Wide-eyed, Bobby, 9 years old and wearing a tattered Arizona State University football jersey, positioned himself on the Camp Tontozona sidelines where he had an up close and personal look at the Sun Devils as they conducted preseason training for the first time in years.
Standing attentively and clutching a football, his eyes quickly fixed on the sweaty, gritty players as they rumbled off the field for a much-welcomed water break.
Suddenly, and without warning, a hulking Sun Devil player extended his huge arm toward Bobby and with one swat of his grizzly-sized paw, knocked the ball from the boy’s grasp.
As it fell to the ground, the defender stared down at the bewildered youth scolding him, “High and tight, man…high and tight.”
Before the startled boy could gather himself and retrieve the ball, the player turned, smiled, winked and trotted off.
At first, the player’s actions upset and confused some watching fans who buzzed about what they had just seen. The morning scrimmage had drawn a happy throng of alumni and fans, eager for a chance to get close enough to watch the players sweat.
However, it didn’t take long for Bobby, a Pop Warner player from the Valley, to realize he had just been given a reality lesson in what is known in football jargon as “ball security.”
“High and tight” is a gridiron axiom drilled into all ball carriers so that they’ll grasp the ball high on their chests with the wrist and forearm covering the ball and the hand gripping it tightly. Those ball carriers have to keep the ball protected throughout the training camp, which means other players have a free hand when it comes to trying to knock the ball loose.
Former New York Giants running back Tiki Barber was known to use the technique to avoid fumbles, which he seldom did.
Like most of the hundreds who turned out at the scenic mountain retreat for a glimpse of the Sun Devils as they prepare for Pac 12 play, Bobby received the glimpse of a football player’s world he sought, as well as a gridiron lesson he probably won’t soon forget.
And what about that player who jarred the ball loose? He’s now the boy’s favorite football player and Bobby promises to cheer him on as the season winds along.