There's an old black and white photo on my Facebook page that was was taken 40 years ago this fall. I was somewhat younger and weighed about half of what I now weigh.
In fact, the photo is the Gulf Breeze High School 1974 football team photo.
Some of my coaches and teammates in that photo have passed away. In my mind, those coaches are still strong young men and those teammates are fuzzy-faced kids with worlds to conquer.
I've been thinking a lot about those guys the last few days as spring football started last week. Two teammates in that photo, Ken Hardy and Mort Deer, were my best friends in high school and remain the very best of friends today.
I still see other teammates from time to time at ball games or class reunions. I'm Facebook friends with a lot of the guys and friends with other teammates' wives not on Facebook.
And then there is a group of guys that I look at their once familiar faces and try to recall a name or when I last saw them. Time has a way of rushing past and covering memories with passing years.
The youngest of those teammates will turn 55 this year. Those old friendships and team bonds seem even more special now that we are all closer to the end than the beginning of the journey.
In the last 40 years, I've been a part of some great organizations in the workforce and in churches I've attended. From a team perspective, none of those groups match the experience of being on my high school football team.
Too often, clichés such as family, brotherhood and bond are used to express a group's unity. Those words didn't do justice to my high school football experience.
My teammates and coaches were, and remain, my family and brothers in life.
The coaches pushed us to find something deep within that we didn't know we had as they pushed us through grass drills before practice and wind sprints at the end of the day.
When we were punished with extra running or extra hitting for missing an assignment on the field, it was to strengthen our resolve, not to make the mistake again and to be a better teammate.
I won't pretend there weren't problems on my team or, for that matter, every team. I've seen teammates fight each other after practice on Wednesday and stand together against a common opponent Friday night.
Team members, like family members, might sometimes fight with each other, but they will always fight for each other against a common foe.
Yes, I still miss playing football. And I'd be willing to take the field to practice a few more times just for the opportunity to hit someone and compete.
But it's the relationships with teammates and coaches I miss the most as I think about the start of spring football practice.
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524.