Nicholas, 6 months
Nick hasn't always been Nick. The first day Bob and I met I heard the name Nicholas Anderson Mask. If memory serves, it was a group discussion about baby names and Bob said he already knew the name of his first son. Nicholas, after his best friend Nick, and Anderson, after Pleasant Anderson Mask, Bob's great, great grandfather who traveled from Alabama to White Hall, Texas in a covered wagon and settled his Mask clan as Texans from there on out.
And for the first dozen years of his life, our first born son was always called Nicholas.
And from birth his dad's hobbies surrounded him: football, Batman, and video games.
Nicholas, age 1
Nicholas at 2
Batman outfits were pretty much the standard preferred clothing from age 2 to 6. You bought the outfit at Halloween, then Nicholas wore it out for the rest of the year before you could find them in stores again.
also Nicholas, age 2
This is Nicholas playing Aladdin on what, at this point, for a few more months at least, we still called "Bob's" Sega Genesis. When Nick was born we still had the original Super Nintendo , and in the middle of the night when Nicholas wasn't sleeping, Bob would play Zelda with Nicholas in his arms. By by the time we'd moved to Navasota and Nicholas was developing his small motor skills, we'd upgraded to the Sega. My toddler took the controls and was soon figuring out levels we couldn't get through. It wasn't long before we just borrowed "Nicholas'" Sega.
From '92-'95, Batman, the Animated Series was running each day on the WB afternoon cartoon line-up. Before Nicholas was born we had started recording them so Nicholas (Bob) could watch them over and over. We soon had rows of 8 hour VHS tapes with each episode carefully labelled so when Nicholas requested "Two-Face" or "Clayface" we were good to go.
Of the big three, football was the least of these in toddler-hood. Nick never showed a lot of interest in watching the NFL games on Sunday with Bob but he loved to put on the old helmet that didn't fit at Muna's house and run around with it shaking on his head.
But, then again, that may just have been because there weren't Batman toys or video game controllers in the photographers props.
So by the time Nicholas was in school, I'd had him pegged as the smart kid who would probably need to be told to put down the video games and go outside and play. He will probably cringe at this, but he was a sensitive little guy. I have video footage of him (in a Batman shirt, naturally) at pre-school choosing to sit away from the rambunctious little boys terrorizing the room.
So imagine our surprise when, in 4th grade, he came to us wanting to sign up for county league football. Not my kid. He'll get killed. He told Bob he wanted to play quarterback because he could throw really well. Since when? Bob took him out and, surprise, he was right. Still, just being able to throw the ball wasn't the same as standing there getting pummeled by those big, tough boys.
I admit, I breathed a sigh of relief when it turned out the flyer was old and we had missed the deadline. But Nicholas wasn't going to miss the next year. He laid in wait until the day they opened registration and pounced.
One thing Nicholas has always been gifted with is the ability to pick things up quickly. He's got a lightening sharp mind that continually surprises me. So it wasn't a big stretch to see how quickly he memorized the playbook. He took it home and programmed each one into his Gamecube Madden 2003 so he could begin to read what the plays looked like from the field. He came up with a wristband system that allowed the coaches to signal which play and which formation quickly without having to run to the sidelines.
He had chosen #11 for Drew Bledsoe, the Pats QB whom he admired. (It took a while to warm up to Tom Brady after that.) That explains why you see Nick in plenty of Buffalo Bills stuff in the following years.
When I ask Nick what he remembers about his first year, the first thing he came up with was the hit he took in Hempstead, which when you watch it back on the film, he looks as though he was laid out, dead, on the field. (And then he wanted to go back in after one play and they wouldn't let him.) The second thing he said, was the positive attitude of the coaches and their continual support as he learned and grew as a QB.
Year 2: 6th grade, new uniforms:
And a new coach. Coach Arishin (Coach A), the offensive coordinator, had to head for Iraq at the start of the second season, so Bob stepped in to fill his shoes.
Somewhere along the way, Nicholas gave way to Nick, and now that childhood name is one he only hears in conjunction with his entire name when he's in trouble. The caption on the above photo, just cut off here, ran on the front page of the Navasota Examiner, uses "Nick Mask" but I am hard pressed to pinpoint exactly when that transformation took place. Maybe it was somewhere in the fight to prove to himself and everyone around him that he wasn't that same quiet little boy who deferred to everyone else.
So Nick football was in full swing by his junior high Navasota Rattler playing days. In 7th grade, he was #12 by default.
From his first days playing, Nick has always said he wants to become a coach himself one day: to get the opportunity to play as long as he can, and then pass on all he has learned as a coach. So many of the obstacles and hardships of these past years will serve him well as an enthusiastic, compassionate coach. As he fills out scholarship applications and writes honors program essays, I think a lot about what awaits him, about the tenacity he's shown all these years that he will need to be a walk-on at SHSU, the first-in, last-out work ethic he must continue to have, the hopes and dreams of a freshman who wants nothing more than a chance to become what he has always dreamed of being, to learn from men in the same position he aspires to.
These days, though, in those murky anticipation and waiting filled days, there are protein shakes and 5000 calorie days, constant workouts at the rec, indoor football games on the turf field, watching the scale edge up as he tries to bulk up for the next level (from 173 to 186 since the year started).
And until it's time to go, there are always video games and Batman to fill in the gaps: