Linemen feared me.
Running backs avoided me.
Receivers hated me.
And quarterbacks? I scattered those pretty boys over the goddamned field. I was stronger than them. Faster than them. I knew the plays they’d call, and I loved when they pissed their pants as they read my blitz.
After that ball snapped, I was no longer a man. I became an animal.
The drill was supposed to end if I broke through the line, but I couldn’t stop in time. Our quarterback smacked the ground ribs first.
Tim Morgan, king of the pussies in more ways than one, landed with a whined squeal. Nothing his oxy addiction couldn’t manage, but it didn’t bode well when he rolled onto his back and stayed there, grabbing at side.
The whistles blew, and the media on the sidelines snapped entirely too many pictures. The trainers and coaching staff rushed to the field.
And I was horse-collared backward by Coach Scott as the O-Line helped Tim to his feet.
“The fuck do you think you’re doing, Hawthorne?”
Coach Scott wasn’t a polite or subtle man. Time hadn’t been kind to the former defensive end. He kept the weight from when he played, but he no longer had the strength to push me to the ground. He swore instead.
“It’s a goddamned practice.” He jerked my collar. “That’s our own guy you’re hitting!”
And I’d tried to pull back before I wasted him. If I were the head coach, I’d have commended me on a job well-done and bitched at our tight-end. Tory was half a step slower than usual, probably because he spent the night banging whatever scraped across the parking lot after practice. It was his fault I made it through the line.
The adrenaline practically slurred my words. “Couldn’t pull back.”
Not what he wanted to hear. Coach Scott pushed me off the field. The other linebackers cleared out, isolating me on the sidelines. Right where the media had a clear view. The line of reporters probably already tweeted the incident…just like the hundred fans pressed tight against the fence, watching the practice from the training facility’s stands.
Coach Scott yanked my shoulder pads, trying to hurt me. He was lucky my temper didn’t snap, or his neck would have been next. He pitched his headset to the ground.
This wasn’t gonna end nice.
“You better get your fucking head in this game, Hawthorne. You see him?”
Coach Scott pointed at Tim. Our fearless leader massaged his ribs and eyed the women cooing from the fence. He’d probably have his pick of them tonight before heading home to his pregnant wife and kid, family man that he was.
“See how he’s wearing our colors?” Coach Scott grunted. “See him? Over there in the blue?”
I didn’t answer. He slapped my head, but his ring tangled in my hair. He ripped his hand away and tore out a hunk of hair from my pony tail.
Scalping me wouldn’t make this any easier.
He smacked me again. It was the last time I let that happen.
“I asked you a question, Hawthorne! Do you see that motherfucker standing over there?”
I gritted my teeth. “Yes, Coach.”
“You don’t touch him during practice. You don’t look at him. You don’t talk to him. If you want to crack some quarterback’s skull, you damn well better aim for Jack Carson’s head, you hear me?”
His voice lowered, a threat that’d scare the stink off a dog but wouldn’t intimidate me. “You got one last chance at this game. One. Fuck up again, and the league president will make an example out of a dirty player like you.” He snickered. “And you won’t go down a martyr, Hawthorne. Your ass will get kicked to the curb like the goddamned animal you are. Understand?”
“What’d you say?”
I saw red. “Yes, Coach!”
“Get off my fucking field.”
Coach Scott pushed me away. I didn’t fight. Didn’t look at him.
Kicked off the damn field on the last day of training camp. That wouldn’t help my reputation. But how the fuck was a man supposed to play a physical, dominating game and not rip his humanity to shreds?
There was no holding back. Strength. Power. Speed. It was all or nothing. And the league knew it. After one hundred thousand dollars in fines last year, I got their message loud and clear. They hailed me as the best linebacker in the game, and then they punished me for becoming The Beast—the all-pro defensive MVP for my three seasons in the league.
I couldn’t switch in and out of that mindset. The Beast was me, something impossible to control on the field.
And lately…just as hard to tame outside the game.
I hurled a water bottle against a wall as I headed into the practice facility. The plastic rattled off the tunnel and echoed against the damp concrete. It only pissed me off more. No fucking anger management technique was gonna work for this. Counting my heartbeats just reminded me how little time we had left before the season began.