Friday night lights shine with sweet memories for Chargers

Chargers QB at Training Camp

The mention of Friday night lights lit up Philip Rivers on a scorcher of a Friday.

“I played 51 games at North Carolina State and I’m in my 12th year in the NFL,” Rivers said. “But some of my finest memories are still from playing in high school.”

Rivers and teammates were at MCAS Miramar on Friday, thanking the military for its service. They went through a few drills, but this was more of a shake-and-smile than a groan-and-grunt workout.

But across San Diego County this weekend, teenagers start hitting for keeps as the high school season starts. When that news was relayed to the Chargers, they boarded the time machine.

“Ah, those pep rallies,” said Corey Liuget, a former Hialeah (Miami) High star. “And the smell of the hot dogs cooking; everyone just acting crazy.

“Playing in the NFL is awesome but there is nothing like playing in high school.”

Rivers was a star at Athens (Ala.) High and his career came with a cheery on top.

“I got to play for my dad,” he said, the pride still showing through.

What never leaves Rivers are the recollections. His old buddies wouldn’t let him, even if he wanted to.

“For a majority of those players that was the highest level they would play,” Rivers said. “So whenever we get back together, we start talking about the games and plays and how much you loved playing with each other.”

What strikes Rivers is when he returns to his old haunts. That massive Athens stadium — at the time — has whittled a tad.

“We play now in front of crowds of 75,000,” Rivers said. “Back then we played maybe in front of 4-6,000 and it seemed like a lot of people. Now when I go there, I think, ‘wasn’t this place bigger?'”

Bigger isn’t always better and we present as evidence a post-game NFL buffet. It’s a pretty good spread, but can’t beat a burger at the drive-in with your best girl on your arm.

“After the game all your friends, and really the whole community, would go to Sonic,” Ryan Carrethers said of Brentwood Academy in Brentwood, Tenn. “And win or lose, your girlfriend would be there.”

Something has never left Malcom Floyd: the recollection of absorbing a teeth-rattling shot when returning kicks for River City High in Sacramento.

“That was the first time I had played tackle football,” he said.

Floyd quickly learned the iconic football lesson of being either the hammer or the nail.

“I was the nail,” he said, with a laugh. “It was a big hit.”

Orlando Franklin relocated from Canada as a teenager, coming from a country where Friday night lights didn’t mean anything different than Monday-Saturday night lights. He landed at Atlantic Community High in Delray Beach, Fla.

“We moved to Florida when I was 16,” he said. “And we had a game and I said, ‘Wow, this is crazy!'”

Once prep ball gets in your bones, good luck finding a cure.

When Rivers called down south to his dad recently, the conversation quickly turned to the high-school happenings.

“It’s already the second week of the season in Alabama,” Rivers said. “I asked what teams were good, who was playing who — I still keep track of it.”

Finding Rivers will be easy once he retires. He repeated Friday what’s said often: he’ll be a high school football coach when his playing days are kaput.

But for so many their careers — no matter how long or short — will be in full swing this weekend.

“Just play and really enjoy it,” Rivers said, when asked about what he would tell those players. “I still talk about those days.”
Back when he was the talk of the town, in a place called Athens, Ala.

 

+ Contact Jay Paris at jparis@bcaradio.com. Follow him on Twitter @jparis_sports.

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