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The Diary of A New CoachPart II
by: Charley Welde
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THIRD GAME WEEK:
As I said before, our number one objective is really not to win, but to prepare. This week was the exception. We were playing our cross-town rival, Norman North, a school that had never scored against any Norman High team in their two-year existence. Our varsity and J.V. had already scored shutouts the week before so this was a must win.
For the game Tuesday, our emotions were high. Our team was more pumped up than they had been all year. We got the ball first, and after a 7-yard run and a 15-yard pass, we fumbled. Three plays into the game, the mistakes were staring to show again, but our defense stepped up. Our opponent went three-and-out and we got the ball back. We promptly drove and scored, but missed the extra point. We threw an interception, then held on defense before driving for another score. Things were going well; our fullback lead was picking up seven yards a pop, our roll-out passes were wide open and we led 12-0.
With a minute left in the half, we had the ball and decided to run out the clock and go into halftime with a lead. We called a sweep with the flanker going in motion. The quarterback snapped the ball early and the pitch hit the flanker in the leg as he motioned across the formation. We lost the ball with 15 seconds left in the half. They scored on the next play and added the two points with the old "swinging gate" to cut the lead to 12-8.
After the half, our momentum was completely gone. We were on our heels for the rest of the game. Norman North got the kickoff and marched down the field and scored to take the lead, 14-12. They looked like all-stars as our defense lost all tackling ability. When we had the ball, our drives ended in penalties.
We forced a fumble on our own 1-yard line with two minutes left in the game. We needed 99 yards, but just didn't have the plays to get it. This is where you really see the difference between freshmen ball and varsity. Your playbook is extremely limited.
We lost to our rivals, 14-12, moving our record to 0-2-1. It was a tough loss for our program, but we told the players that we felt strongly that we were getting better and we could win games. We just needed some confidence.
FOURTH GAME WEEK:
Changes needed to be made. We were getting better, but we were still making early-game mistakes, costing us big. We also paid closer attention to the small details: Are we clapping together on our huddle breaks? Is everyone on the same stretch during calistinics? We wanted to make it known that we expected everything to be done exactly as instructed.
The first long practice (Thursday) was rough. We had to do things over and over. When we got to team drills and someone made a mental error he was immediately yanked, corrected and disciplined. We were letting our players know that giving games away was unacceptable and mental mistakes were a free pass to a seat on the bench.
As the week went on, we got sharper. The mistakes got fewer and the effort increased. Our pre-game dress still wasn't as focused as we would have liked it. No one was getting their game faces on. When we took the field, we were all business. We had the opponent outsized and outskilled at every position and we dominated. Our receivers were shredding their cover-2 zone and we jumped all over them. It was 21-0 at the half, and we had the ball on the 2-yard-line going in when the second quarter ended.
The second half was more of the same as we did just about anything we wanted to. We had a fumble at the 5-yard-line, a missed assignment on fourth-and-two, and some costly clipping penalities, but we rolled to a 28-0 win. I was particularly excited that our kickoff team played superbly and our receivers had their biggest game of the year. Now we had something to build upon.
FIFTH GAME WEEK:
We felt the momentum of the win would carry over into practice and it did. The biggest difference was that the kids were starting to realize how their practice habits dictated game results. Our players were seeing that the drills we do in practice show up in game situations.
It would have been a mistake for our coaching staff to overhaul the game plan in spite of not winning any of our first three games. Instead, we stayed with our philosophy and it paid off. By staying the course, the players saw that we had faith in what we were doing and they started to have faith in it, too.
Thursday's and Friday's practices were productive. The team practiced like they wanted to win, and that was something new. Monday was our tune-up and special teams day. It was lousy. The team was distracted, uninterested and very uninspired. No one wanted to practice. Everyone wanted to skip straight to the game. On Tuesday, we were very loose. We ran the opening kickoff to their 40 and scored three plays later.
Our opponents were very small but much faster than us. They scored on a long touchdown pass - a blown assignment by us. Our next possession produced another touchdown. When they got the ball back, it was three and out, but a roughing the punter call gave them a second chance. On fourth-and-20, our corner dropped a sure interception that fell into the arms of their receiver. They scored again and went into the break up 14-13. I was curious as to how we would respond. In our previous games, we always started the second half slowly.
At the start of the second half we took control. We scored three unanswered touchdowns and went on to win, 33-14. We were reeling off 10-and 20-yard scampers on every play. Meanwhile, our defense shut them down. We had three second-half interceptions.
We had come from behind, pulled together as a team and played up to our potential. We could see the confidence rising in our kids. They were realizing how good we could be. With four games to go, we were sitting at .500.
SIXTH GAME WEEK:
Coming off two straight wins, we started to get a little bit complacent. We had a short film session on Wednesday and came back with full pads and a long day on Thursday. The kids gave a lackadaisical effort. Friday was a short day and it was more of the same. We weren't lousy, but we were just going through the motions. All of the coaches were aware of it and we made the kids aware of it, too, but they didn't respond. All year we lacked team leaders and this was one area where it hurt us.
Practice improved on Monday as we did our special teams work. I wondered which team would show up for the game on Tuesday. We had gotten into the habit of lining up and going through all our scripted plays on Tuesday after school. The kids, in their street clothes, would run the plays against air, and the coaches would stand on the sideline. During this week's session, it was very evident we were not focused. One of our starters screwed around so much that he was demoted right there and played only a handful of plays in the game that night.
We have never been a team that got extremely rowdy in pre-game, but we were really somewhere else on this night. These things happen at all levels, but why? Is it poor coaching? Are the kids emotionally or physically drained? Are they burned out?
Needless to say we got beat. They were a good team, but a team we were very capable of beating. Our biggest problem was poor tackling. There was no aggressiveness when our defense was on the field and they were on the field often. We didn't hit; we grabbed. Our defenders tried to pull the ball carrier to the ground instead of "hitting him in the mouth," as we say. The most frustrating thing for a coach is when your team gives up, as we did in the third quarter. With our quarterback we were never out of a game until late in the fourth quarter. But the body language of our players was obvious. They wanted the clock to run and get on the bus.
SEVENTH GAME WEEK:
The game film was painful to watch, but we didn't harp on the negatives. Our upcoming game was against an undefeated team, but we had seen them in person and we felt we could win.
On our long day, we were very productive. Toward the end of practice, we had a semi-scrimmage with our first offense and a scout-team defense, which had five defensive starters on it. It turned out to be a really fun practice. We moved the ball and kept track of down and distance. A lot of second teamers got to compete and the two sides matched up evenly. We ran our goal-line offense, and when the offense scored, the defense did push-ups and vice versa. We were having fun and getting a lot of our sessions.
The entire week was productive and it seemed like we were peaking as a team. We were adding new plays also, which kept practice exciting. We had wanted to open our playbook earlier, but we first needed to grasp our basic plays and run them successfully with some consistency. We also needed to mirror what the varsity team was doing. They had added some three- and four-wide receiver sets, so we added those formations as well.
We also tried to get more of our "weapons" involved in the game. We had three good athletes at running back, so we moved one to Z for a hand full of plays. We also moved our second-string quarterback, who is a superb athlete, to wingback. We could run fades, screens and reverses and get the ball into the hands of all our playmakers.
As we stretched before the game, our opponents sprinted to the 50-yard line and stood shoulder-to-shoulder, chanting something. Our players were in eight lines, stretching and our opponent's pre-game banter really got us fired up. We got the ball first and began what was our best drive of the year. We went 75 yards on 14 plays. We overcame three penalties, our new formations (three- and four-wide) kept our opponents on their heels, and we scored on a quarterback draw.
The rest of the half didn't go as well for us. The entire second quarter was played on our half of the field, thanks to two bad snaps from our usually reliable long snapper. However, we were able to play strong defense including a stop on fourth-and-inches. Just when it seemed we'd take a 7-0 lead into the half, they hit a halfback pass for 50 yards and a score with 25 seconds left.
Despite the tie score, we felt we had the upper hand. An interception late in the third quarter led to a methodical touchdown drive for us. We completed a 15-yard receiver screen on third-and-eight in addition to a 12-yard quarterback draw for a touchdown, during which he broke four tackles.
Our opponents hit on a hook and ladder to get down to our 3-yard line, but on the last play of the game our defensive end came up with a big sack to preserve the victory.
This was as thrilling of a game for me as I'd ever been associated with. Our players dog piled in the middle of the field. I was extremely proud of our guys for showing the character I knew they had. This game reaffirmed my deep desire to coach football. All the work and time committed was worth the feelings that rushed through me as the last three seconds ticked off the clock.
EIGHTH GAME WEEK:
It was a fun week of practice. We were playing up to our abilities, getting a lot of players involved on both sides of the ball, and we were on the verge of a winning record. Our upcoming opponent was yet to win a game and had only scored one touchdown the entire year, but our coaches didn't want our team to know that. We were worried about a letdown and we wanted our team to respect their opponent.
We shortened our practice sessions that week. We did less work with individual positions and concentrated on special teams, team offense and defense. Our players were beginning to get fatigued and we could tell. The novelty had long worn off, and a lot of guys were ready for the season to be over.
When we got off the bus on game day, it was obvious we had a distinct advantage. Our backs were bigger than their line. Although we played with little if any emotion, we marched up and down the field, doing what ever we wanted. We had a 40-yard touchdown pass and two short runs for touchdowns. The halftime score was 20-0.
At halftime, we started talking to our back-up guys. We wanted to get our second stringers in the game and get them in as early as possible. We had a lot of close games this year, and our second team didn't get the reps the deserved.
We kicked off to start the second half and our opponents scored on their first play from scrimmage. Now it was a ball game again, with almost two quarters to go. Our offense was tripping over its own overconfidence. We had wide open receivers dropping balls, running backs missing holes, and linemen standing around. Lucky for us, our defense played tough and we got out of there with a 20-6 win. But because of the close score, we didn't get our backups in until much later.
With the victory, we had a winning record (4-3-1) for the first time of the season. We were starting to get into the habit of winning.
NINTH GAME WEEK:
This week we had our work cut out for us. We were playing a team that hadn't lost a game in three years. They had a bruising fullback who went about 200 pounds and a very fleet-footed tailback who had been shredding the best defenses ninth-grade teams could field.
Our practice week was not as productive as it had been. It was fall break for the high school, so there was no Saturday practice. I think the day off helped our kids. Friday had been a morning practice, so they had three full days away from football to relax and heal.
Monday, which is mostly a special-teams day, was highly productive. As a coaching staff, we felt we had instilled a certain level of confidence in our team. There had been a mix-up somewhere that left us without a bus to take us to the stadium. This became a huge distraction for our players. When we finally arrived at the playing field it was 5:50, 20 minutes after the game's scheduled start.
We got the ball first and had a pretty good return to our 45-yard-line. Two dropped passes and we were punting. Our opponent's first possession yielded two first downs, but they also stalled out and punted. After our second punt, they drove the field and put one in the end zone. We again fell victim to the swinging gate and it was 8-0 at halftime.
We got the sense that our team was feeling our opponent out in the first half. Our coaching staff felt there was quite a bit we could do on both sides of the ball. We made very few adjustments and stuck with our game plan.
On our first possession of the second half, we scored on the play Twins Left, Boot Left, Fullback. The quarterback fakes our 42 Crunch and rolls out. The fullback breaks through the line and runs straight down the middle of the field. It had never been covered all year. It wasn't this time, either, and we scored and the same fullback got the two-point conversion.
Our drive had taken up most of the quarter. When we got the ball back in the middle of the fourth, we drove down the field again and scored. This drive was mostly on the ground and the touchdown was a Tight End Seam. Our quarterback hit him in the hands and there was nothing their 5-10 safety could do to our 6-4 guy. We went ahead, 15-8.
Our opponent still had three minutes left on the clock. They were on our 10-yard line within just a few plays. They scored on a fullback blast and decided to go for two. The quarterback rolled left, and we had all the receivers covered, except for the fullback. The pass was right to him, seemingly for two points and the lead. But his foot was on the chalk and the referee waved it off.
We recovered the onside kick, but to add drama to the game, we would fumble while trying to run out the clock.
Our defense was left with 40 seconds left to play, and our opponents had no timeouts. It was extremely tense. Their fans were loud and their team was determined, but it was the Norman Tigers who would come out on top that night, with our opponents running out of clock on the 20-yard line.
I told our players after the game was how proud I was of them. It was true. In our first three games we lost to smaller, less-skilled opponents. We had been unfocused and undisciplined. But we kept working. Even though our record was 5-3-1, we knew we could not only play with, but beat the top teams. If I learned anything last year it's that heart and character wins more games than size.
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