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The Zak Zone

August 30, 2011

Monday morning, I awoke shivering and cocooned inside three blankets on my bed, which usually happens only as fall approaches, and fall means one thing: Football season has arrived.

In fact, Monday's cocoon incident was just a reminder for me after I spent the majority of my day Saturday at one football field or another.

The first game was an afternoon one featuring my cousin's home team, the Reynoldsville Falcons, and in the evening, I was on the sidelines taking pictures at the Junior and Senior games for the A.J. Parise Youth Football teams in Punxsutawney.

As a Pittsburgh sports fan, I know only three seasons: Football season, baseball season and hockey season, and with each new season comes a fresh start.

In football, on top of the youth teams I already mentioned, I follow the Chucks, the Nittany Lions and the Steelers most closely, and this time of year, all of those teams are still undefeated.

I can say the same thing about the Pirates at the beginning of the summer, but with the football teams comes a little bit more hope.

Punxsy is a football town. I grew up playing backyard football with my brother, who I used to call Superman for his ability to adjust to my poor throws and make amazing, diving catches.

We especially enjoyed playing football in the snow, because his catches seemed all the more spectacular as he gained speed sliding through the slush.

Saturday afternoons, our television was reserved for Nittany Lions games, and Sundays, you didn't dare try to change the channel during the Steelers game.

Before the days of DVR, we couldn't go back and watch what we missed at the touch of a button, so we clung to the edge of our seats with every play.

Fall is my favorite of the seasons for many reasons.

The leaves changing colors in western Pennsylvania is one of the most aesthetically pleasing things I've ever seen, and the weather cooling down is a welcome reprieve from the heat and humidity we face for what seems about six months too many.

But football is the main reason I look forward to this time of year, and this year, I have plenty to look forward to.

It's my first season as a sports reporter, and this year, I'll be on the sidelines, just like I was Saturday, snapping pictures and recording every play in my notebook. This is a sports geek's dream come true.

My excitement doesn't stop there, though.

The Steelers made very few moves in a shortened, hectic offseason, which is a promising sign that they liked the core they have — one that was solid enough to take them to the Super Bowl last year.

I will admit the most exciting prospect, though, is having the opportunity to watch my little cousin, Jake, suit up and play youth football.

I don't have any kids of my own yet, and so I thrive off seeing my cousins doing things they enjoy, and Jake sure seems to enjoy his football, and he's pretty good at it, too.

Andy, Jake's younger brother, played baseball this year and is also shaping up to be a great ball player.

He is already looking forward to his turn at football a few years down the road.

I lived in the heart of Pittsburgh for three years, and one thing I noticed this time of year was the lack of local excitement and coverage for high school sports.

One day, I hope to see Jake taking the field at the varsity level in high school, though I will admit it might pain me a bit to see him wearing DuBois colors.

But that's the beauty of football to me.

We cheer for our team and cheer against our rivals, but in the end, we all do it out of a love for the same game.

Can you tell I've been thinking a lot about the fellowship that goes with sports lately?

Turns out, it doesn't just apply to those playing the sport, but to those watching it, as well.

I've tailgated with Ohio State fans before a Penn State home game, yelled at and taunted them throughout the game and then shared burgers with them in the parking lot afterwards.

Our team gives us something to cheer about and gives us hope in something, but the sport itself brings the people together.

From mothers who sit in the stands gripping their rosaries and praying their sons don't get hurt, to the coaches who pour hours into preparing their teams for each contest, everyone comes to see the final product beneath the bright lights.

So, this fall, I hope to see you out there.

Whether its at the A.J. Parise game, the Chucks' games, or I happen to run into you at a Steelers' tailgate, we can all enjoy the game together... unless you're a Cowboys fan (Just kidding... kind of).

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