I heave out a breath. Of course, I could just be a dick to the girls to run them off. I’m just a trophy for them, a popular guy on their arm, but I don’t want to let my team down. They’re counting on this. Could I sit down with Sawyer and explain how this contest, coupled with my anxiety, is aggravating? Sure, but we’re dudes, and I don’t talk to him about deep things. I give off a carefree vibe, but on the inside, I keep my feelings locked down. I’m the team captain. I have to be strong and suck it up. Plus, it’s too late. They voted in May and the deal is done. I have to follow through or risk the season. If it’s a bad year and I don’t do the rituals, the team might blame me.
“She isn’t part of your posse anymore,” Troy mutters as he elbows me out of the way, shuffling between Chantal and me as he attempts to take her arm.
“Stop assuming you know what I want, Troy,” she snips, shaking him off.
As soon as they step out on the front porch, I punch into the air. “One girl down, baby.”
Sawyer sighs. “I like having girls around though. It’s our senior year. We need to soak it up. I’m going to arrange a pool tournament for Ashley and Bambi to compete in. We need to find another Theta to fill in for Chantal’s spot. Their treasurer is a hot little strawberry blonde—”
“Nope. Don’t you dare,” I call out as I stalk back to my room to grab my duffle for practice.
His laughter follows me, a reminder that he can afford to be relaxed about this year. His stats are incredible. Not as good as Blaze’s last season, but he’ll be drafted. He’s a starter and cool under pressure. Me—I’m freaking out.
I just hope I’m the one throwing him the ball this year.6After a team meeting, we grab our helmets and head out to the field. “Alvarez is supposed to announce the quarterback today. You ready?” Sawyer asks as he slides his gloves on.
“It has to be me.” I’ve put in the years, the work—
“Don’t be so sure,” Owen Sinclair says, interrupting as he jogs up with a football in his hand. About six one, he’s lean and fast, his face smug as he rakes his pine green eyes over me. His hair is cobalt blue, a fauxhawk with lightning bolts shaved on the sides of his head.
I tense, waiting for his usual dig. Three, two, one…
“Coach loves how I throw, McQueen. Told me so himself every time he watched me play. Did I tell you he came to see me three times in Florida?”
“Almost every day.”
He bounces a football in the air, one he’s always holding, on the sidelines, in the locker room—hell, word is he even carries one to class. He also shows up for practice half an hour early every day. I know because I do too. He’s a competitive little shit.
I snatch his ball in midair. “Timing in college is different than high school.” I toss the ball back to him. “You’ll get there by the end of the year, rookie.”
His lips tighten as he palms the ball and spots Kendrick Rose, another super freshman. Sawyer’s gaze is on that one. Yeah, welcome to my world, where the young guns have us in their sights. It’s cool, I get it, but Sinclair takes it a step further, and I get the sense he’s in it for the glory. I’m in it because it’s all I have. I live and breathe this game. I have since I was ten years old and moved from Malibu to Alabama. While my parents’ marriage was falling apart, I clung to the one thing I was good at.
“Keep talking, Grandpa,” Sinclair says. “You think you’re owed something ’cause you been here, but this team doesn’t owe anyone anything. The starting quarterback has to earn it by working, not by partying.”
I smile. “Ah, someone’s pissed they weren’t invited last night. Man, best party ever. Hot girls, every sorority on campus representing, all the cool frat guys…”
His face reddens. “While you were getting hammered and screwing your fan club, I was studying the playbook.”
I was not hammered. Yeah, I can throw down at a party—been there, done that—but this year is different.
“I’ve got that playbook down.” Ryker and I worked together to memorize every page.
Sinclair throws the ball to Rose, a perfect spiral, but his eyes are on me. “The difference between you and me is I won’t stop working till I’m the best, not just good enough. You fill that role, backup.”
My hands clench. What a dick…
“Line up!” calls out the offensive coordinator, adjusting his visor as he sweeps his gaze over us, lingering on Sinclair. There’s appreciation there.