Eudora Play one sport. Train your body for it and only it in the autumn, the winter, the spring and the summer. Play it in the exposure camps. Measure yourself against others who also are just a wee bit too talented to be wasting too much time hanging with high school teammates.
It's the 21st century way for so-called elite athletes, the prospects, the boys who either subtly or overtly are pressured to use high school athletics merely as a means to a supposedly greater end.
A coach's ego, a parent's thirst for boasting, a sibling's power trip, all can play in the equation. Too many athletes are denied the pleasure of playing for the pure and simple reasons: to win, to watch a teammate's back, to build memories.
And then there was Matthew Abel, streaking in another world, the football tucked under his arm on a moonlit night, a hint of cool in the breeze, with more people from his town cheering for him than there were seats to hold them.
Let's see, it's autumn, so it must have been football Abel was playing Friday night for Eudora High and for the love of the game. In the winter it's basketball. In the spring he hits and chases the baseball and steals bases.
On this night, Abel returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown, starting the Cardinals on the way to a 48-21 Frontier League victory over Gardner-Edgerton, a school with more than twice as many students.
Abel rushed for two more touchdowns and mixed in an interception.
Running the football, Abel exhibits the field vision needed to make the right decisions on the fly and has the quick feet to execute those decisions.
Intercepting the ball late in the game, Abel didn't just catch it. He ran into it to get a head of steam going, similar to how an outfielder runs into a flyball to get more power behind the throw.
Instincts abound in this young athlete whose body is all the more balanced because he plays three sports.
"There are a lot of athletes at Eudora who have that dedication to play a sport every season," Abel said. "We just like to win."
Abel said he would like to play either football or baseball in college. He doesn't yet know where. For the moment, he's just enjoying playing with the "E" on the side of his helmet.
"My favorite is probably football," he said. "No other sport like it."
Athletes such as Abel, who weighs 170 pounds, often carry the "overachiever" label, which is an insult to his physical gifts (speed, quickness, vision), as well as to the effort put forth by other driven athletes who simply don't have as much talent.
Abel, who missed most of three games because of a hyper-extended elbow suffered in the opener, lined up at quarterback and receiver, punted and played defensive back.
The high energy level Abel established with the opening kick return was sustained throughout the night by teammates. Travis Clarke's punishing hit of a punt returner drew a gasp and then a roar from the crowd. Morgan Abel, Matthew's cousin, made a nice brick wall in the middle of the defense. Logan Alvarez and Chad Krutz made a habit of blowing through the line to get to the quarterback.
Through it all, Abel played catch me if you can. Mostly, they couldn't.