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YMCA Coach

My Team's Season Thus Far

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Perhaps this is a premature topic, given that there is still a week left in the season, but since I've gotten a few emails asking about my boys, so I figured I'd put this out there.

To begin with, I knew most of the players I had on the team this season, but I'd only coached about half of them in football. Most I'd coached in basketball, and a few I'd seen over the years but never coached them.

I knew the schedule ahead of time, so I actually gathered my team together on the Saturdays before the season started, to give them a chance to play together and give me a chance to see how they were going to gel. I was encouraged not by the supreme talent level we showed (it was okay) but by how these boys quickly came together as a team, cheering each other on, etc.

Those who've known me know how I approach things with my son. Noah is a great kid, but as an athlete he's only average. He makes up the difference with hustle, heart, determination, and smarts. He started once again this season as the #5 QB on the team with my initial assessments. I had to drop two of them because they couldn't handle the pressure (good kids, just not good with that QB pressure), leaving me with three. Noah's the slowest, the shortest, the slowest, with the weakest arm. So naturally, by the first game, he was the starter. I couldn't help it - they were more athletic, but he completed passes. It doesn't hurt that I've used essentially the same playbook for the past 4 years, and he's been with me as it has grown from 8 plays to a now ridiculous 96. He knows the playbook, the plays, where everyone is supposed to line up, all of it.

Defensively, I decided to stay with my usual defense. I put my experienced, skilled, talented kids deep and on the outside, with my weaker kids filling space in the middle - excepting my son, who I always play on the defensive line. We play 8 on 8, so I play three in the box, two corners who act more as defensive ends (their job isn't to chase receivers but to set the edge), and three safeties deep who play zone unless I say otherwise. I rotated players in, making sure I kept two of my safeties on the field at all times to protect deep.

My offense revolves alot on misdirection and play-action fakes to the RB's for a pass or QB run. I thought to stay run-heavy until the opposing defense stopped it, passing when necessity dictated (3rd & long, etc).

I truly didn't know what to expect for the first game. Turns out I didn't need to worry.

Most teams had run 3 practices before the first game - we'd run 6 practices, and it showed. We had 3 interceptions, 1 returned for a TD, and held them scoreless on the way to a 24-0 win. No extra points, but Noah as a starter went 6-8 with 2 TD's.

Game 2 went easier - we didn't score as often, as their offense was SLOW (taking sometimes 60 seconds between plays!). It was a solid win, defense was solid again, with only a few mental errors.

Game 3 was a breeze. Our opponent played tight man to man all game long, despite being beat repeatedly with crosses and comeback routes. It was a great defensive game as well.

Games 4 & 5, I think the boys got their heads a bit swollen. They played poorly on offense and defense in the first half, going down 13-0 in both cases. Game 4, they tied it up with 48 seconds left, only to give up another touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. At least the defense held, a great play from a corner to knock the pass away. We got the ball back with 13 seconds left, but we ran a hook & ladder which went perfectly, tying the game with no time left. A great read on the extra point, and we won it. The second, my defense went to work and didn't allow a first down in the second half, and running an interception back for a TD to win it.

We finished the season with a blowout, 33-0. We allowed one first down, no completions, and had 3 interceptions. The boys really stepped up, to the point where I pulled out my best defenders at the start of the 4th quarter, but it didn't change things.

Round 1 of the playoffs, and it was another solid win, 27-0. We actually had 5 interceptions in the game, two in the endzone. What amazes me as their coach is how well they've picked up everything, and they way they support each other. We had our first turnover of the season, throwing a pick in the second quarter. We intercepted it back in the endzone - and the player who picked it off ran it over to my son (the QB who threw the INT) and stuck it in his gut with a huge grin, saying "here - got it back for you. Let's have some fun!"

It's that team spirit that has me so impressed, the way they band together. They're having fun, and as a coach I encourage it. The last 10 quarters they've outscored opponents 79-0, with 10 interceptions. Over the season they've picked off 16, with at least one every game.

Offensively we're averaging 26 points a game, almost 30 over the last three games. Combined they've thrown for 13 TD's and 1 INT. My son, the least athletic of my QB's, finished completing over 70% of his passes, 9 TD's and 1 INT, a TD in every game. He also ran for 50 yards a game and 3 TD's. My team finished strong - I'm hoping he comes to practice or a game and insists that he can d

So ... I'm seriously nervous about this weekend's game, honestly. I figure my practices this week will need to be highly focused, or the boys might just lose their discipline in the game. The last thing they want to do is spot this team 14 points and fight their way back, like the last time we faced this team.

Wish us luck!

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Good luck! Sounds like you've had a great season thus far. Did you play your next opponent during the regular season? Those are the only ones I worry about---the ones I know nothing about. Or do you know much about this team?

You were spot on about practice (especially early in the season). Because I know 100% of my roster about a month before other coaches even get their rosters, we get to work very early and will typically triple the number of practices of other teams before the first game...and it makes all the difference in the world. Practice, practice, and more practice is the way to go.

I also agree with you about the QB position and how a coach's son has a tremendous advantage (assuming you want the QB to implement comlex assignments). My son has learned 100% of his QB'ing at home. Allows me to focus purely on all the other players at practice and not worry about spending half the practices coaching the subtlities for that position. I'm also fortunate that our second QB (who plays half the game at QB) has played that position for me now five seasons---so he has it down too.

Let is know how you do!

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Yes, due to scheduling we ended up playing them twice.

The first time was the first win, 24-13. We weren't sharp, but the defense was solid. My QB's were 6 for 15, but my son was 6-8 with 2 touchdowns, solidifying his place atop the depth chart. We had 2 interceptions, so the defense worked pretty well.

The second was also a win, but we spotted them 13 at the start. It was a truly sloppy game for the first half - the defense took bad angles, corners lost contain and allowed runners to get outside, pulling flags became almost impossible! We threw the ball deep once - 15 yards deeper than the receiver. Two fumbles, all sorts of stuff. Granted, we didn't have my top two safeties, but still as I told the boys that's no excuse.

But to invert a paraphrasing of Dickens, it was the worst of games and then it was the best of games.

We got the ball to start the second half, and I scripted the first five plays during halftime so we could go a sort of 'no huddle'. It caught the opposing team offguard, the coach was struggling to keep up. Their kickoff was deep, and we fumbled the ball, losing it about five yards out of the endzone. Still, we got a first down with the second play, then another on the third play. On the fifth play, my son wanted to change the play to his favorite - Ghost. It's a play fake when the WR comes in motion, the QB fakes to him, then rolls out right. Noah ran it well, hit the RB down the sdeline deep and bam, touchdown. We ran the same play for the extra point, except we handed it off to the WR for the reverse instead of faking. He scooted in, making it 13-7.

Our kickoff was deep, and they started using clock, doing short runs but getting first downs. When they finally attempted a pass, we picked it off at the goal line. We marched it successfully, but when we got close to the endzone the RB stumbled, lost his grip on the ball - and they caught it. But the defense held up, and we got another interception. This time it was my son, moving from his usual defensive line position to cover at safety, wrestling the ball away from the receiver as they both fell to the ground.

Three plays later, the ball was handed off to the RB who threw a short out, touchdown. 48 seconds left, 13-13. The celebration was short-lived, as they scored on the kickoff. We blocked the extra point, but when we got the kickoff to midfield, we had 13 seconds remaining. With no timeouts, we ran a hook & ladder play. Worked to perfection, scoring a touchdown. No time left on the clock, and it was 19-19. We ran the same play as we ran before for the touchdown, the RB pass to the short out, and touchdown - 20-19, we win.

SO..! It was 24-13 the first time, but it was 20-19 the second time - although it was without my starting safeties. And since that fateful game, the boys have outscored opponents 79-13, including 79-0 in the last 10 quarters. So I'm hopeful that the boys have picked up on what they're doing well enough to do what I know they can do - play well, execute accurately, win the game.

There are other circumstances involved in this game also, so we'll see if nervousness kicks in or not!

Thanks for asking!

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Game is over now, and Wow - what a game!

Started off rough, admittedly. To begin with, I didn't send my son out for the coin toss, I sent my #2 QB and my starting DB's. They come back, and I'm told we're going to receive. So I started to tell the official what direction I wanted to go, and he says that we won the toss, and that my #2 QB elected to take the ball first. Huh? In two seasons, I have never taken it first, but H wanted the ball so ... okay, we deal, no problem.

The defense that the other team played shifted yet again. To repeat, we play 8 on 8, one blitz for each set of downs, five count delay before a rush. The first time we played these guys, they played a spread defense - 3 in the box, one each on the WR's, an MLB, two deep safeties. The second time they had 5 men in the box, with three safeties. This time was a sort of hybrid between the two, with their five line player spread out.

The defense was solid. Reverses, fakes, they didn't often bite on them. They stayed at home for the most part, making us work for each first down. We converted two fourth downs before failing just about 10 yards shy of the endzone. I put that on my fault - somehow I lost track of the downs. They declined a penalty, I thought they had accepted it, and as a result we failed to convert, turnover on downs.

First and second downs, solid defense, they gained maybe 2 yards. Third down, my left safety bit on a short route, leaving a man deep wide open. He caught it easily, touchdown. We blocked the pass attempt on the extra point, but we were down 6-0. I calmed my guys down, and set about going to work. After a bad first series, my son (#1 QB) calmed down, taking all the dumpoff passes that they left open. When we got to midfield, I started running the same play over and over, using the different options. On one play the QB handed it off to the WR coming on a reverse, then the WR handed it off to a RB for a double reverse. On another, the QB didn't hand off the ball. Then the QB did a quick cut upfield for a surprise 10 yard gain. 10 yards shy of the endzone we handed off to the WR who reversed it, but didn't hand it to the RB; instead he passed to the WR who had run an in and out to the back corner - touchdown. We failed on the extra point, but it was now tied 6-6.

A good kickoff, good coverage, we had held them to bad field position. We did that most of the game, which was good. But they started, and slowly marched down the field. 20 yards out, we stopped them, turnover on downs.

First play was a RB reverse, but they plugged that up pretty quick, maybe 1 yard. Second was a QB playaction run, but again, cut short - 3rd & 6 now. My #1 WR comes into the huddle - "coach, they're not even watching me anymore." I called for a playfake, a quick pass to him on a slant. They were going to come on the blitz, so I knew we had to get it out quick. Sure enough, they came on the blitz, and the QB got the pass off. Not perfect, but on target - and my WR just never looked. The ball just missed his head, was intercepted. The RB pulled the flag finally, but they had it First and Goal from the 1 yard line. Not good.

First play, we ran our blitz, and the boys ran it great. The QB rolled to his right, but my defense shifted over, and he ended up fumbling it for a 10 yard loss. Second down, they ran a reverse. My boys sniffed it out, caught him for a deep loss. It was now 3rd & Goal from about 20 yards out. I got on my guys to focus, don't let this make us lazy, etc. They threw a deep out just shy of the endzone, but my safety was there to tip it away. Fourth down, they floated it to the endzone, but my center safety went up and intercepted it. Granted, dropping it might've been better, giving us the ball another 10 yards downfield, but I wasn't going to complain.

We started downfield, but their defense stopped us shy of the endzone yet again, turnover on downs. But we were deep in their side of the field, so that was okay by me.

I had two of my guys on the line dropping back 5 yards into coverage, with my safeties playing really deep. I figured with a short time left, I'd make sure they'd have to try to heave it. They must've done about 5 dumpoff passes short into the middle, and the flag-pulling was much improved. They took up about 7 plays, but the half ended without another score.

At halftime, I gathered my boys around me. It'd been up to that point a pretty physical game. Their players had been taught to block - not set picks but actively block, shoving kids around - and as a result, they were pushing our boys around. I had a part-time assistant coach bring it up to the officials, but I stayed with the kids. Some were saying they would call this person or that person to complain, but I got them calmed and started on the peptalk. Stuff like, "guys, we're not playing as well as we can. Just do your job, and trust your teammates that they'll do theirs." Or, "Gentlemen, we don't talk - we play. Let their players talk to the officials and complain, we don't talk. We do our talking with our play." Things like that, but I was serious.

My main thing is for my team to play disciplined, no matter what. We don't lose our composure, we don't play dirty, and any player of mine that I see playing dirty is shipped off the field to sit for a spell. My players know this, and know I won't change that, and they respect how I operate, I think. They're great kids, really, and a treasure to coach.

To start the second half, I used the same kicker - which I know meant alot to him. He put it deep again, pinning them deep.

So we lined up to play defense, and ... didn't. Play defense, I mean. They dropped an easy pass on first down, then we blitzed on second down. The QB saw the blitz before it happened, did a quick lateral to the RB, who ran right down the middle. Ran all the way to the endzone, to our shock. Then the extra point was converted far too easily, making it 13-6.

I gathered up the boys, and while they opponents marched down the field, I spoke - not yelled - in an even tone. How we've been down before, this is no big deal, one touchdown, let's just go make it up. And make it up they did. My boys got serious, setting solid picks and running like mad. 6 yards, 4 yards, 11 yards, on and on. We went with playaction one first down, completed it to one of the o-linemen who had caught only one pass all season. He was tackled for a 10 yard gain - literally tackled. About the seventh or eighth tackle of the game, and the third straight play. The previous play was a tackle where the same boy literally pulled down the shorts of my player, getting dragged behind until my RB tripped over him (and his shorts). And yet - no flag.

Parents on both sides were yelling, so I gathered my boys and called timeout. I couldn't believe there wasn't a flag yet again, and gave the official (who I know very well) a questioning look, but figured it was what it was. I told my kids that if the official isn't calling it, we needed to simply play stronger, and not let the other team get us out of our game. My boys were really great all season, and this was no exception. They all nodded and said 'okay coach'. We got back in the huddle, I switched up QB's to put my son out at WR, and had the QB run it his way.

My son isn't the best athlete, not by any stretch. He gets by on playing smart, playing hard, and never giving in. He's got heart. In this game it showed. He wasn't playing well at QB, not running well. So he's out at WR, the play comes his way, and he started to run a quick out. As soon as the CB turned his back, Noah set a pick just behind him. The QB ran past, and the CB slammed into my son at full speed, never seeing him. My son took the hit, the kid falling on him, but he freed the path for the QB to run 15 yards for the touchdown. We failed the extra point again (!), so we were still down 13-12.

Plenty of time left, I was relaxed. I heard later from a number of parents/grandparents/etc that the mood on the sideline wasn't very positive. I kept my kids on the field, and kept them pumped up. Our time, I reminded them. Fourth quarter was our time, all season long. We'd only allowed 2 TD's in the fourth quarter all season long, the last being in game 3. So despite the rapidly vanishing clock, I told them I was confident they'd get the job done.

It was a great kickoff again for us, pinning the Fins deep. Our kicker had only kicked well in the past two games, but in these past two games he was sending it 50+ yards, one time well out of the endzone. This time was no different, he sent it sailing. They started to return it, but the returner dropped the ball just outside of the endzone. To make matters worse (for them), he grabbed the ball and threw it into the ground, yelling something. The official threw the flag - they are really big on sportsmanship and proper behavior, and this kid had been warned before. So they were pinned deep, very deep, maybe 4 yards from their endzone.

First down, they went with their heavy right set - putting 5 receivers to their right bunched, leaving the QB, Center, and one other player on the line. They went deep, but my safety was there to knock the ball away, almost intercepting it. Flag on the play back at the LOS - in our league the offense must have 5 players on the line, and they had only 3. I declined, taking the down instead. We blitzed on second down, getting them just a half-step outside of the endzone. (I thought we had the safety, but the official disagreed, so I nodded and set up my defenses.) Third down they went back to their heavy 5 WR's set (heavy to their right), and looked for a crossing pattern going right to left. Our coverage was good, and we rushed after the five count. He tried to pass short, but the ball was knocked away. Fourth and about 15, they elected to punt. In our league, there are no fake punts, and no rushing during punt attempts.

Good punt, too. Must've been 4 seconds of hang-time, and went probably 35 yards. It was fielded by my #2 QB, who is an excellent RB, great in the open field. He started hard left, then cut back right. There was one pick set on the play, just about 3 yards ahead of where my returner caught the ball - set, of course, by my son. The two went down again, but he held the edge for the returner to get to the sideline. He took it all the way, touchdown. I looked across the field. Eight players of mine on the field, and five of them had been knocked to the ground. Only my son had set a pick. But they all bounced up, running to congratulate that return.

H (that's what we call him - "H") asked if I could put Noah as QB, he was sore and winded. I said sure, and we ran a playaction pass. Incomplete, but they came in and tackled the QB as he threw. They finally threw a flag - but not for tackling. For offsides. No blitzing on extra points. So now both QB's are sore and winded, right? My son shook off the idea of stepping out, and proceeded - right in front of me - to call the play. Fake handoff to the RB coming left to right, pump fake left, then come back to the RB for a pass. They ran it, hit the RB in stride, and he was tackled inside the goalline. 19-13, our lead. 3:45 remaining.

Did I mention we found a great kicker? I let him kick again, and while it wasn't as good as the first two, it was still good, and we stopped them with good coverage. After the kick my right CB came running over to me, asking to switch to the other side. A (yup, we call him "A") thought he was more aggressive, he could attack that side easier than the current CB there. Normally I'd say no, but the way he asked, he was not being cocky or insulting the other player, he just wanted to help the team do well. I said sure, and had the CB's switch.

Their first play was a go pattern down the right sideline, but the defense deep had tight man coverage so the QB went short. The pass went incomplete, tipped away by A, the CB who asked to switch sides. The Fins didn't call timeout (with 3 remaining), and set up quickly again, no huddle. They went with their 5 wide set again, probably the 8th or 9th time in the game. The blitz forced a quick dumpoff to the RB, but A read it instantly and was there to pull the flag just as the RB caught the pass. I gave him a loud cheer and when he turned to flash that sheepish grin I pointed at him, saying "you called it!" He gave me a thumbs up, but that grin - that's probably why I love to coach.

I cheer on my players who do the little things as much as if not more than those who make the big plays. When we returned that punt, I was picking kids up, hugging my son for his pick, all of that. A better example was on our first touchdown when our RB threw to the receiver. I was giving high-fives first to the kids on the line, the ones who set the wall to give the RB time to throw - they made it possible for the RB to get the pass off. And it's in those moments, when you see those kids smile - when they know that while most people don't notice what they've done, the coach does. They realize in that moment that they take part in all of the touchdowns, all of the passes and runs and extra points - those are the moments I cherish more even than the touchdowns or wins.

Third down, they went for another deep go pattern. My safety had great coverage and tipped the ball away. But they both went down, their feet got tangled as the ball arrived. While I disagreed (and still do!), the official called pass interference. Considering that only my player went up for the ball and the receiver didn't ... but I hustled my guys to the line. There was some question about the penalty & spot of the ball, and there was some commentary from the sidelines (both sides) about the call, and I took advantage of the delay to get my boys back on track.

With noise all around, and some level of arguing going on, my boys started to complain about the call. I quickly put an end to it by saying loudly "what's rule number one?" "Listen to the coach!" came the reply. "Rule number two?" "Do your job!" It's something we do multiple times per practice, it's how the boys know it's time to pay attention and listen, helps them focus. "We don't talk, boys - we play. We do our jobs - it's not our job to officiate, it's our job to play, do our positions. Like the call, don't like it, doesn't matter - he made the call, that's his job. Now let's go do ours. Ready?" Oh, they were ready.

10 yards, automatic first down. The clocked stopped at the penalty, but they hadn't called a timeout yet, under 1:30 to go. Next pass was another go pattern, opposite sideline. We had tight coverage again, and the ball was tipped yet again. It bounced off the receiver's head into the air. My other safety - the twin brother of the safety who tipped the pass came over and made a fantastic diving catch in our endzone. Interception! And a touchback as well, our ball on the 10 - with only 57 seconds left. They had three timeouts, so we couldn't just take a knee, we had to play.

Five different players said almost in unison - "Noah's the QB, right?" Including my other QB, who didn't want the ball (completely exhausted). My son was glad to step up, took the handoff and faked, running wide left before cutting upfield. 2 yards, but more importantly he took time off the clock. Second down, he was sure they were going to blitz, so he faked again and took it straight up the middle. 1 yard, better than a loss.

Third down, he came to me with a grin. "Handoff, coach. Let's hand it off this time." I nodded, and we ran the RB reverse. They came at him hard (yet another tackle, believe it or not), but my RB - who was also the safety who tipped away that pass) - took it on the reverse, 45 yards, flag pulled at about the 5 yard line. Another timeout, their last, and we walked to the line. 13 seconds left.

Noah took a knee, game over. 19-13. Championship, undefeated. And ... just wow.

I have to say that this team was seriously fun to coach. Long before the wins started piling up, I was saying that this was one of the favorite teams I'd coached, because of how the players came together. They bonded in a way that was very special to watch. And they understood when it was time to play, and time to get serious. They took to heart what I say about the two rules: #1, listen to the coach; #2, do your job. They did it well, and had alot of fun.

In fact, I'm having the father of one of my players make shirts for the players, to commemorate their achievement. Undefeated championship season, and they came together so well long before the playoffs were in sight.

I coach for these reasons, and for these kids. Good kids, all of them, with heart and character and determination - and they all have fantastic smiles. Have to say, I love them all.

Sorry this is so long-winded, this was a heck of a game, and a heck of a season. Take care, all!

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