This is the continuing story of my “Worst to First” youth football coaching experience in Reno, Nevada this year. This is the pilot season that was shot for the reality television show “Worst to First” I took an 8th grade team that had won about six games in the last six years to the Semi-Finals in the largest and most competitive league in the Reno/North Nevada area.After what turned out to be a weak first game opponent, we had a much different youth football team on the plate in week two. We would be facing Galena, last years SYFL Youth Football League Champions at the seventh grade level. Our team hadn’t played Galena last year. In week one Galena had beaten a traditional power who usually finished in the top four by a score of 38-0. Our team had lost to that team by over 50 points last season.
So how were we going to prepare for Galena? We had no game film to work off of, this league doesn’t allow you to film other teams, it only allows you to trade film. Since we were going to be playing both opponents this season, neither was going to supply us game film from week one. I was able to buy a DVD showing Galena from last year. A local television station had shown one of their games last season and that would have to do.
Based on that film, Galena was a team that had it all; power, speed, athleticism, reasonable size, depth and good coaching. When they went through the weigh in line, it looked like about 80% of their kids were 5’9” or 10 and about 170. They just had a bunch of tall athletic looking kids right at or above the ball carrier weight of 160 lbs. This was a very successful, confident and talented team who expected to win and win big every game. Interestingly enough two former players from our team were now playing for Galena. The star Quarterback from our team had defected to Galena two years ago and was now a two way starter for them in the backfield. Our most athletic and fastest player from last years team was now playing for Galena starting in the Defensive Backfield. Those were the two positions we were desperately short of manpower at.
While most youth football leagues including this one don’t allow kids to play outside their district and switch teams, it happens. It’s very common for kids and parents to pull out all the stops to escape a team that is consistently losing and losing big like ours. Since the Galena coaching staff was the same and this was the same team from the previous year we would prepare as if we were playing last years team. Galena had added a couple of “ringer” add-ons we wouldn’t be able to account for, while our team had been assigned some non-district rookie kids who weighed 66 lbs, 81 lbs and 89 lbs.
Preparing for Galena’s offense was simple enough, I drew up every play they ran in the televised game on 3×5 cards and noted how many yards they got on each play. There were 31 cards and 74 offensive snaps to account for. They did a lot of things well and would be difficult to prepare for. They would line up in the “I” formation and pound you, then play action you. They would go to a shotgun spread look with two backs a Flanker and Wideout and pound it off-tackle, run veer option, speed option and play action.
They also ran a Pistol set where they would run veer option, speed option and throw it. They even had an empty set. They were throwing it out of empty with four and five receiver patterns. They ran a very nice shallow concept plays and did a nice job of clearing out poorly ran zone defenses. Since we were so short on athletic players it was impossible to simulate Galena with coaches and backups running the Galena offense. We could align correctly, but the athletes we did have couldn’t be two places at the same time- simulating Galena’s offense.
Defensively it’s always a crapshoot, when you run the type of offense we run, teams often times vary quite a bit from their base. They based in a 5-3 Cover three and they had very good athletes at all the Linebacker and Defensive Back spots. They were scary good at all three Linebacker spots with a now 170 lb player, the best Running Back in the league for the last three years, leading the charge. Special teams wise, they were spot on and had the best kicker in the league and never missed a PAT.
As we prepared defensively for this team, it was obvious from the start we would have to have strong Linebacker and Defensive Back play to compete in this game. If Galena tried to muscle us inside we would probably be alright. With our first team kids we were defending the option pretty well, but when it came time to defend the play action and spread passing attack we were very average.
Our game plan would include a heavy dose or making sure we hit our eight play minimum play rule requirement. We had five rookie players assigned to our team and four had never played football before. Of the five, four were out of district kids, that other teams had passed on. Read more about how we game planned for this equation in the next post.
Our game plan was to establish the inside run to force them to pack it in, then pepper in a few well timed outside runs to open things up a bit, then run widened off-tackle wham plays off of tight misdirection. This would be a pinpointed running game as our passing attack was still weak and on game film Galena’s safety would hawk anything less than a perfect pass. Their Corners were very fast and reacted extremely well to the ball both in the run and passing game. They were well coached and very difficult to play-action. Their offense was legendary and had multiple weapons, so we would go maximum slow down, try to limit possessions and concentrate on getting a few turnovers. The plan was to frustrate them with a slow methodical running game which would aggravate them into taking chances and blitzing, then taking advantage of those openings.
Defensively we would play Monster which is our inverted Cover Two zone look. With the depth issues we were struggling with at Linebacker and Defensive Back and Galena’s ability to run the ball, it seemed like the wisest choice. Our Monster was a 130 lb athletic player who had enough speed to play the entire field which we needed in run support and could drop into the hole should he see the deep ball. The player we wanted to play there was just a second year player and the year before he had played Defensive Tackle. While he tackled better and had just as much speed as the 130 lb player, he just sat back on the pass instead of aggressively playing the run on obvious run reads.
How did we look? Our kids were confident, thanks to the two blowout scrimmage game wins and the blowout in our week one game. But we weren’t practicing well, the progress we made had made these kids complacent. Every time we did any type of even limited space open field tackling drills we would lose our best Defensive Back and at least one Linebacker for the rest of practice. They would just have to stand in place while we ran Defensive Recognition or Scout fit and freeze team defense. “Mental Reps” are overrated when your team needs work team pursuit and open field tackling. We didn’t get better between game one and game two and that was on me and our coaching staff. I was positive in front of the kids, but inside I didn’t feel good about this weeks game.