Football hasn't always been fun for Dwayne McIntyre.
The Petal High senior spent the majority of his youth playing the game he loved, but after his freshman year, he'd had enough.
"I just thought it was taking up a lot of my time," McIntyre said. "I was missing practices and workouts during the summer, so I just stopped playing."
For two years McIntyre stayed away from football. But a conversation with wide receiver Jamarcus Revies -- his cousin -- convinced him to return to the gridiron for his senior season.
Now, McIntyre says he's never had more fun.
"I'm really not ready for the season to be over," he said. "We've grown so close to each other, and I think we're just now hitting our prime."
Which is good news for Panthers fans, since Petal (12-1) will travel to Brandon for the Class 6A South State championship game at 7 p.m. Friday.
And if not for Revies' prodding, McIntyre might have missed it.
"(Revies) is like a brother to me," he said. "He asked me to come back out there. So I did, and ever since the spring I was all over the ball.
"The coaches kept asking me where I had been all that time."
After taking two years off, McIntyre's return to the Panther football team has been a welcome one. He's the team's third-leading tackler and has started in each of the past four games.
As for where he was during the two years he spent away from football, McIntyre was busy growing up.
"After I stopped playing football, I found out I was having a son (Jayden) not too long after that," he said. "Ever since then, I've been giving my time to him.
"But this year, I wanted to go out and play for him. I want to try and get a scholarship, that way I can go to college, get a degree and get a good job so I can support him."
According to his head coach, Marcus Boyles, he's fully capable of playing at the next level.
"Of course, Dwayne has done a great job of picking up one of the harder positions to learn," Boyles said. "He's done great."
McIntyre says there are rough days, when all of his responsibilities -- family, school, football -- can become overwhelming.
The youngest of three, McIntyre is also set to become the first of his mother's children to graduate high school.
"She's always getting on me about getting to school on time and having my work done," he said. "She just really wants to see me walk across the stage (and accept a diploma). She said she hasn't gotten to see what that feels like."
But when things get tough, all McIntyre has to do is look to his soon-to-be two-year-old.
"He really gets me through the day," he said. "He keeps me going."
McIntyre said there's nothing he would change about his life up to this point.
Well, almost nothing.
"I wish I would've stayed with (football)," he said. "After a play I made (last week), Jalen (Boney) came up and said, 'Man, I'd hate to be on the other team.' Stuff like that puts light in my body and makes me want to play harder."