
“Wow. That’s great,” I said. I had no idea what else to say.
“Great. I’ll give your parents a call and maybe we can meet up this weekend so I can extend the invitation to you all,” he said. “I can’t disclose the details of our offer until you come visit the school, but I can tell you there will be one. Although I expect after today you’ll be inundated with offers. We scouts don’t take a comeback like that lightly.”
My entire mouth was dry. I felt as if I had done something crafty, eating dirt in the first half just so I could show what I was made of in the second. It was unbelievable how well this whole negative situation had turned out. Thank God Ian had gone all meddler on me and talked to Gray. Otherwise I’d be sitting out there with my head hanging between my knees, afraid to show my face.
“All right. I should go and give those other guys a crack at ya,” Richard said, standing and extending his hand. “They’re lining up to talk to you, but I trust you’re gonna make the right decision. Am I right?” he asked with a wink.
I shook his hand and smiled. “Yes, sir.”
“Okay! Okay! Richard,” I said.
“Talk to you soon, kid.”
Coach ushered him outside, then stuck his head back in. “I’m going to say good-bye to him, then I’ll bring in the guy from Michigan,” he said. “You sit tight. You’re gonna be here a while,” he added with a grin.
“Okay,” I said, still baffled.
He closed the door, and I sat back down in my chair and stared at the wall, unable to believe the way this day had turned around. A scout from Penn State was wooing me. He wanted me to come play for one of the dominant football teams in the country. Ever so slowly, my lips curled into a self-satisfied grin. For the first time in a while, I was optimistic about my future. For the first time in a while, I felt on top of the world.