Anytime I see the Dallas skyline on the horizon or in the rearview mirror, I get that lump in my throat. The Bank of America Plaza is the first building I see and the feelings of nostalgia begin. My father worked in that building for more than 26 years and I still remember how important I felt when he would escort me in and introduce me to everyone he saw like I was someone everyone should know. Those instances were the first times that I realized my father was an important figure in the Dallas law scene and spawned my first true feelings of pride. My high school psychology teacher once told the class that children gain their own sense of pride and self-worth through the actions and self-esteem of their father. In that case, I owe my father a debt of gratitude, because if it weren't for him, my successes would just be someone else's dreams.
The Bank of America Plaza wasn't the only monument that made me suppress the lump in my throat. Many things I see as I head toward the warm graces of home combine to bring a misty film to my eyes. I pass the large patch of weed-ridden dirt where Reunion Arena once stood. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus always would have a showing right around my birthday and it was a Leonard family tradition to go on a yearly basis. I will never forget that no matter what was going on with my family. The circus always made us forget the real world and focus on the joys of being happy. I still have the Pepsi-stained napkin signed by former Rangers baseball player Juan Gonzalez that I garnered from the circus. He was sitting merely two seats down from me and didn't hesitate to sign the smudged napkin that a nervous 10-year-old child was waving in front of his face. The circus was some of the best times. Mom made me promise her that I would find a way, no matter what, to carry on the tradition of going to the circus each year. I have fallen short on that promise, but I will make up for it when I have a family of my own.
The most important monument that I pass on my way home is Ron Poe Stadium. Named after the legendary McKinney High School football coach, "The Poe" has been my holy ground since my family moved to McKinney from the northern outskirts of Dallas back in 1996. I sometimes fell short of attending church on Sundays, but I never fell short of attending games on Friday nights. Football is my religion and Ron Poe Stadium was my sanctuary.
It's funny to me how my dreams have evolved over the years. Up until the time I made the varsity roster as a sophomore, my dream and aspiration was to be a varsity football player for the McKinney Lions. It was a dream that took shape since the days of Donta Hickson at running back and "Big" Bob Morton at center. Once Donta hit the edge, it was six for the blue and gold. Donta didn't have to do much work behind the holes that Bob would open. Donta and Bob signified McKinney High School football and both went on to have excellent football careers at the University of Oklahoma and the University of Notre Dame, respectively. I never will forget after one of the games, Bob came up to me (I couldn't have been any older than 11) and he hoisted me up to his eye level and said, "You're going to be the next big-time center to come out of McKinney High." Bob must have been on good terms with God to know something like that, and fittingly, he is now a priest in Indiana. I'd like to think that I was the big-time player to come out of McKinney High School in the class of 2010, but I was blessed to play with some amazing athletes and friends.
Zach Lee was my quarterback and is a household name in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. He has a God-given gift. I'll never forget when he would stand about 65 yards from a trash can with a grocery cart full of footballs next to him. I would watch in bewilderment, as he would drain football after football in the trash can almost as if it would be an anomaly to miss. Zach was highly recruited and signed on the dotted line to play football and baseball for Louisiana State University. However, before Zach could start the season with the Bayou Bengals, the Los Angeles Dodgers drafted him with the 28th pick of the 2010 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft (he also was a standout pitcher). He hung up the pads only because he was presented with an offer he couldn't refuse and a dream that he couldn't deny.
Matt Lipka was Zach's favorite target and Friday nights usually became the "Lee and Lipka Show." Any time Zach hit Matt in stride, the scoreboard was adorned six more points. Matt was and still is one of the most naturally-gifted athletes I have ever seen and he took a similar route as Zach, signing on the dotted line with the Atlanta Braves.
Last but not least is my brother, Jake Smith. Jake held down the left tackle spot for us and was one of those guys I grew up competing against in everything. Our past is what helped us become so close and Jake now is playing baseball for the Oklahoma Sooners. Jake is one of those guys that embodies hard work and flawless character and I am lucky to call him a great friend.
As y'all can see, I was blessed to grow up around winners and I owe all of them a lot of my successes, as well.
The best part of being home was spending time with dad. We did what we do best, fall asleep watching college football after meals that filled us up to our eyeballs. Any chance I get, I want to spend it with that man. I learned everything I know from him and the way he lives his life on a daily basis inspires me to be just like him someday, which I already understand is my only unattainable goal.
This weekend, we play the Rice Owls in Houston. I don't need to say much other than this game is very personal to me. I'm heading into "The Hedges" with the mentality that I have had all of my life and the mentality of this year's Roadrunners football team: vindication. We have something to prove and history to make. Runner Nation, I hope y'all will join us for it.
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