G Frank Middleton, right, says getting outside to play football as a kid helped him learn to interact with others
-- by Mikko Simmon of NFLHS.com
Tampa Bay Buccaneers Guard Frank Middleton still remembers his first days of playing football.
He was the only boy in a family of girls and wanted to find a way to separate himself from his sisters. So the fourth-year pro, now 6-3 and 334 pounds, signed up for a Pop Warner team, strapped on his pads, and joined the thousands of young boys across the country in playing football.
Middleton remembers his sole year playing pee-wee football as being a terrific learning experience because it was the first time in his life he ever spent a lot of time away from home.
"I had to adjust to a lot of things, because I was an in doors kind of boy," recalled Middleton, who is responsible for help paving openings for two of the top rushers in the NFC, Mike Alstott and Warrick Dunn. "I played video games all the time, so when I started playing football it was like a different world. I always had guys around me. It helped me mingle and mix in with more people."
After playing Pop Warner football, Middleton went on to middle school and began to focus all his energy on the sport. He played offensive and defensive tackle throughout middle and high school. During high school, his versatility extended beyond the football field as well, as he was a member of his high school's power lifting and track teams.
Middleton has several fond memories of playing high school football. His favorite recollection involves an exciting victory during his senior year when his team came from behind to beat their cross-town rivals in the second half. Another of his favorites was the feeling he had when he earned a scholarship to play college ball at the University of Arizona.
"The scholarship was great," he said. "Just knowing I had a chance to go away from home and my mom and dad didn't have to worry about it was a great feeling. I did it on my own."
Middleton admits that playing high school football was a challenge at times, noting the most difficult part of being a high school student-athlete was finding time for all the demands placed on him.
"Sometimes it was hard just fitting everybody and everything in," he said. "Sometimes after football practice you had two papers to write and you didn't feel like it. So it was difficult to squeeze in football, school and your girlfriend, and give everything the same amount of time." How did he manage to stay motivated? Middleton knew that football success would only come after achievement in the classroom.
"If you didn't pass your classes, you didn't play," Middleton said of the academic standards required of him in high school. "It was good, because it forced you to study. It was really getting you ready for college. I thought it was helpful, because when you go to college you look back and realize it really wasn't that bad." Along with his study habits, Middleton cites patience as another important lesson he learned through playing high school football.
"I've learned how to have patience and make time for everything," he said. "Football also shows you that life is not always perfect. You can be up one quarter, then back down the next. That's how life is. You're up sometimes and you're down sometimes. You just have to learn how to play through some bad things."
Today Middleton works to teach young athletes the lessons he learned through playing high school football by coaching pee-wee players through a league in Tampa. He believes in the importance of teamwork and patience, and wants to spread the word to aspiring football players.
"Kids need to know how to be part of a team, and football teaches them that everything revolves around teamwork," he said. "It reminds them that in life, sometimes you need help and you rely on teamwork."