But finally I began to catch on to the job. It required technique as well as muscle. The blisters were becoming calluses, and I felt I was holding up my end of the deal.
On one hot and cloudless day we were working our way out of a rocky canyon when I heard the transit man shout, "Hafford, get that limb out of the way!"
I grabbed a brush hook with both hands and laid into the juniper. I came at it from the underside on the first blow. Then, one overhand. The third swing from the underside severed it. I grabbed the branch and tossed it aside. I was mad at being singled out while others were flaking off. I yelled back, "Anything else you need?"
"No, that's just fine."
Suddenly I knew why my dad had put me in this heat-drenched wilderness with a brush hook in my hand. This was to be my training ground. I worked harder. Then I started running. I ran everywhere, and in the evenings I did push-ups and sit-ups on the dirt floor of the tent. I ate everything the cowboy cook put in front of us. And at night before I fell asleep, I created football scenes in my mind.
One of our axmen was a big Mormon who played football at Utah State. He was on the crew for the same reason I was, only he knew it from the start. I never told him I was a football player, but he must have guessed. We went home every other weekend, and one Monday he brought a football back to camp.
He worked with me, tossing passes. I wasn't any good at catching the ball. Finally, he laid it on the line. "You can't be an end," he said. "You haven't got the hands. You can't be a back. No moves, no speed. You've got to play on the line. You've got to be a mean football player. That's all you've got."
We decided I would try out for tackle in the fall. "It's not how big you are," the big guy told me. "It's how hard you hit, and I'm gonna show you how." He did his best.
Summer ended and fall was in the air. Football time again. We had a new line coach, Mr. Cantrell. He didn't know me, and that was good. Our first contact exercise was interior linemen, one at a time, against an end and wingback. I got into the waiting line, but not up front. I wanted a chance to watch what was going on. Up ahead, bodies were tangling and dirt was flying. I told myself, "You've got one chance, that's all. One chance, that's all."
My time came. Across from me were Kelly and Coffee. Kelly was a big end, maybe 190. My weight was up to 155. Coffee was an All-Northern halfback. Fast. Kelly was tough. But I had a feeling he would dog it. He'd remember me from the year before.