The Linebacker is an action-packed modern-day thriller with real heroes and even more real villains. As a star NFL linebacker, Mike Johnson seems to have it all: money, fame, friends, and great teammates. But when he gets a concussion and is forced to sit out the last few games of the season, his life begins to change in ways he never would have expected. His doctor, a beautiful neurologist specializing in head and neck trauma, becomes not only his doctor but a new love in his life. The romance is interrupted, however, when Mike’s team is bombed on their way to the final game of the season in London, England. The authorities are seemingly locked in red tape, and the hunt for the “perps” drags on. The linebacker flies to London and decides to pursue the criminals and terrorists behind the tragedy. He soon discovers that there is a lot more evil in the world than he ever realized. Is he in over his head? Will he be able to find the people who did this? Will he even make it back home to Kate? Mike is determined evil will not win this one. They will be brought to justice if it’s the last thing he does.
GREGORY CHARLTON is a native of both Oregon and California. He is a musician, father, grandfather, artist, poet, actor, outdoor wilderness enthusiast, mountain climber, and skydiver. His love of adventure and storytelling led to his interest in writing.
|Publisher:||Dog Ear Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.78(d)|
Read an Excerpt
There are thirty-two football teams in the National Football League and approximately 1,300 players during the season. On each team during a game there are eleven positions playing on the field on defense and eleven on offense. All the extra players you see on television on the sidelines are for "special teams" for kick-offs, punts, punt returns, field goals, and other types of unique situations; substitutes in case of injuries (which occur like clockwork here) or fatigue; or they are there as future prospects learning their trade.
There can be no more than fifty-three active players on the "active" roster during the season. Of those fifty-three players, each player has a position that is unique for his build, size, speed, and talents. For all positions, speed is crucial; strength is mandatory if you want to last more than one play; and agility, or the ability to be agile in the full sense of the word, is essential. The antonyms for agile, like awkwardness, gawkiness, klutziness, have all been weeded out in high school and college. NFL players have all the best DNA for their sport and not only survived the winnowing process since their youth but thrived and were celebrated by their communities and schools. They were heroes in every sense of the word.
Of all these positions in football, the linebacker is the most notorious: A picture of a lion pursuing its prey, a grizzly turning on a foe with a complete disregard for its safety, and a navy seal committed to the "goal" all come to mind. A linebacker must be fast, he must be agile, able to stop and start instantly. He must be the epitome of toughness and courage, and he must be wily and smart.
He was a linebacker in the NFL, and he was all of these and more.
He loved this game more than he could have imagined.
The cold, hard, moldy smell of the dirt, the wet grass, and the way it felt under his size fourteen Nike cleats brought back all the memories he had coming up through high school, college, and now professional football. The deafening sound of the cheering crowds in the stadium always made his hair stand on end, especially when it was for him after a big tackle. The echoing ring of the announcer at the end of each play and of course the occasional glances of the cheerleaders, with their chests ready to break out of their uniforms at any moment, all contributed to the deep animal arousal and instincts that came together in these magical moments.
It was a cold, windy day. The kind of day when everything was either frozen or just hard and everything hurt. It hurt to breathe, to smile, to move. He was more than earning his million plus yearly income during these times. He wore gloves to protect his hands from freezing, a sweat absorbing skull cap under his helmet, and a thermal shirt under his pads. He was still very, very cold.
The sky was ice blue and clear, which meant there wouldn't be any snow. Snow and rain made his job more difficult and gave the advantage to the offense. The offensive backs, receivers, and quarterback initiated a move, and he had to respond. Responding to a move put him instantly behind the other offensive player, and the NFL had the fastest people on the planet. Certain "backs" or players in the offensive backfield, could literally sprint, stop on a dime, and then change direction in just a few heart-throbbing spectacular moves that took your breath away. To survive, he had to use more of his instincts to anticipate their moves. Watching films all week of the opposing team was his "go to" system. He spent more time in the film room than even most of the coaches. He tried to "become," as he liked to say, the opposing team in his mind, learn their habits and inner psychology, his undergraduate major. He took all this and let it sink into his psyche and then mentally calculated his opposing moves. This extra step made him one of the most feared linebackers of opposing teams and the reason he made "good money," as he often would tell his parents when they asked.
He could also smell the barbecued food from all the tailgating, hot dogs, even the beer that flowed like water in the stands. His stomach was growling back from being empty too long. It was a familiar feeling and one that actually gave him a sense of security and peace. This was his time; a time of truth; a time of maleness and testosterone.
He wouldn't eat four hours before a game because of the extra weight and the energy it took to digest the food, and would eat light meals a day before to keep his intestines as clear as possible. Bathroom breaks in the middle of the game could be a problem, not to mention the incredible impacts of the tackles at this level of football and their effect on his body. He was starving, and the smells were getting to him as usual, but this was all part of the wonderful magic of sports: pushing yourself to the edge, extending your God-given talents as far as possible.
The opposing team was now in their offensive huddle, and he watched every subtle movement of their bodies looking for anything that might give the next play away. Would it be a twitch of a finger on one of the linemen who knew he was going to have to slant and attempt a block on him? Or a receiver's hesitation who was going to cross the middle into the "dead man's zone" and possibly get "his bell rung" once again? Or, perhaps a head that popped up a little too fast as they broke the huddle, giving him a clue that he was going to have to make a key block or take the football for the inevitable run behind his guard or tackle? Every body movement had a cause. Every glance of an eye meant something. It was here that he let go of thinking, of figuring, of calculating, and went into a trance and felt everything and then nothing to let his God-given instincts rule the moment.
His Paul Newman cold, blue eyes that always wowed the women watched with the intensity of a lion waiting for its prey, and his perfect square jaw was set preparing itself for the physical shock of tackling a huge ball carrier that seemed to get bigger and faster every year. He watched his breath turn into white fog, along with all the other players who were straining to get enough oxygen. A herd of buffalo in Yellowstone came to mind, and he smiled for an instant at the thought of it. The smile left as fast as it had come, and he resumed his focus on the huddle.
"Break!!" was barked out by eleven huge bodies as more than two and a half tons of men stood up from their crouched position in the huddle and half walked, half ran towards the line of scrimmage. He watched every eye as they came forward. Some looked straight ahead, others scanned the defense; and the quarterback, ever calm, cool and perfectly collected, walked a little slower up to his center who was going to hike the ball to him, took even more time observing the defense. This is what he loved: his heart, mind, and spirit against the opposition's. Who was going to outsmart the other? Who was tougher? Stronger? This was indeed life at its best. He knew how lucky he was. Many tried to make it here and failed. Many more became injured and even crippled for life.
In an instant he saw the quarterback look a little too long in the left zone behind his fellow linebacker Jake Jennings, the All-American from Ohio State. He signaled Jake with a simple nod of his head and slight double tap on his right thigh pad, a signal they had worked out at the beginning of the season. They changed the signals before each game, alternating the system so no one would catch on. They didn't share it with anybody but each other. It was their code. Who knew who was going to blab it to some fan or girlfriend? If they noticed the quarterback looking too long at either of them they would change the signal in the game. Deception and surprise was vital. This was a game of brains and brawn.
Jake turned away from him and stared at the quarterback with an intensity that was his trademark.
"Jake's licking his chops," he laughed to himself. "What an animal."
He truly loved Jake. A rare person: part animal, part humanitarian, father, husband, and one of the few people he would trust with his life. Jake was raised in the worst section of southwest Detroit, home of the notorious Black Mafia Family. He came up tough in an even tougher neighborhood, yet he was still a gentle, kind, and extremely generous person giving money and time to charities serving the poor black areas of Detroit. Jake didn't know his father and was raised by an aunt after his mother was locked away in prison for drugs. His aunt watched over him like a hawk, even walking him to and from his grade school and high school. Nobody laughed at Jake about this. He got into one fight as a freshmen in high school, and that was enough to convince anybody that they were taking their lives into a different danger zone if they attempted anything with Jake.
"What makes a person become more not less?" he wondered. "One person overcomes the odds, another gets stuck or, worse, sucked into the distorted vortex that surrounds them." He knew he was lucky to have had a normal family and upbringing. He didn't have the problems of a ghetto or a barrio, a fatherless home, drugs on every corner, and gangs that could end your life with one wrong look. Jake had overcome the darkness of his childhood, but he had two assets others didn't have: an aunt and sports, both of whom made a successful life possible. Jake also had the most important ingredient for any of us in life: self-discipline. He was the hardest working player on the team. He lived in the weight room and on the track. "Champions are not born; they are made" was his famous motto, which they all heard literally every day.
The opposing quarterback started the action. It was his responsibility to proceed with the designed play from their huddle or to change it at the line of scrimmage using an audible, a signal to his players that there was a change. The audible was predicated by the arrangement of the opposing players. Hours of watching the enemy's films of past games gave him information about their tendencies in their defenses. Based on this, he would either call an audible or let the play stand. In this case, the quarterback went with the designed play. There was no apparent audible.
"Red 4, Red 4, hut hut," signaled the quarterback. With the speed of true professional athletes the ball was hiked, and the huge opposing offensive guards and tackles moved with a grace and quickness belying their height and incredible weight. The quarterback took four quick steps back, looked right, and then, without hesitating, turned and threw a bullet to the left tight end that had faked a block on the opposing defensive end and slipped into the middle and caught the pass with two large hands and then turned downfield. As soon as he turned, Jake hit him like a ton of bricks. The sound of shoulder pads cracked into the air like firecrackers on the Fourth of July, and both the tight end and Jake let out the usual sounds of large men hitting each other with all their strength. The referee whistled the end of the play. The tight end got up slowly, as did Jake. They both knew that they had done their jobs, and both knew they were fortunate to walk away from another play intact. This was professional football; any single play could end your career and even your life. This was what the "end game" looked like in football, and Mike loved every minute — every bloody, painful, exciting minute.
Mike walked over to Jake and offered his hand to help him up.
"Thanks for the heads up on that play, Mike," said Jake. "You were right on the money."
"Anything to help out a fellow warrior," said Mike. "Nice hit, by the way. I bet they heard that one all the way to Detroit."
"Thanks Mike. Hey, watch out for the trap block and a QB sneak on the next play," said Jake.
He knew exactly why he'd said that. This quarterback had speed and power, a rare and deadly combination. It made him a triple threat and a nightmare for a linebacker. He could drop back and pass, hand off to his great halfback, take off running out of the pocket, or simply wait for an opening and sneak through the middle after Mike got totally faked out with his jock strap around his ankles as he headed up field.
Mike was the middle linebacker and the captain of the defense. At the end of each play, his job was to look at the defensive coaching staff on the sidelines and see what they suggested for a defense. The head defensive coach signaled Mike for the type of defense he wanted to use on each play. Occasionally, he allowed Mike to use his intuition and decide the play or override his. Neither one of them wanted to guess wrong. Their jobs could be at stake.
It was third down and short yardage, and in the pros that meant it could be a pass downfield trying to get a touchdown in one great play or a short, hard bashing straight-ahead one to simply get a new first down. This quarterback could do anything, but Mike's gut was screaming at him that he was going to just go head-first and get the first down because they had a great defensive backfield and the odds passing the ball had been against him all day. The defensive coach wanted Mike to signal for a pass defense strategy. Mike looked over at him and gave him his signal that he didn't agree and suggested a short yardage play defense. He stared at Mike for two seconds without moving and then gave him the go-ahead. Immediately, he signaled the defense for the running play. It was nearing the end of the season, and they needed this win. Mike prayed he was right.
The great wall of towering NFL linemen broke from the huddle and hurled their massive bodies toward the line of scrimmage. NFL linemen can vary in size from six-foot-seven and three hundred-sixty pounds to six-foot-two and three hundred pounds — all fat, muscle, and attitude. Size, speed, and pure power were a deadly combination. Going up against "Luscious" Tremayne Howard, for instance, was like ramming a freight train, except Luscious was also known to let his knees do the talking as you went in to push him away from his block. Many a defensive lineman and linebacker was out on crutches for the season because of his "knee and elbow surprise," as he called it. Linemen cheat. Period. They will snarl, literally. They spit. They'll fart when they are on top of you. Halfbacks fight over yards; linemen fight over inches. Anything that they can get away with, they will try. They also learn to study every man's tendencies. The same goes in defense. Does the opposing person put his left hand down a certain way on running plays and another on pass plays, a little less pressure on his fingers as they are placed on the ground in front of him if he is going to move back into a quarterback protecting situation, a little more if he is going to move forward for a running play? Everything counts. Nothing can be missed.
The quarterback came up to the line in his usual methodical way and then suddenly hunched down behind his center with a quick snap count. Right away Mike knew that the ball was going to the halfback off the guard's outside and the tackle's inside — basically right up the gut and right at him. This was Mike's cup of tea, and he was salivating. The opposing offensive linemen shot forward all together and tried to open a hole for the halfback coming through. This was beef against beef, mano a mano, "the mud, the blood, and the beer," as Johnny Cash had sung. The sound was horrific and wonderful. Mike knew they were going right off big ole Luscious, and he was ready. Mike moved just an inch or two to his right, dug his feet in, and pushed into it with everything he had. You learned quickly the only way to not get injured was to hit the opposition as hard as you could. It was simple physics. Getting kicked on your ass was not acceptable. Mike's goal was to "uncleat," or knock the other player off his feet. He saw the halfback coming low and hard just behind good ole Lucious. Mike saw Lucious' knee come up to knock him out, but he was ready. Mike turned sideways just enough so that it glanced off him, and then he lowered his helmet and hit the halfback at the line of scrimmage. Mike had stuffed the hole and stopped him. That was the last thing he remembered.
Excerpted from "The Linebacker"
Copyright © 2017 Gregory S.T. Charlton.
Excerpted by permission of Dog Ear Publishing.
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