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Family, Football & Camping Adventures

by Nate Polvogt

“Whatever form it takes, camping is earthy, soul-enriching and character building, and there can be few such satisfying moments as having your tent pitched and the smoke rising from your campfire as the golden sunsets on the horizon – even if it’s just for a fleeting moment before the rain spoils everything.” – Pippa Middleton

Camping. The sure sign that summer is upon us. It’s a great American tradition. Load up the car with provisions to simply exist in nature for a few days away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Tents and sleeping bags, food for a fire, food in coolers, canopies and camping chairs, guitars, harmonicas and pure joy all in the bed of a truck or trunk of a car.

Anyone who goes camping knows there’s always a preferred spot. Everyone has one, whether it’s a specific forest you know like the back of your hand or a particular lake you just happen to have fallen in love with.  Mine is a lake. And living in Colorado, you would assume it’s a lake to the west of us in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Well, you’d be wrong.

Lake McConaughy in Ogallala, Nebraska. Yes, you read that correctly. Nebraska. The land of corn and cows. Husker country. The place where rolling, boring plains are the landscape. But just north and east of the Colorado/Nebraska border is an oasis tucked in the plains.

Happy Memories

I’ve been going to Lake McConaughy since I was 8 years old. My grandfather had a “cabin” (it was a fully functional and actually quite nice home) in a cove near the dam of the nearly three-mile-wide, 26-mile-long oversized reservoir. In addition to the cabin, he also had a boat dock just down the hill, and with it, a boat.

Lake Mcconaughey is Nebraska’s largest lake.

My whole family would trek the 3-and-a-half hours once every summer for a week-long stay with Grandpa and his girlfriend, Ellie. It was always an event and the most fun we had in the school-less months between grades.

We spent mornings on the boat fishing, just the guys. I was always the “captain” of the boat, steering the slow, trolling boat around a cove or bay my grandpa had set us in, while he and my dad would reel in the walleye and catfish.

Afternoons were family time out on the water. We’d find a beach to pull up to and play until we were too tired to go on. Then it was back home to the cabin to eat the spoils of our morning fishing trip.

It was an annual event we all looked forward to. It was our one-and-only chance to get out of town every summer. Eventually, the trips stopped. Life got busy and my grandpa no longer had the energy to continue to maintain his cabin, so he sold it. We were all sad, but the reality was none of us had the time anymore.

A few years passed and as I entered my 20’s, I remembered the fun of the large, out-of-place lake in Nebraska. The feeling of freedom and water all around, the sounds of the crickets and the absence of traffic, and the gentle hum of a far-off train  I wanted that again.

New Beginnings

I had never been camping. Not once. But that wasn’t going to stop me. It was the summer of 2002. I was living on my own for the first time in my life. As summer approached, I decided that I had to organize a trip back to Lake McConaughy. So I did. I convinced my girlfriend at the time, along with a few co-workers and a friend of a co-worker to head northeast with me to farm country.

We loaded up my Nissan Pathfinder and my friend’s Grand Marquis and off we went. The five of us had no idea what to expect. I was the only one who had even been to Lake McConaughey. Did I even know where the campgrounds were? The answer was no.

But we managed to find one, and it was a great spot. We were just barely 100 yards from the water, nestled in a bank of trees providing shade. There was a fire pit already built, and a charcoal grill to boot. Perfection.

The first two days were bliss. We swam, napped and relaxed. We cooked meals over the campfire, told stories and played games. Then came our third night. One of the campers, a co-worker, was only 15-years-old. His mom agreed to allow him to come with us, and we were very aware of the responsibility.

Unexpected Wrinkle

That night, we had decided to head into town to a truck stop for dinner. There was a little diner attached and we figured we’d give it a shot. Our young friend fell asleep in the car on the way. When we arrived, he awoke in a very dazed state. As we sat at our table, he began insulting the wait staff and the state of Nebraska. We were all shocked and embarrassed. We ended our meal as quickly as possible and headed back to our campsite.

He, again, fell asleep on the ride, and when we arrived back in our secluded beach spot, he, again, woke up. He literally fell out of my car, popped up and started running around like an absolute maniac, speaking nonsense. Suffice it to say, we were pretty freaked out.

Over the next few hours, the madness got worse. His eyes were hollow. Like he was staring through your souls. His words were disturbing, to say the least. We settled into the idea the waitress had drugged him for being such a jerk. What were we going to do in the middle of nowhere in Nebraska? Just manage it is where we landed. That’s all we could do.

After nearly 3 hours of absolute insanity, he finally crashed hard in his tent. The scarring incident was finally over. It was a sign to pack up and come home.

Morning came and we began loading up the cars and breaking down our campsite. When he woke up, we recounted the story of the night. He remembered none of it. Then he dropped the bomb. He was a sleepwalker. We were literally watching him dream out loud. From the time he fell asleep on the way to dinner, he was unconscious even while appearing awake. Information that would have been helpful before agreeing to take him with us!

Good & Bad Times

After that, you would think I’d never go back. But I did. Many times. The last trip, which happened in 2005, was almost as memorable as the first.

This time we went with a much larger group. There were 10 of us between three cars. We went to the same spot as the first trip, because that was the only spot I knew, and it was always comfortable. And it was epic. We had music on the beach, partied hard and stayed up until sunrise. I fell asleep on the beach one night and got so sunburned I couldn’t wear a shirt for three days. It was as memorable of a trip as they come.

On the last day of the camping extravaganza, my roommate at the time and I decided to take his Chevy Trailblazer out for a stroll in the sand. Dusk was approaching and a few of our friends decided to hitch a ride on the back, feet on the bumper and hands holding tight on the roof rack. We rolled around for a bit when my roommate decided to pick up the pace on the open sand. It was fun until it wasn’t fun.

Heading straight into the sun, he didn’t see a three-foot-wide, two-foot-deep ditch. Bam. He hit it at full speed, probably 30 miles per hour. Our heads hit the roof and our passengers in the back flew over the top of the Blazer, landing hard in the sand in front of us. Shockingly, and somewhat miraculously, everyone escaped without injuries, except of course the Blazer. We hit the ditch so hard that the radiator fan cut an oil line and the oil pan cracked in half. It was dead on the beach.

This all happened on a Friday evening. And here’s the thing about small farming communities in rural Nebraska that I learned that weekend. Nothing is open that isn’t essential. Grocery stores, gas stations and liquor stores, that’s it. Certainly not mechanics. We were screwed.

The majority of our camp packed up as planned and headed back to Denver. I, on the other hand, was stuck at the lake with my roommate and his girlfriend. We were low on provisions and morale, but we made it through.  Monday came around and we were able to get a tow truck to get us back to town, but it would be three days before the car would be fixed up and ready to go. We got a hotel room and that Wednesday finally got to make the trek back to civilization.

I haven’t been back since but it’s not because of the experiences of yore. Life again got busy and it just hasn’t fit into our plans. But I plan to go back soon, maybe even this summer, to the lake that taught me the pure joy of camping. And I cannot wait.

Speaking of pure joy, organized team activities (OTAs) are upon us and we finally have some concrete football action to endlessly break down and overreact to! It’s like Christmas in June, really. Magical, and somewhat of a relief. So, without further Ado, let’s talk OTAs in this week’s “Decoding Dynasty.”

Decoding Dynasty: OTAs

A lot has happened in the NFL since my last offering. Wide receiver Julio Jones is now a Tennessee Titan. The  Detroit Lions running back rollercoaster continues its wild ride. Will quarterback Aaron Rodgers stay in Green Bay or will he force a trade? Who will be the starting quarterback in Denver? Is quarterback Mac Jones on a collision course with the starting role in New England? Let’s get to it!

Mac Jones (QB, New England)

It was not terribly shocking that Mac Jones managed to slip all the way to the 15th pick in the NFL Draft. Once Trey Lance went off the board to San Francisco with the third pick, there weren’t any real plausible landing spots for the somewhat polarizing quarterback. The debate about Jones’ ability to play in the NFL has been raging on since January. 

Mac Jones is the first quarterback drafted by New England in the first round since Drew Bledsoe in 1993.

However, now that we know he will be in New England for the foreseeable future, the conversation has shifted. Head coach, Bill Belichick, and offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, clearly see something in him.

He was about as accurate of a college passer as they come, having finished the 2020 college football season completing 77 percent of his attempts to go along with 4,500 passing yards, 40 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 13 games. Those stats are impressive and lead me to believe he is a perfect fit in a New England system that requires clean play. 

But can he take the job from Cam Newton? Early reports out of camp suggest it is possible. One observer noted how Jones used his pre-snap reads to identify the passing coverage and blitz package to complete a slant pass across the middle to wide receiver, Nelson Agholor, with ease. 

That’s the exact kind of football intelligence that catapulted Tom Brady to become arguably the greatest quarterback in the history of football.

Am I comparing Mac Jones to Tom Brady? Am I crazy? The answer to both is no.

I am open to the possibility that Jones could be an elite quarterback in the New England scheme for years to come. Nothing is a sure thing, but Jones is a fantasy football asset that I’m having a hard time passing up in rookie drafts, especially given his currently low Average Draft Position (ADP).

You won’t have to reach for him, for now. You can get him late in the first round in most superflex formats, and even later in non-superflex formats. Grab him now while his price is reasonable. 

Darnell Mooney (WR, Chicago)

Oh, Darnell Mooney, how we love you so. The wasted potential in the 2020 campaign was sad for anyone who picked Mooney up at any point during the season.

We had high hopes, but instead, we got inconsistent production thanks to the lackluster quarterback play in Chicago, courtesy of Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. Despite being targeted 98 times last season, only 68 of those passes were considered catchable. Of those 68 catchable balls, Mooney managed to corral 89.7 percent of them. 

In his rookie season, Darnell Mooney was second on the Bears in targets with 98.

With a 73 percent snap share that is sure to either hold steady or possibly increase, big things could be on the horizon for his 2021 season. Chicago is now boasting a fresh quarterback room with free-agent signing Andy Dalton and rookie phenom Justin Fields from Ohio State. 

Dalton isn’t much of an upgrade to the Trubisky/Foles pairing. In 142 career starts for Dalton, he has managed to complete 62.2 percent of his passes while throwing 218 touchdowns and 126 interceptions. Compare that to Trubisky (64/64/37) and Foles (62.3/81/43) and you can see that they are almost identical. The difference with Dalton is the veteran presence in the locker room. 

Dalton will not be a long-term starter in Chicago. Let’s get that out of the way. He is there to mentor Fields, which is exactly why I believe you need to be getting Mooney at his current value.

Fields has already shown his prowess so far in the mandatory mini-camps in late May and June. The team loves him and Mooney especially loves him. All reports have said that not only does Fields look in command of that offense early on, but also that he and Mooney have developed an excellent rapport.

With a more accurate, astute and football-intelligent captain at the helm, I say make an offer for Mooney if you don’t already have him rostered. A late second-round pick and a veteran bench player seem to be about all it will take to acquire a wide receiver on his way up at only 23-years-old. 

And now, for the ultimate finisher: a dad joke! Because I think dumb jokes are hilarious and I’m bringing you down with me. 

Why did the coach go to the bank? 

To get his quarterback.

As always, thanks for reading. For more fantasy and life content, find me on Twitter @JeNateJackFF.

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