Updated: 10:23 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 | Posted: 4:46 p.m. Monday, Aug. 11, 2014

Paper Bronco: The Post’s Anthony Chiang puts on helmet, cleats for day | Video

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Paper Bronco: The Post’s Anthony Chiang puts on helmet, cleats for day photo
Madeline Gray
Palm Beach Post sports writer Anthony Chiang before starting practice with the Palm Beach Central High School football team on Friday, August 8, 2014 in Wellington. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)
Paper Bronco: The Post’s Anthony Chiang puts on helmet, cleats for day photo
Madeline Gray
Palm Beach Post sports writer Anthony Chiang practices with the Palm Beach Central High School football team on Friday, August 8, 2014 in Wellington. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)
Paper Bronco: The Post’s Anthony Chiang puts on helmet, cleats for day photo
Madeline Gray
Palm Beach Post sports writer Anthony Chiang, left, gets instructions from Assistant Head Coach Dennis Abbate, right, during practice with the Palm Beach Central High School football team on Friday, August 8, 2014 in Wellington. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)
Paper Bronco: The Post’s Anthony Chiang puts on helmet, cleats for day photo
Madeline Gray
Palm Beach Central High School football players hoist Palm Beach Post sports writer Anthony Chiang onto their shoulders during practice on Friday, August 8, 2014 in Wellington. (Madeline Gray / The Palm Beach Post)

By Anthony Chiang

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I signed up for this project. It had been a while since I put on a football helmet.

But when I arrived at Palm Beach Central High on Friday afternoon for my first football practice in 11 years, I realized nothing had changed.

My stomach was turning and my hands were cold. I was nervous.

This was the same feeling I felt when I put on a helmet for the first time as a 6-year-old. This was the same feeling I felt when I tried out for my high school’s football team as a 14-year-old. And this was the same feeling I felt as a 25-year-old when I put on a black helmet last week.

However, my body looked a little different this time.

I spent my Pop Warner playing days and one spring at Miami-Coral Reef High as an offensive lineman. I was always one of the heaviest kids on the team. Since then, my body has shrunk into one of a (small) wide receiver.

The nerves were still there, though. In a weird way, the anxiety helped calm me down. It’s the feeling I was accustomed to having when taking the football field.

I missed it.

So, I strapped on my chin strap, laced up my cleats and jogged onto the practice field with Broncos players and coaches. (No pads. I’m not that crazy.)

I didn’t know what I was doing, but I pretended like I did. Players formed lines and began stretching. I found my spot and followed along.

This wasn’t hard. I watched the players around me, and they directed me through different stretches.

Rookies hang together

When we finished, the first-team offense began running through plays. The backups watched on, leaning against the fence.

As star Broncos wide receivers Kemar Downer and Larry Dunnon made play after play, I was one of those spectators leaning on the fence. After about five minutes, I turned to my left and introduced myself to senior safety Eduardo Torres.

Torres didn’t know too much about me and I liked that. As the offense continued to practice different plays, we got to know each other.

It was my first time in a helmet since 2003 and Torres is getting ready to play his first season as a Bronco. We had something in common and it turned into a conversation.

“I’ve played football before, but I have never played in high school,” Torres said. “This is my first time.”

We were only teammates for a day, but the conversation reminded me of the brotherhood that comes along with joining a football team.

I missed it.

After this stage of practice was complete, players separated into position groups. I followed the wide receivers and defensive backs, participating in their drills.

At this point, my helmet was starting to bother me and mosquitoes were starting to bite my arms and legs. It was approaching 90 degrees and the air was thick. I started wondering if the coaches were going to give us a water break soon. I really wanted to take off my helmet and chin strap.

This feeling reminded me that football is hard.

I missed it.

Getting into the action

Once these drills finished, coaches called for Palm Beach Central’s first-team offense to run plays against its defense. I looked on for about 20 minutes, as the Broncos ran through different packages.

After one play, a coach called my name.

“Anthony Chiang, get over here,” the coach said. “We’re going to get you a handoff.”

I entered the huddle and Downer explained the play to me, drawing it on his hand. I lined up on Downer’s right and he took the shotgun snap. The last thing I wanted to do was fumble the handoff, so I grabbed it with two hands and tried to make it look like the ex-lineman knew what he was doing.

The defense was not looking to tackle the journalist. I found a hole and ran through it without much resistance.

I lined up as a wide receiver other times, acting as a decoy on running plays.

But I wasn’t always the decoy. The coach called for a pass to come my way.

I approached the line of scrimmage with trepidation. With the cornerback giving me some room (not really covering me), I ran a fly route — the easiest route in football. I ran in a straight line and just waited for the ball to come my way. The 30-yard pass fell in my hands and I took it upfield. It was my only catch of the day, but it didn’t matter.

The players ran toward me and lifted me up to celebrate the play. I was greeted with fist pounds and handshakes.

A feeling of accomplishment rushed over me.

I missed it.

Soon after, the two-and-a-half hour practice was wrapping up. Players were tired and ready to call it a day. Others had already made their way to the training room to mend injuries.

Once the coaches talked to the team, players walked back to the locker room. Some players were quiet and tired, others left laughing with teammates.

I wasn’t ready to leave the field, though. For once, I didn’t want practice to end.

The day brought back the emotions that make playing sports so special and unique. It took me back to the practices and games that helped shape me.

I missed it.

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