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For a lot of students, Friday night high school football is little more than a chance to spend time with friends or a chance to support their local team. For the guys out on the gridiron, though, Friday nights under the bright stadium lights are something entirely different. This football season, Ranchers Dre and Angel are representing the Boys Ranch as members of the Suwannee High School Bulldogs varsity football team.

While it may seem like just a game, these two young men are learning valuable lessons from football while putting in a lot of hard work. It takes a tremendous amount of effort and persistence just to make it on the team and then to game day, and even more to find a place on the field.

“Football is really more than just a game,” said Angel, who plays defensive end and right tackle. “It’s more like a life lesson. It helps teach that determination to never give up, to stay focused, just like the Ranch helps give you that hunger to achieve your goals.”

Each afternoon, four days a week, Dre and Angel hit the field with dozens of their teammates, putting on more than 10 pounds of pads and a helmet, and lacing up cleats. For most of us, that doesn’t seem like a fun thing to do, especially in the heat, but for the SHS Bulldogs, it’s part of practice makes perfect. Proper preparation is needed to be successful in life and in football. Success requires a strong work ethic—something our boys learn each and every day at the Ranch.

Dre, who plays running back, has been on the team for the last three years and is always amazed by how powerful it can be to work toward a common goal. “The best part is when we all come together as one,” he said, “It’s really great to see us working together. We get to see all that hard work pay off.”

Football is an excellent example of teamwork. With 11 players on each side of the ball, everyone is counted on to play their individual roles. Expectations are high, with a tremendous amount of accountability required from each player to do a specific job on every play. Just like at the Boys Ranch, the game teaches the teamwork that is required to become accustomed to working with others, a skill that is required in almost every profession.

“It requires a lot of discipline,” Dre added. “We train hard, and the Ranch definitely helped prepare me for that. Sometimes it seems like the coach wants to break us, just to rebuild us, and it requires a lot of determination and discipline to reach our goals.”

Football is a game of inches. That kind of margin for error requires keen attention to detail from everyone on the field. One wrong step, one dropped pass, or one mental error can have a negative effect on any given play. Knowing this reinforces the importance of being disciplined in everything they do. This discipline extends into their school work as well. All the players must be able to maintain an impressive GPA to even be able to play.

For Dre and Angel, the benefits of being on the team are far reaching; some easy to see and some not so easy. It can be improved health—Dre started playing football to help get fit—or learning the value of teamwork. They learn to be selfless while also learning about overcoming obstacles or the value of being part of something greater than oneself.

The positive effect the sport has had on the boys is undeniable. For Dre and Angel, football has been an amazing way to express themselves, find personal growth, and—maybe most importantly—have fun.

Dre and Angel haven’t been the only ones who have enjoyed their time on the team. At any given home game, it isn’t unusual to see Mom and Pop and the rest of their cottage in the stands, cheering them on.