Jake Christensen wakes up with wind in his hair, quickly realizing that he is, in fact, falling. Before he can scream, flail, or react in any way, he hits the ground in a grassy field somewhere. The fall doesn't kill him, otherwise this would be the worst story ever. Jake gets up, stunned but unharmed. He's covered in viscous, stringy fluids for no apparent reason. As he regains his orientation, he realizes that he is utterly alone.
Nobody answers but a howling wind.
Jake begins wandering, and doesn't do so long before finding an old, beat-up football. He picks it up half-heartedly, but has nowhere to throw it.
Still there is nothing.
Frustrated, the young man sits down. Where am I?, he's forced to wonder. If it were some sort of afterlife, it sucked. There was no reward or punishment. And really, who gets a football to play with in limbo?
Jake walked some more, happening upon a television. On it is his performance from the Western Michigan game. Every single passing play, laid out before him, absent any context. He doesn't need any.
He can't even make it to halftime before turning it off.
His mind floods now; thoughts of his season, his receivers, his offensive line, his coaches, and his failures attack him. Now there is nothing to do to end the onslaught--no sack to take, no checkoff receiver. The regret, wholly unrelenting, cuts him to the bone. Tears in his eyes, he flings the ball away. It's a perfect 55-yard spiral.
The voice, calm and firm, booms down from the sky. To Jake, it is a relief that steals his breath for an instant. It almost sounds familiar.
You went 6-6 this year, Jake. That is not good enough. It cannot happen again.
But there is nothing you can do with that record or this season anymore. It is over and done.
"One pass against Wisconsin is all we'd need to be in a bowl. One drive against Western Michigan. One--"
Do not dwell! You must look ahead! You must! Your teammates need a leader, Jake. You must decide to accept that role in the face of great difficulty. If that means sacrificing easy friendships, then so it must be. If it means spending hours of every single day working with your receivers on timing and reads, then by God do so.
"I don't know even know who my starters will be next year! Will Brodell be back and healthy?"
I cannot tell you.
"Will Moeaki be back?"
I can't tell you.
Yeah, we dodged a bullet there.
"What do you mean, 'we?' Who are you?!"
The voice doesn't answer. Jake asks again, to the same silence. As he throws his hands up in exasperation, he feels an unmistakably hot, gentle breath on the back of his neck. At that moment, his eyes blink open in horror as he realizes that he is back in his bed and he is most certainly not alone.
I'm sorry. Was I snoring?
Jake screams and leaps out of bed, flinging Ken O'Keefe's lazy arms aside.
Come back to bed!
I'm teaching you to be a leader!