Read Kickoff! Online

Authors: Tiki Barber




Chapter One: The End of Summer

Chapter Two: School Daze

Chapter Three: Take the Field

Chapter Four: Anticipation

Chapter Five: Mom Rules

Chapter Six: All Shook Up

Chapter Seven: Riding the Bench

Chapter Eight: Hands Up!

Chapter Nine: Xs And 0s

Chapter Ten: The Road Not Victory

Chapter Eleven: Spectator Sports

Chapter Twelve: Pressure

Chapter Thirteen: The Big Game

Chapter Fourteen: Better Days a Head

Football Terms

For AJ and Chason—T. B.

For my three Roses—R. B.

To my wife and partner, Avery,
and my sons, Clay and Matt,
for all their love and support—P. M.


The authors and publisher gratefully acknowledge Mark
Lepselter for his help in making this book.



Ronde Barber gripped the football with both hands. He dropped back three steps—just like Joe Theismann of the Redskins, his favorite pro quarterback. Ronde's fingers found the ball's laces, and he cocked his arm back to make the pass.

His identical twin, Tiki, sprinted down the sideline. Fast as lightning, Tiki blew right by the defender—their best friend, Paco, who was big and strong, but not fast. No one was as fast as Tiki, it seemed.

Ronde threw the ball—a perfect spiral!

But it landed ten feet short.

“Oh, man!” Their teammate Jason threw both hands up in frustration. “Why can't
be the quarterback, like always? Your hands are too small to get a good grip on the ball.”

“They are not!” Ronde grabbed the football from Paco, who'd brought it back to the line of scrimmage—right in the middle of Mews Hill Drive—and spread his fingers over the laces. “See?”

“Whatever,” Jason said, frowning. “I'm still a better quarterback than you.”

Ronde had to admit it was true. Last spring their team, the Vikings, had won the Peewee League championship. And even though everyone on the team had a chance to play lots of different positions, Jason had done most of the quarterbacking.

All three boys were still proud of that championship—in fact, they were all wearing their bright purple Vikings jerseys today.

Jason had had his growth spurt when he was twelve. Now, at thirteen, he was tall and skinny, with big hands that could grip a football like it was nothing. He could throw a perfect spiral thirty, even forty yards.

Ronde and Tiki were still small for twelve. But they'd get bigger sooner or later—at least, Ronde sure hoped so. They were identical twins, but their friends could tell them apart. Tiki was quieter and liked history. Ronde's favorite subject was math. But one thing was for sure—they both loved football. They lived for it.

“Car!” Adam yelled, and they all retreated to the curb until it passed by.

They didn't have to dodge cars too often. This block of Mews Hill Drive was an unpaved dead end, petering out into the driveway of a large empty lot. Once there had been an old mill there, but now it was just a crumbling chimney, surrounded by acres of weeds. Lately, though, there had been more traffic. People in suits came by every day to look at the empty lot.

Whenever a car did come along, Adam was always the first to spot it. A tall kid with bad posture and thick glasses, he wasn't strong, or fast, or much of an athlete. His one claim to fame was that he could kick the ball a mile.

“Okay, third down,” Paco said, panting. “Let's get this over with.”

“Why? You tired?” Tiki teased.

“Yeah, I'm tired—I'm tired of chasing after you. How come you're not out of breath?”

Tiki shrugged. “Beats me. I like running.”

“Oh, man,” Paco said. “Give it a rest.”

“What's the matter?” Tiki asked, laughing. “You not having fun?”

“Forty-nine to seven is
not fun
,” Paco said.

“Not when you're the seven.”

“He's right,” Adam said. “It's no fair when you and Ronde are on the same team.”

“Hey, man,” Ronde said, “we're all gonna be on the same team from now on. Starting next week, we'll be part of the Hidden Valley Eagles. Next thing you know, it'll be high school, then college, and right on up to the Redskins, and the Super Bowl. Right, Tiki?”

“No, man, not the Redskins—the Bears!” Tiki corrected him. “Walter Payton's the man!”

Tiki, Ronde, and Jason huddled up, while Chris, Paco, and Adam waited at the line of scrimmage.

“Okay,” Ronde whispered to his teammates. “I'll fake a
handoff to Jason. Tiki, fake a screen, then go long again.”

“I just went long,” Tiki said. “And you couldn't reach me!”

“Let me be quarterback this play, Ronde,” Jason pleaded.

“Give it up, dude,” Ronde said.
the quarterback today. We drew for it, remember?”

“Just don't go long again, okay?” Jason begged.

“All right, all right,” Ronde said, frowning. “Fake to you, then handoff to Tiki.”

They lined up at scrimmage. And right on cue, Chris started doing his sportscasting routine. True, they were only playing three-on-three touch football on an unpaved dead-end street—but Chris made it sound much bigger and more important.

“And the Bears line up. The quarterback takes the snap, hands off to—no, wait, it's a fake! And now he gives it to Payton! Payton cuts through the line! Uh-oh, Lawrence Taylor's after him—but Payton somehow gets away! He's at the twenty, the ten—
Touchdown, Bears! Walter Payton does it again!

The way he got excited, you'd have thought Chris was on Tiki's team instead of Paco's. “And it's fifty-six to seven, Bears!”

“Oh, man, can we call this game on the mercy rule?” Paco begged. “Let's choose up new teams.”

“Nah, it's almost dinnertime,” Chris said. “My mom wants me home early to eat, because we're going out shopping tonight for school supplies.”

“Ugh. Now you're
depressing me,” Paco said. “Don't remind me about school—it's still summer.”

“You mean it's still summer till tomorrow,” Tiki said. “Hey, Paco, how come you hate school so much?”

“I don't hate it. I just like summer better. . . .”

Ronde could tell there was more to it than that. Paco looked . . . well, almost
to go to junior high.

“Well, hey,” Ronde said, “we're all gonna be on the Hidden Valley Eagles. That'll be cool, right?”

“That'll be
Tiki agreed, and the kids all high-fived.

As they headed back to their houses for dinner, Ronde put his arm around his brother's shoulders. “You and me, Tiki—we're gonna be the stars of the team.”

Tiki grinned. “I can't wait, can you?”

“Nope. I wonder how soon tryouts are gonna be. . . .”

The sun was setting. The giant neon star at the top of Mill Mountain flickered on. Soon it would light up the night over Roanoke, Virginia.

Ronde wondered if he and Tiki would someday be stars, too . . . stars in the NFL.

“Hey, you guys—wait up!” It was Paco, jogging after them, breathing hard, his face red and sweaty.

“So what was that about before, Paco?” Ronde asked.

“What was

“You're so down on going back to school, man.” Tiki said. “Even if you want it to, summer can't last forever.
And, hey, you get As and Bs in everything, like we do.”

“Everything except
Paco corrected him. “Besides, my brother James says the work in junior high is mad hard.”

Tiki laughed. “Dude, you
homework, remember? You always do it right after school, before you play football or anything.”

“I just do it that way to get it over with,” Paco said. “Besides, you guys do it right after school too.”

“We have to,” Ronde said. “Our mom makes us.”

“Yeah, it's not 'cause we
to.” Tiki shook his head. “I could never think like you, Paco. You are truly bizarre.”

Ronde gave Paco a playful shove. “Come on, dude, what are you scared of, anyway? It's gonna be fun.”

“That's what you think,” Paco said.

Tiki said, “I think going from class to class is gonna be awesome. Just think, if you don't like your teacher, just wait an hour and you're with a different one! And anyhow, after seven years I'm ready for a new school.”

“It's not that,” Paco said, stopping and looking down at the ground. “It's . . . oh, never mind.”

“Tell us, dude,” Tiki said, putting an arm around him. “Hey, we're best buds, right? You can tell us anything.”

Paco sighed heavily. “All right. But don't go freaking out when I tell you.”

He looked first at Tiki, then at Ronde. “My brother James? You know, he's starting high school, but he went to
Hidden Valley till last year. And he told me they have this day . . . it's supposed to be the second day of school—that's this Thursday. It's called ‘Beat the Seventh Graders Day.' And on that day, guess what happens? All the ninth graders hunt down the new kids and
pound them.”

both Barber boys said at once.

“That's just crazy talk,” Tiki said, snorting.

“Yeah. James is just goofing on you,” Ronde agreed.

He and Tiki nodded at each other, but Ronde could tell that Tiki was just a little scared.

In fact Ronde had to admit he was a little worried himself—even though it was probably all just a load of baloney.

“James said, the year he was a seventh grader, two kids wound up in the hospital, and three got black eyes and bloody noses.”

get one?” Tiki asked.

No, man!” Paco said. “You know my brother—he's like six foot three, two-twenty. He was big back then, too—and they don't pick on the big kids.”

“Then what are
worried about?” Ronde asked.

“Man, I'm not
big,” Paco said. “You should see some of those kids in junior high. The guys on the football team? If they ever tackle you, it'll break your bones!”

They'd reached Paco's corner. “I'll see you dudes at school tomorrow, huh?” he said. “But maybe you'd better both play hooky on Thursday—
you know why.”

The Barber boys ran the whole rest of the way up Mews Hill Drive to their home, tossing the football back and forth between them. They pretended they were on the field, dodging invisible defenders.

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