The Gridiron Geek's High School Football Report, Vol. 4: The Right Moves
The Geek often wonders about esoteric things in his spare time. For instance, how many people have touched their left elbow with their left hand?
No, really, I wonder why there isn't more parity in prep football from state to state, and region to region. Last weekend, Xaverian Bros. HS of Westwood, Mass, ranked 3rd in the state overall, lost to St. Joseph Regional 62 to zip. ESPN Boston's Top 25 kept Xaverian at No. 3 this week, reasoning that St. Joseph's is one of the best programs in New Jersey, "which boasts another level of football altogether."
Superiority on a football field comes in four kinds—athleticism, fundamentals, tactics and teamwork. We can assume that the very best prep coaches in New Jersey and Massachusetts have approximately the same skill and knowledge of coaching football.
Are we to assume that students south of the Big Apple are uniformly bigger, stronger and faster than kids in Boston? Or that the New Jersey students are mentally wired to understand football concepts faster and better than their northern counterparts?
The Geek has some measure of knowledge of Massachusetts football, having some loved ones in the Agawam area. The student-athletes there seem just as intelligent, well-conditioned and enthusiastic about sports as kids from Texas or Florida. Then again, I haven't spent a lot of time in the south or in New Jersey. I could be missing something.
Perhaps the producers of All The Right Moves put a Kubrickian "hidden narrative" in their otherwise straightforward 80's sports movie.
Stefen "Stef" Djordjevic, the film's hard-nosed Tom Cruise protagonist, was actually suffering from a learning disorder that limited him to the football aptitude of a normal kid from another state.That is what caused Stef to commit dumb penalties in the red zone, and choose to attend rinky-dink Cal Poly instead of a big-time college.
As a sly reference, Cruise would go on to play mentally-challenged athletes for decades afterward.
High-school athletes are a product of their environment. Urban teams will tend to be a slicker and faster, while squads from the sticks tend to be road-grading outfits of farm boys. But why the state-by-state disparity among schools with like demographics?
Much is to be learned, but the short answer is that "football culture" plays a big role.
In the Geek's home state of Missouri, the schools in the central/western districts have gone 17-4 in state championship contests against their eastern counterparts in the last three years, with 1A superpower Valle Catholic accounting for 2 of the eastern wins.
Coaches who have spent time in both regions swear that the talent is much the same. But there is a distinct difference in culture. Along the Mississippi, folks care strongly about college and pro football.
In small farm towns, hundreds of miles from any NFL city, commoners will rally around a prep team financially and spiritually. Career coaches are hired. Local institutions sponsor games and gear. Competent radio broadcasts are the norm, not the exception.
All of this is bound to have an effect on the kids.As the Buddhists say, give me a man for his first 5 years and I will have him for life.
Boys in rural Missouri are given prep colors in the playpen, encouraging them to become big, disciplined horses. Kids from the river suburbs are given NFL trading cards and encouraged to sit on couches and write articles. Like this one.
Our 'D' Scored a Few Points, But Our Offense Almost Gave Up Too Many
In 1950, Michigan made an unlikely trip to the Rose Bowl after beating favored Ohio State 9-3 in a blizzard. Their strategy? Punt as often as possible, 24 times in total. Their reasoning was that the weather was so bad, the offense so helpless, that they should keep the ball out of their own territory and wait for a break. With a few moments left in the first half, Michigan blocked a punt and recovered in the Ohio State endzone for the winning score.
On Friday night, Don Bosco Prep of Ramsey, NJ met Florida powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas in a battle of perhaps the nation's two best programs over the past five seasons. The two defenses acquitted themselves well. The nationally televised game featured a protracted 10-10 stalemate in the 2nd half with neither team able to move the ball at all.
The Don Bosco Prep athletics blog estimates that their team may not have gained over 100 yards total in the contest. But having blocked an Aquinas punt for a score in the 1st quarter, the Ironmen patiently ran the ball and punted, while their opponents vainly tried to spread the field, Raiders QB John O'Korn finishing the game a pitiful 8-of-24.
In the late stages, Don Bosco blocked one punt to set up a touchdown and recovered a muffed punt snap to set up a field goal, winning 20-10. The recovered snap set up their longest scoring drive of the game. 21 yards.
We shot ourselves in the foot -- 488 Google hits, last 72 hours
Top Story: Texans Use Fast Start to Dominate Jaguars. (Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert is quoted with the offending cliche, proving that his mentality has indeed not grown from that of a student-athlete).
We put the ball on the ground -- 371 Google hits.
Top Story: West Catholic Burrs 42, Bonner-Prendie Friars 24, The Daily Times (Delaware County, Penn.)
Google search: "High School football"/"Coach quoted"/"Moving forward" -- 12,000+ hits.
The Big Reds of Muskegon have plowed through a slap-leather schedule so far this season, climbing to a 4-0 record against premier competition and a No. 2 spot in the Michigan 7A rankings. The ski-gun formation has never been more potent, helping Coach Shane Fairfield earn the honor of being the Detroit Lions' High School Coach of the Week for Sept 14-21. Then again, given the Lions' lack of discipline on the field, Fairfield may take the award as an insult.
College and NFL fans reading this column may have noticed that elements of the ski-gun have been in use in some high-profile games so far this season.
Georgia Tech, already an option team, went to a pistol snap for its crucial late drive against Virginia Tech in Week 1, and the Washington Redskins have used a version of the Pistol designed for their dynamic young QB, Robert Griffin III.
The Geek predicts that the first college team to use the ski-gun (old-school option combined with a pistol/spread passing game) as a base package will achieve unparallelled success. If the 2012 season is any indication, the day might arrive sooner than expected.
A Cure for the Common Preseason
Spring and summer are hard enough times for football fans without the paradoxical NFL preseason, where coaches maddeningly shift pieces around the chessboard to test their weight and integrity while not giving a care who gets checkmated.
This August, I was in my usual state of laying on the ground gnashing my teeth, wishing for somebody, somewhere to kick a field goal, secure a safety or otherwise score points that counted.
How naive! In the process of researching this column, I discovered that there are early August football games that count, in Alaska.
For various cosmic and meteorological reasons, The Last Frontier is annually plunged into cold darkness long before the holidays. To compensate, teams play their schedules early. There are 30 11-man High School programs in Alaska, and as of this week, their regular season is 6 weeks gone.
Who has triumphed on the real "frozen tundra" so far? Namely, teams from Anchorage. Squads from Alaska's largest city currently occupy the No 1, No. 3, No. 4 and No. 8 rankings in the state (Service High, Anchorage West, South and East respectively.) Note also indescribably well-named North Pole High School at No. 5.
The Service High School Cougars are ranked No. 1 despite losing to a host Hawaiian school, Leilehua High, 23-15 in this year's second annual Fire and Ice Bowl. A loss in the year's first meaningful bowl game has to sting, even more so than playing in an event named after the flower bouquet a man gives a woman when he's not feeling creative that day.
Pulaski Academy Loses to West Memphis, 30-21. Winning TD thrown by opponent's QB on 4th Down
Actually the headline here says it all. Please join the Geek in a half-hour meditation on the meaning of the word "irony." Or, have some sweet potatoes. They are popular in both Arkansas and Tennessee, and a real mood lifter.
And For Dear Old...
One problem in my eyes, Festus has used the flexbone backfield motion 100+ times this season, and I'm not sure they've pitched once on an option play. It seems like bad chalkboard design, using only ten players instead of eleven. If the QB never pitches the ball, the threat will not influence the opposing defense.
How many more points could we score if we didn't voluntarily remove a player from the action on most downs? Anyway, all 22 (or 21) positions will need to be clicking when we play Hillsboro High next week.
Wait. I think I just published a first draft. Oh well, Jack Kerouac would be proud!
Also, please forgive the lateness of all of the Geek's columns this week. Shall we meet on twitter and make up? Follow at @brgridirongeek.
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