2021 AFCA VIRTUAL CONVENTION RECAP | REGISTER FOR OUR 1-DAY ONLINE EDUCATIONAL EVENT
VOL. 11, NO. 2
A SINGULAR FEAT Glenn Caruso, Head Coach, University of St. Thomas
Six Top Controllables For Strength Coaches p34
EQUIPMENT MANAGEMENT Don’t Get Ready, Stay Ready p30
HIGH SCHOOL HOMECOMING
Jon Holmes, Bishop Miege (Kan.) High School p14
March/April 2021 | Vol. 11, No. 2
Glenn Caruso, Head Coach, University of St. Thomas
Photo: RoadTripSports.com/Chuck Cox
TABLE OF CONTENTS
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AFCA STAFF Todd Berry, Executive Director Adam Guess, Chief Financial Officer Vince Thompson, Director of Media Relations Mario V. Price, Director of Coaching Education Bobby Staub, Director of Sponsorship and Development Amy Gilstrap, Director of Convention Services Genee Ordones, Director of Administration Matt Braunscheidel, Director of Content Development
FEATURE ARTICLES 8 A Singular Feat
When Glenn Caruso and the University of St. Thomas football program make the unprecedented leap from NCAA Division III football to NCAA Division I FCS this coming July, they’ll make history. But it’s the timeless values embodied by the program that even make it possible.
14 Understanding The Past To Win The Future
Bishop Miege head coach Jon Holmes returned to his high school alma mater to coach the game he loves, and quickly won six consecutive state titles. Then COVID-19 changed everything. Now, he’s using that experience to drive success within the program.
Derek Tonkin, Director of Information Technology Sara Schindler, Financial Services Rhonda Martindale, Membership Services Jenn Jung, Receptionist/Staff Assistant Alec Finch, Membership Recruitment Maura Walsh, Coordinator of Coaching Education Caleb Clark, Graduate Assistant Kyle Kempton, Graduate Assistant
20 2021 AFCA Virtual Convention Recap
Take a closer look at some of the awards presented at the 2021 AFCA Virtual Convention. We also take a look ahead to our final one-day educational event taking place April 13, 2021, at AFCA.com, and provide a look at our premium suppliers, AFCA Virtual Convention Sponsors and AFCA Corporate Partners.
DEPARTMENTS 30 Equipment Management
Don’t Get Ready, Stay Ready
34 Strength & Conditioning | Athletic Performance
Six Top Controllables For Strength Coaches
40 2020 Werner Ladder AFCA FBS National Coach of the Year 42 Chalk Talk: Offense
Running The Duo At San Diego
44 Chalk Talk: Defense
Implementing A Defensive System That Is Multiple, But Simple
45 American Football Coaches Foundation
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Cover Photo: University of St. Thomas Athletics
48 Chalk Talk: Special Teams
Visualization And Imagery Techniques Key Training For Kickers And Punters
50 Move The Chains By Mike Podoll
Lessons Learned During The Pandemic That Have Permanent Staying Power
6 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
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When Glenn Caruso and the University of St. Thomas football program make the unprecedented leap from NCAA Division III football to NCAA Division I FCS this coming July, they’ll make history. But it’s the timeless values embodied by the program that even make it possible. By Michael Austin
The NCAA Division III recruiting manual in Glenn Caruso’s University of St. Thomas football office is 161 pages in length. The NCAA Division I recruiting manual, which Caruso also now needs, is more than twice that thickness at 332 pages. It’s just one of the important details Caruso has to navigate as he attempts something never done in college football — lead a program from Division III directly into Division I. On July 1 of this year, the Tommies officially become part of the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), joining the appropriately named Pioneer Football League to compete in the non-scholarship conference with teams spanning the entire country. While the logistics of making such a move would seem daunting in any climate, add into the mix that it’s all happening during a viral pandemic that shuttered the Tommies’ fall football season, and it could seem overwhelming. Not for Caruso. The foundation for this change occurred well before the official announcement in May 2019, he says. It started the day he arrived on the St. Paul, Minn., campus more than 13 years ago. “The way we approach the daily interactions is not going to change very much. The way we set it up when we got here 13 years ago was based off a FCS model,” Caruso explains. “Sure, some things have to change, but the bigger, pleasant surprise is how much they are going to stay the same.” Caruso says while this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, it’s made easier in that he isn’t taking a new job somewhere else to go from Division III to Division I. Regardless of playing level, the St. Thomas culture remains the same. “People may look at the program and erroneously think it’s based on success,” he says. “But, that is the byproduct 8 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
of the process that has been built and grown over a long period of time. “For us, the true focus is how do we use the sport that we love to build the best husbands, fathers and leaders of men? How can we get that young man to be the best version of himself he can be? I know that sounds trite. I get it. But looking back over all these years, there is no way that sustained success can happen without strong foundations and principles, and those are part of ours. Any school can have a good football team, but it’s difficult to have a good football program.”
Expanding The Scope
Caruso remains undeterred that the program’s principles have allowed for this jump to happen. He also realizes that going from Division III to Division I in such a short timeframe is unprecedented, and there are changes within the program that must be made to accommodate it. He says staff size will increase. Support staff most certainly will increase as St. Thomas moves from playing in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which consists of private institutions residing in Minnesota, to now being a part of the Pioneer Football League, featuring a team on the west coast (University of San Diego), the east coast (Marist College in New York), Florida (Stetson College) and several states in between. The game day travel, but especially the recruiting base, exponentially multiplies with this move. Caruso says the enormous footprint of the league obviously increases the recruiting scope. For the first incoming Division I class for this fall, St. Thomas has signees from 10 different states. Caruso wasn’t expecting to scale out recruiting beyond
Photo: RoadTripSports.com/Chuck Cox
A Singular Feat
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A SINGULAR FEAT | GLENN CARUSO
his usual “six-hour drive” from campus so quickly, but with for different physical attributes in recruits with the move COVID halting on-field football for St. Thomas this fall, he from DIII to DI, but a complete player at any level is much says his staff used the change in schedule to get a jump on more than just talent. this process. “We are very aware that the players we are bringing in will “We thought the scaling out might happen by year two or be faster, bigger and stronger, but the core principles of who three, but it actually occurred very early with this recruiting they are, they are still ridiculously competitive people. They cycle,” Caruso says. “We are confident enough in their did a good job making the abilities, yet humble enough, most of the time we had.” to know that success occurs What also has to as part of the team success,” change for St. Thomas he says. “I’m not going to “It’s mind-blowing. But, it’s is the number of players leverage the type of young on the roster. Gone are man we get for any sort of something no one has had the the days of carrying 140 on-field success. You can athletes. The Tommies do both as long as you are chance to do. We recognize that now have 110 players. Just thoughtful and diligent in the like with everything else recruiting process.” blessings and burdens are not regarding the switch from How COVID Affects DIII to DI, the roster mutually exclusive. The journey The Timeline has evolved over time to The Tommies announced seamlessly transition rather is what makes us who we are...” in May 2019 the move to than Caruso needing to Division I. No one could cut 30 players on July 1. have foreseen how 2020 Recruiting classes have would change the football shrunk. Seniors have landscape and players’ lives. On Aug. 5, 2020, the Division graduated without being replaced on the roster. III Presidents Council called off all fall championships. As The change in roster size is one thing. Even the type of Caruso and his staff continued the preparation work for the player St. Thomas recruits may change. But probably not as Division I move happening July 1, 2021, they now faced no much as you might think. Caruso understands he is looking fall football in 2020 — no sendoffs for seniors, no run at a national championship. Amazingly, St. Thomas now faces the prospect of playing spring DIII football games (albeit just a handful of contests vs. a typical full schedule), then fall Division I FCS games in From Minnesota the same calendar year. Powerhouse To “It’s mind-blowing. But, it’s something no one has had the chance to do,” Caruso says. “We recognize that blessings National Story and burdens are not mutually exclusive. The journey is what makes us who we are.” A small, private Division III football program in Rather than simply flipping the fall training schedule to Minnesota isn’t typically on the national radar. the spring, Caruso needed to dig deeper. His concern was losing the strength and speed developments typically gained Even with the incredible on-field success the in the spring for first-year players. He sees the spring as the University of St. Thomas has earned (never largest return on investment in those players. Preparing for finishing lower than third in conference while spring games as the sole coaching goal wasn’t an option. winning seven conference titles in 12 seasons), So, Caruso and his staff identified three goals they must head coach Glenn Caruso never saw anything like achieve this spring. he did after the news of the program making the 1. Prepare for games. direct leap from Division III to Division I. “The day after the news broke, I went into our recruiting account and there were 652 unsolicited emails from players who wanted to play for us,” Caruso says. “We didn’t change in those 24 hours. It speaks to the power of when the message is good and gets out in the right way, people are attracted to it.”
10 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
2. Develop the first-year players so the spring gains are not lost. 3. Evaluate every player on the roster.
Caruso will also focus on players’ mental health. This has been a hard year. COVID potentially has impacted players’ physical health, the well-being of their families, the way they learn, their routines and how they socialize. While Caruso says mental health specialists, as well as meditation and mindfulness specialists, have been available to athletes
A SINGULAR FEAT | GLENN CARUSO
for years, in 2020 it became an even bigger focus. “As coaches, it was critical that we took a beat to see what the players were going through,” Caruso explains. He cites the survey released this summer by Bill Carter’s StudentAthlete Insights of 43,000 college athletes that said, in part, the biggest stressor for college athletes was not being around teammates (mentioned by 77 percent of participants about what’s been difficult when dealing with COVID), outpacing concerns regarding finances (50 percent), online learning (63 percent) and getting out of a routine (68 percent). “That told us how much the majority of our young men prioritize being together.” Zoom, which Caruso admits he never heard of before St. Patrick’s Day, became vital to the program. He says not having the daily routine of the season showed players just how much they missed their teammates. They became more conversational and engaged in better open dialogue than in years past. They simply desired connection.
Forging Their Own Path
Connection also is something coaches use when entering a new job or career situation. Moving up from offensive line coach to offensive coordinator? Call your peers who have done the same. Taking on a head coaching position at a new school? Talk to people on that campus and/ or coaches who have worked there previously. It’s second nature for coaches to reach out, connect and help each other. Caruso admits he’s “talked to more people this year than in my previous 25,” but he’s not looking for real-world advice on how to make this transition from DIII to DI FCS. That’s because there isn’t any. “We were looking for thoughts and ideas, not implementation. We housed our implementation internally. I wasn’t looking for a road map. I was looking for information regarding the destinations, so then we could put together our map and navigate it,” Caruso says.
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He also returned to reading books on human psychology, personal growth and business principles. Caruso says it’s imperative for coaches to find authentic and genuine leadership outside of football. By limiting leadership just to football, coaches are narrowing their potential to learn. “Finding creative and thoughtful ways to navigate unchartered territories is probably how I’ve spent the majority of my time in the last 18 months,” Caruso says. “There’s leadership all around us.” It’s Caruso’s leadership that makes this incredible transition even remotely possible. It’s not lost on him what he, his staff, his administration and his players are about to accomplish. “There’s a reason why no team in the history of college football has made this leap. It’s not because no one has thought about doing it,” Caruso reasons. “It’s because there are so many pieces that have to align for it to happen, and we happen to be blessed with that opportunity.”
The COVID Calendar Glenn Caruso, the head coach of the University of St. Thomas football program for the last 12 seasons, says he always spends Christmas break putting together the upcoming annual calendar to present to his staff on Jan. 2. He does it in Excel and says usually there are 10 to 12 different iterations between the January calendar and the one finalized in July prior to the players arriving. For 2020 — the year of COVID — Caruso says he was using the 64th iteration by July.
AFCA.com | AFCA Magazine | March/April 2021 11
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The secret to this success is the Recruiter 2 Custom Sport Locker from List Industries. It enjoys the status of being — at the same time — a prefabricated locker the company can store in distribution centers and a locker that can be configured and accessorized to achieve a unique aesthetic. “List Industries has a full line of quick-ship Recruiter 2 lockers right now,” says Troyano. “With the Recruiter 2, we’ve taken the quality of a custom locker and made it quick-ship, so normally, we can ship out anywhere from one to 25 lockers in one week from our distribution center in Munster, Ind. From 26 to 50 lockers, we’re talking about two weeks.” Installing the lockers is a snap. List Industries can fit 96 fully-assembled lockers on a 53-foot semi-trailer. With typical football locker room installations topping out around 120 lockers, all that’s required to get these lockers on-site and ready for install is two truck shipments, a forklift and a loading dock. 12 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
“With the quick-ship Recruiter 2, we can add black seat cushions, name plate holders and shoulder-pad holders,” says Troyano. “This is a ‘set-back’ model. It’s 24 inches wide by 24 inches deep by 84 inches tall. The locker comes as an 81-inch locker and you build a wood sleeper base from two-byfours, laid on the flat, which give you a 3-inch toe kick. The locker sits on top of the sleeper base. Once you build that sleeper base straight across the wall, you screw into the foot locker and you anchor into that wood sleeper base. You can also anchor to the wall if you wish. Then the lockers anchor to each other for an incredibly sturdy and well-built locker platform.” The Recruiter 2 comes in four additional models as well: full-panel, half curve, full curve and slant. It’s extremely affordable and comes in red oak, maple, cherry or mahogany. Corner fillers, front fillers, left- and right-end panels, they come with everything needed to finish the installation job. Accessorizing the lockers is where it gets fun, because List Industries’ ability to add accessories makes the Recruiter 2 Custom Sport Locker not only a great value but a showpiece for any locker room in America. The locker comes with a security box, so you start with a padlock hasp on it. “You can have a built-in combination lock by Master Lock or you can have a digital lock made by Hallowell,” says Troyano. “All are great options. On the door, you can have an engraved school logo or a full-color UV logo, which is a great touch. If you want a USB outlet in the security box, we can add that for you. Your electrician can run drop-cables to each location — which we give to you in the shop drawings — and we will pull those drop cables through the electrical box, tie them off and hand-off the USB outlets to your electrician for final connections. As for project management, we are involved with the installation from soup to nuts.” For more information on Recruiter 2 Custom Sport Lockers, visit www.listindustries.com and click on the wood locker tab. That will take you to specifications, drawings and other useful information. To speak with Steve Troyano directly, call him at 843-371-4790.
Bishop Miege head coach Jon Holmes returned to his high school alma mater to coach the game he loves, and quickly won six consecutive state titles. Then COVID-19 changed everything. Now, he’s using that experience to drive success within the program. By Michael Austin
As a junior in high school, Jon Holmes knew what he wanted to do with his life. Playing for the Bishop Miege football team in Shawnee Mission, Kan., Holmes says his coaches were huge influencers in his life, which solidified his love of the game. By his junior year of college, he earned a spot on the Bishop Miege staff. And, eight years later (2012), he was elevated to head coach. It’s a classic story of former player coming home to coach his alma mater. And, if it ended there, it would have been enough. But, then the winning started. Bishop Miege earned a state title in 2014. Then 2015. Then 2016. And so on. At the conclusion of the 2019 season, the Stags secured the program’s sixth straight state title. The plan for Holmes always may have been to come home and coach, but he never dreamed of this type of success so fast. “I never expected this, especially since I played here. Back then, we had some successful years, but that was going 6-4 or 5-4,” Holmes recalls. “I’ve been coaching with the program since 2004, and the progress we’ve made since then to now is really unbelievable. “You look back on how we did it. It was those little things we had to do.” Holmes says the “little things” started with holding players accountable all the time. While that means expecting players to grow and learn on and off the field, it also means holding players accountable year round and not just during the traditional football months. 14 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
“In high school, your season is August to November, but what we’ve done is make it a year-round program. You look at a lot of successful high school programs around the country and it’s treated the same way,” Holmes says. In Kansas, there is no spring football. Holmes explains that makes those summer months — when the expectation is players are working out with the team four days a week — critical to the Bishop Miege success. The four days a week in the summer allow Holmes and his staff to do team building, X’s & O’s, weight training and conditioning. This is where the accountability comes into play again. It’s easy to get buy-in starting in August when practices feel more important with games on the horizon. It’s much more difficult during those long, hot summer days when no one other than your teammate is watching. Holmes admits it’s easier to hold players accountable when you’re winning. What he’s done is not skimp on daily reminders to players that little things lead to big things, such as state titles. “If they do something wrong, there’s going to be discipline. If they do something right, you need to acknowledge that. That’s the biggest thing we do here — we acknowledge when we have success and we correct it when we have mistakes,” he says.
A Year Like No Other
Despite all the success at Bishop Miege, even the Stags struggled a bit to gain their footing during the unprecedented 2020 season. For what Holmes described
Photo: Bishop Miege Athletics
Understanding The Past To Win The Future
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UNDERSTANDING THE PAST TO WIN THE FUTURE | JON HOLMES
as a “year-round program,” a complete shutdown in March that lasted through the middle of June resulted in no weight lifting and no X’s & O’s installed. Even when restrictions were eased, players still weren’t allowed in the weight room due to a spike in area COVID-19 cases. Everything was done outside. Some players missed practices for contact tracing. Others had to quarantine for two weeks upon returning from summer travel out of state. Once things finally felt slightly back on schedule by late August, the Stags had to quarantine and take time off due to some cases within the team. Add in that the first two opponents had to cancel and other programs weren’t exactly looking to last-minute schedule the six-time defending champs, and the Stags waited slightly longer than most to finally get on the field. In fact, when Bishop Miege suited up for its first game Sept. 18, Holmes says that was the first week he had every player in the position he wanted.
Lazser Focus Bishop Miege (Roeland Park, Kan.) head coach Jon Holmes preaches perfecting the “little things” to gain an advantage on his opponents. He’s done that quite well considering from 2014-2019, his program won six straight state championships. Holmes credits part of his program’s ability to conquer the little things to his relationship with the people at Lazser Down, the high-tech way to track down-and-distance on the sideline. The display uses patented radio technology providing immediate distance feedback accurate to the yard, foot or inch. Mike Foster invented the markers and leads Lazser Down. His son, Bill, used to coach at Bishop Miege many years ago. That relationship has allowed for Holmes to use Lazser Down at his practices several weeks a year. Holmes says it’s been a valuable tool. “So much of football is a situation thing. If we’re in a 3rd-and-8, we need to make sure our route extends past the first-down marker. Or, our defense needs to know what their cushion should be in the secondary,” Holmes says about the ways in which he uses Lazser Down at practice. He adds that due to the situational awareness in the Stag program, he knows his players have an advantage when they move to the next level of football.
16 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
“In the summer we typically have 8 weeks where we get our guys conditioned and ready to go, and we essentially had four days to get guys in their spots. COVID was a daily challenge. We had to find a different schedule. When you’ve had the success we’ve had, it’s hard to find teams that want to play you,” Holmes explains. “The teams that want to play you are the other top teams.” Bishop Miege came out and uncharacteristically dropped its first two games. The Stags rebounded with a pair of wins, but then lost the next two. A 64-17 win before the playoff round left them 3-4 and with some momentum. The Stags ripped off 63-12 and 30-7 victories to open the playoffs, but eventually dropped an overtime heartbreaker in the substate game to a team they previously defeated by 10 earlier in the season. The 2020 season ended without a state title. “Our staff is accustomed to winning. We are not accustomed to getting beat on Friday nights. At times, staff morale was low. But, that’s where we had to pick up each other on a daily basis. We had to pick up our kids,” Holmes says. “We grew as a staff, especially me as a head coach. There is no manual on how to go through a season with COVID. There was no clinic before. Everything was done on the fly. “Our program is going to be better from this. We didn’t win the amount of games we wanted, but it was one of those experiences every player and every coach is going to remember,” Holmes says. For a season marked with pauses for COVID, the mental toll of constant uncertainty and losses on the football field, Holmes recognized that for the sake of his players, he had to remain strong in front of them. “My big thing was I didn’t want our players see me struggle with something. For that two and a half hours we were at practice, we had to make sure we were ready to go with those guys and the energy was good,” Holmes explains. “That was the best part of the day. We were outside. There were no distractions. “We were thankful to play 10 games. There were some programs that didn’t. Some states still haven’t played. That’s what we preached with our players, just how thankful we were to go out and play games week to week.”
The push into the 2021 season won’t resemble the buildup up to the 2020 campaign. The country should be in better shape handling the pandemic, so restrictions shouldn’t be as severe. The Stags won’t be coming off a state title but rather an uneven season. Holmes says that affects how he approaches 2021. “We need to peel back the little things. You have to figure out, in practice, did we spend enough time doing all those things that we struggled with during the games. I spent the Christmas break looking at game film and our struggles,” Holmes says, while adding that he deeply examined if he put some players in a position where he asked them to do too much. From there, he learned why the offense struggled on third down and didn’t convert as often in the red zone.
UNDERSTANDING THE PAST TO WIN THE FUTURE | JON HOLMES
On defense, he pointed to taking a step back in players understanding coverages, as well as execution of the stunts the staff wanted. Holmes also personally met with all 107 players on the roster just prior to Christmas break, including the outgoing seniors to discuss goals beyond high school. For the returning players, Holmes says he stressed standards and expectations. “This group is one of the first groups that hasn’t won (a state championship). They understand getting back to that level as a program,” Holmes says. “Our players have responded well in the offseason and are motivated to get moving.”
More Than Football
The commitment to Stag football isn’t one to take lightly, but Holmes doesn’t want the gridiron to dominate his players’ lives. They’re still teenagers. They are figuring out who they are, what they like and who they want to be. Holmes encourages them to play other sports, participate in student government or be involved in community service. “When you look at who our best players are, they’re also the guys who are doing the most in the school,” he says. “We don’t want a football-only guy. There are so many aspects to being a successful person beyond just being an athlete.” Holmes also knows a successful adult is someone who is more than a coach with an impressive winning resume. Holmes is a family man. He and his wife have four young
children, so finding balance is critical … but that doesn’t mean his home family and football family are exclusive of each other. It’s actually quite the opposite. “I’m trying to be the best father I can be. I stress with the players about being a good dad and a good husband,” Holmes explains. “My wife and my kids constantly are at our practices. They’re around our team on almost a daily basis. “That’s really important for our players to see me in the role as a husband and father. They need to see the way I interact with my kids and my wife. When you’re trying to teach these guys to grow up and be great men, this is all part of that process.” Of course, just like everything else in the upside-down world of 2020, his family couldn’t be around the team as often and his players needed him more than ever. He and his staff checked on players more than in years past, just to let them know they had someone available to them at all times. So while there may not have been as many practices or games, the 2020 season may have been the busiest in Holmes’s career. Add in coming off six straight state titles and the expectations he has of himself, especially coaching at his alma mater, and he says the pressure was a lot. “When you’re at your alma mater, you’re so invested in your community. Throw the winning on top of that, where now people expect you only to lose one or two games a year. But that’s the pressure every coach wants,” Holmes says. Michael Austin is a contributing editor to AFCA Magazine.
AFCA.com | AFCA Magazine | March/April 2021 17
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2021 AFCA Convention Wrap‑up Honoring The Greats Of The Game
The annual American Football Coaches Association (AFCA) Virtual Convention met with overwhelming success in January. The virtual sessions were extremely well attended and provided member coaches with the opportunities to learn like never before. Below, you will find a recap of the awards presented during the convention and changes in association leadership. For more detailed information on some of the awards, please visit www.AFCA.com. Don’t forget, our last one-day virtual convention will take place April 13, 2021 at AFCA.com!
Indiana’s Tom Allen Named 2020 Werner Ladder AFCA FBS National Coach Of The Year
Indiana’s Tom Allen was named the 2020 Werner Ladder AFCA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) National Coach of the Year. Allen was selected by a vote of the Active AFCA members at FBS schools. The AFCA has named a Coach of the Year since 1935. The Werner Ladder AFCA FBS Coach of the Year award is the oldest and most prestigious of all the Coach of the Year awards and is the only one chosen exclusively by coaches. Werner Ladder became the title sponsor of the AFCA FBS Regional and National Coach of the Year awards in August 2019. Werner is the world leader in ladders and has a complete line of climbing products designed for working at heights. “Werner is once again excited to be the sponsor and associated with such a prestigious award,” said Stacy Gardella, vice president of brand marketing at WernerCo. “Coach Allen led Indiana to one of its greatest seasons in 2020 as the Hoosiers ‘stepped up’ to every challenge they faced.” The current balloting procedure involves selection of five regional winners who become finalist for national coach of the year. The other finalist were: Luke Fickell, Cincinnati; Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina; Doc Holliday, Marshall; and Brent Brennan, San Jose State. Allen earned his first AFCA FBS national honor by guiding the Hoosiers to a 6-2 record with an appearance in the Outback Bowl. This was the program’s second straight January bowl game. 20 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
Northwestern Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald Named 2021 AFCA President
Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald will lead the AFCA in 2021 as president of the organization. Fitzgerald, who moves up from first vice-president, succeeds outgoing president Gary Patterson of TCU. Fitzgerald was elected president by members attending the Association’s virtual 2021 Convention. In addition to Fitzgerald, the 2021 AFCA officers include first vice-president Craig Bohl of the University of Wyoming, second vice-president Todd Knight of Ouachita Baptist University and third vice-president David Cutcliffe of Duke University. Also serving on the Board in 2021: Jeff McMartin, Central College (Iowa); Bronco Mendenhall, University of Virginia; Danny Rocco, University of Delaware; Paul Winters, Wayne State University (Mich.); Ken Niumatalolo, U.S. Naval Academy; David Shaw, Stanford University; Jim Catanzaro, Lake Forest College; Steve Ryan, Morningside College; Bobby Hauck, University of Montana; Lance Leipold, University at Buffalo; Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech University; Bobby Kennedy, Stanford University, ex officio member and chairman of the Assistant Coaches Committee; Van Malone, Kansas State University, ex officio member and chairman of the Minority Issues Committee; Michael Christensen, Lakewood (Calif.) High School, ex officio member and chairman of the High School Committee; and Mark McElroy, Saddleback College (Calif.), ex officio member and Junior College representative. Neal Brown from West Virginia University, Billy Napier from the University of Louisiana and Sam Pittman from the University of Arkansas are newly elected members of the Board this year. AFCA Executive Director Todd Berry serves as secretary-treasurer of the organization. Fitzgerald completed his 15th season as the head coach at Northwestern, guiding the Wildcats to a 7-2 overall record, a first-place finish in the Big Ten West Division and an appearance in the Big Ten championship game. Northwestern defeated Auburn in the Citrus Bowl, giving Fitzgerald his fourth straight bowl victory, and fifth overall. He is the winningest head coach in Northwestern history with 106
2021 AFCA CONVENTION WRAP-UP
victories and has led the Wildcats to 10 bowl games. Fitzgerald earned Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year honors in 2020 and was named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2018 after leading Northwestern to a Big Ten West Division title. Northwestern has excelled academically under Fitzgerald. The Wildcats have ranked first or second in Graduation Success Rate for 10 straight years, and in 2019 became the first Power Five team to ever post a perfect GSR score. Northwestern has won 10 AFCA Academic Achievement Awards since the award’s inception in 1981, with six coming under Fitzgerald’s leadership. Fitzgerald is also very active in community service. He and his players participate in several charitable events including: Northwestern Dance Marathon, Special Olympics, Misericordia, Uplifting Athletes and they make weekly school and children’s hospital visits. Fitzgerald was named Honorary Head Coach of the 2017 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team for his dedication to community service. Fitzgerald began his coaching career in 1998 as a graduate assistant at Maryland under Ron Vanderlinden, who was his defensive coordinator at Northwestern. In 1999, he became a graduate assistant at Colorado under his former head coach, Gary Barnett. Fitzgerald spent one season as the linebackers/ special teams coach at Idaho before returning to his alma mater in 2001 as defensive backs coach. In 2006, he was named head coach at Northwestern after the unexpected death of head coach Randy Walker. Fitzgerald was named to the AFCA Board of Trustees in 2012. He served as chairman of the AFCA Ethics Committee for seven years. Fitzgerald was a consensus AllAmerican linebacker for Northwestern in 1995 and 1996 while also taking home the Bronko Nagurski and Chuck Bednarik awards those same seasons.
Lenape Valley’s Don Smolyn Receives 2020 AFCA®/AFCF® Power Of Influence Award
Lenape Valley Regional High School Head Coach Don Smolyn has been named the recipient of the 2020 AFCA®/ AFCF® Power of Influence Award. Smolyn was nominated by Lenape Valley Regional High School. He was honored today during the virtual 2021 AFCA Convention. The Power of Influence award was created as a way for the AFCA® and AFCF® to honor a deserving high school football coach. Coaches who receive this award are recognized for their impact on their team, as well as the legacy they leave with the school and surrounding community. This award is not based on wins and losses; however, it should be noted that coaches of powerful influence have longevity and success. This is the first AFCA award specifically designed to honor a high school coach. Smolyn has been the head coach at Lenape Valley Regional High School for 46 years and has produced 348 victories, which makes him the active wins leader in the state of New Jersey. He has guided Lenape Valley to seven state championships and 12 conference titles and also served as athletics director for 26 years. Through his personal efforts, Smolyn has helped raise over $150,000 to improve the facilities at Lenape Valley and was instrumental in getting Girls’ Soccer, Ice Hockey and Boy’s
and Girl’s Lacrosse added to the athletic program. Smolyn also uses his platform to help raise funds for Breast Cancer, Pediatric Cancer and Pancreatic Cancer research. He has also organized a “Relay for Life” event with proceeds going to the American Cancer Association. Smolyn also raises money and support for the Warrior and Family Support Center at Brooke Army Medical Center. In 2018, he helped raise $1,400 for a donation to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Scholarship Fund in honor of Coach Aaron Feis.
Neal Brown, Billy Napier And Sam Pittman Named To AFCA Board Of Trustees
West Virginia University head coach Neal Brown, University of Louisiana head coach Billy Napier and University of Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman have been elected to the Board of Trustees of the AFCA. Brown, Napier and Pittman were elected by members attending the virtual 2021 AFCA Convention today. Brown will represent the Big 12, Napier is the Sun Belt representative while Pittman will be the SEC representative. Brown, Napier and Pittman will join a group of distinguished head coaches who guide the organization. The Board formulates policy and provides direction for the AFCA, which was founded in 1922 by Amos Alonzo Stagg, John Heisman and others. Also serving on the Board in 2021 are: Jeff McMartin, Central College (Iowa); Bronco Mendenhall, University of Virginia; Danny Rocco, University of Delaware; Paul Winters, Wayne State University (Mich.); Ken Niumatalolo, U.S. Naval Academy; David Shaw, Stanford University; Jim
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2021 AFCA CONVENTION WRAP-UP
Catanzaro, Lake Forest College; Steve Ryan, Morningside College; Bobby Hauck, University of Montana; Lance Leipold, University at Buffalo; Skip Holtz, Louisiana Tech University; Bobby Kennedy, Stanford University, ex officio member and chairman of the Assistant Coaches Committee; Van Malone, Kansas State University, ex officio member and chairman of the Minority Issues Committee; Michael Christensen, Lakewood (Calif.) High School, ex officio member and chairman of the High School Committee; and Mark McElroy, Saddleback College, ex officio member and Junior College representative. AFCA Executive Director Todd Berry serves as secretary-treasurer of the organization. Brown completed his second season at West Virginia by leading the Mountaineers to a 6-4 record and a win over Army in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. He came to West Virginia after spending four seasons as the head coach at Troy. Brown compiled a 35-16 overall record with three bowl game victories. The Trojans won at least 10 games in each of his final three seasons. In 2020, Napier led Louisiana to one of its best seasons, guiding the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 10-1 mark, a co-championship in the Sun Belt Conference and a victory over UTSA in the Servpro First Responder Bowl. He has an overall record of 2811 in his three seasons at Louisiana with three Sun Belt West Division titles and three straight bowl game appearances. Pittman completed his first season as head coach at Arkansas in 2020. He arrived in Fayetteville after a 32-year coaching career that took him from the high school level to Football Bowl Subdivision football. Pittman is considered one of the best offensive line coaches in the country.
24 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
Pitt’s Randy Bates Named 2020 AFCA FBS Assistant Coach Of The Year
The AFCA is proud to announce Pittsburgh’s Randy Bates as the 2020 AFCA FBS Assistant Coach of the Year. A total of 26 nominees from Football Bowl Subdivision were nominated in 2020 for their dedication to their teams and communities. Bates has been the defensive coordinator at Pitt for the past three seasons and has turned the Panthers into one of the best run-stopping units in the country. He has also helped produce several All-Americans during his short time in Pittsburgh and the defense has been ranked in the Top 20 overall for a second consecutive season. Bates arrived at Pitt after spending 12 years as the linebackers coach at Northwestern. Prior to that, he spent six seasons at Louisiana Tech, coaching all defensive positions before moving to defensive coordinator in 2005. Bates began his coaching career at Muskingum in 1982 as an assistant offensive line coach. He moved on as a graduate assistant at Miami (Ohio) in 1983 before becoming the defensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator at St. Joseph’s (Ind.) in 1984. Bates spent five seasons at St. Joseph’s before landing at Navy in 1989 as linebackers and defensive backs coach. After three years with the Midshipmen, Bates went to New Hampshire as linebackers coach in 1992 until 1997. Bates is a 35-year member of the AFCA and currently serves on the AFCA FBS Assistant Coaches Committee. He is a retired Naval Lieutenant who visits the local Veterans Affairs Hospital and buys more than 100 tickets annually to Pitt football games so area veterans can attend.
We Are AFCA
AFCA Corporate Partner, Convention Sponsor and Premium Supplier Index
Dynamic Fitness & Strength
11120 Grader Street, Dallas, TX 75238 www.all-starinflatables.com All-Star Inflatables is a premier custom manufacturer of cold air inflatables. We specialize in inflatable team spirit tunnels, inflatable helmets, inflatable mascots, bounce houses, inflatable games, and inflatable advertising. See our ad on page 27
Center for Sport at Tulane University - Tulane School of Professional Advancement
1415 Tulane Ave., HC-29, New Orleans, LA 70112 centerforsport.tulane.edu The positive impact of sport reaches far beyond the field of play. The Center for Sport is devoted to studying, supporting and achieving in all areas where sport engages people — on the field of play, in human health and professional careers, and in our community. See our ad on pages 9, 35
2020 Prairie Lane, Eau Claire, WI 54703 www.mydynamicfitness.com Make no mistake — Dynamic Fitness & Strength is committed to excellence. Each piece of equipment we make is a badge of pride for everyone on our team, and the basis for our goal to exceed your highest expectations. It’s time your strength and conditioning equipment matched your drive and your passion. See our ad on page 37
Allstate AFCA Corporate Partner
2775 Sanders Road, Northbrook, IL 60062 www.allstate.com For more than 85 years, we’ve been protecting customers from life’s uncertainties and preparing them for the future. Learn about Allstate, from our products and programs to our people and philosophy. Allstate is the sponsor of the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. See our ad on page 46
2680 Abutment Road, Dalton, GA 30721 www.astroturf.com Since 1965, the AstroTurf brand has been driven by forward thinking ingenuity. Today AstroTurf continuously improves its system design to deliver playing surfaces with the most realistic, sport-specific performance, longest lasting durability, and sound player protection. See our ad on pages 18, 19
B Sport Lockers
4880 North Cable Rd, Elida, OH 45807 www.bsportlockers.com At B Sport Lockers, we know the importance that your Locker Room plays in convincing top recruits to sign with you. Let B Sport Lockers bring the WOW to your locker room that will take your program to the next level. See our ad on page 24
181 Ballardvale Street, Wilmington, MA 01887 www.catapultsports.com Catapult exists to build and improve the performance of athletes and teams at all levels of sport. See our ad on pages 46, 51
3044 Adriatic Court, Peachtree Corners, GA 30071 www.guardiansports.com At Guardian Sports we have a true passion for protecting athletes, and we aim to continually develop technologies that can enhance sports equipment. Our goal remains the same: advance technologies to bridge the gap between the products that athletes deserve/need and what is currently available on the market.
1875 Marcia Overlook Drive, Cumming, GA 30041 www.championshipanalytics.com Championship Analytics Inc. was founded in Atlanta in 2011 with the goal of integrating world-class analytics with a coach’s insight to take the guesswork out of in-game decision making. We invented and patented the CAI Game Book, a first of it’s kind playbook that delivers the proper decision for any scenario from the opening kick to the end of the game, customized for the match-up, no computer required. See our ad on page 32
Fellowship Of Christian Athletes AFCA Convention Gold Sponsor
8701 Leeds Road, Kansas City, MO 64219 www.fca.org The Fellowship of Christian Athletes is a community working to see the world transformed by Jesus Christ through the influence of coaches and athletes.
FieldTurf AFCA Convention Gold Sponsor
CoachComm AFCA Convention Gold Sponsor
205 Technology Parkway, Auburn, AL 36830 www.coachcomm.com At every level, from high school to professional, champions choose CoachComm for their coaching communications. Innovative products along with 28+ years of experience and expertise are what teams demand and what CoachComm delivers. When your game depends on communication, trust the proven leader with proven solutions. See our ad on page 5
4969 US Highway 42, Suite 1200, Louisville, KY 40222 advisor.morganstanley.com/the-derbycity-group As The Derby City Group at Morgan Stanley, we are a dedicated team of financial advisors who share the common goal of providing outstanding advice and service, while helping you achieve your specific wealth management goals.
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1515 11th Street N, Humboldt, IA 50548 www.hadarathletic.com Hadar Athletic is a leading domestic sporting goods manufacturer excelling in new product development and technologies daily. See our ad on pages 22, 23
Just Play Sports Solutions
7445 Cole-de-Lesse Road, Suite 200, Montreal, QC H4T 1G2 www.fieldturf.com FieldTurf is a world leader in artificial turf installations at 16 NFL facilities and over 1500 elite NCAA programs.
The Derby City Group At Morgan Stanley
Catapult AFCA Corporate Partner
Guardian Sports AFCA Convention Bronze Sponsor
1828 Walnut Street, Suite 300, Kansas City, MO 64108 www.justplaysolutions.com From our easy-to-use digital tools for building playbooks and diagramming plays, to providing automated statistics and in-depth analytics at the collegiate and professional levels, Just Play software products will help any coach improve his or her preparation. See our ad on page 43
2963 Pleasant Hill Rd., Duluth, GA 30096 www.formetco.com Home of the better LED video scoreboard. View our outdoor and indoor LED video scoreboards and scoring solutions. Our easy to use software offers multiple sports support, device control and more! See our ad on page 15
Kay Park Recreation
1301 Pine Street, Janesville, IA 50647 www.kaypark.com Kay Park Recreation has been a manufacturer of commercial outdoor furniture for schools and universities since 1954. Our products are visually appealing, high-quality, long-lasting and do not require a lot of maintenance. We can deliver them directly to you in a timely manner and provide budget-friendly prices. See our ad on page 39
670 SW 15th St, Forest Lake, MN 55025 www.geargrid.com GearGrid offers a full line of equipment handling and storage solutions to create a unified look, function and quality standard throughout athletic facilities. All GearGrid systems offer complete modularity, which allows them to be utilized in a variety of different ways to meet your exact storage needs. See our ad on page 21
PO Box 5167, Bozeman, MT 59717 www.laundryloops.com Laundry Loops allow clothes to wash and dry as if they were loose, but stay sorted throughout the laundry process. This eliminates the need to sort garments as they come out of the dryer, minimizing lost items. Compared to the mesh bag method, Laundry Loops allow clothes to get thoroughly clean and cut drying time, energy consumption and utility costs in half. See our ad on page 32
AFCA Corporate Partner, Convention Sponsor and Premium Supplier Index
401 Jim Moran Blvd., Deerfield Beach, FL 33442 www.listindustries.com Lockers, Cabinets And Shelving: We have the perfect storage solution for your space. No matter your environment — school, office, gym, arena, indoor or outdoor, we have the ideal locker to get the job done. See our ad on pages 12, 13
The Right Stuff by Wellness Brands
6525 Gunpark Drive, Suite 370, Boulder, CO 80301 www.therightstuff-usa.com The Right Stuff consists of a sugar-free, high-concentration blend of specific electrolytes, specifically developed and qualified by NASA for the astronauts. One of the keys to the formula is sodium citrate which acts as a GI buffer to protect against GI distress, which is common with other sports drinks. See our ad on page 47
Shaw Sports Turf AFCA Convention Silver Sponsor
185 South Industrial Blvd., Calhoun, GA 30701 www.shawsportsturf.com A leading synthetic turf company in North America, Shaw Sports Turf has demonstrated industry leadership in both quality and innovation for more than two decades with thousands of successful installations, and an impressive list of high-profile customers. Engineered for performance and safety, Shaw Sports Turf features a product line designed specifically to meet the needs of athletes and sports programs.
Vokkero AFCA Convention Silver Sponsor
25 Main Street, 3rd Floor, Tuckahoe, NY 10707 www.vokkerousa.com Vokkero is the global leader of wireless communication solutions for the sports industry. In the US, Vokkero products are used by all major pro and Division I, football and soccer officiating crews. In 2018, Vokkero launched C2C , a sideline communication system for football coaches using the same proven technology to deliver the highest quality audio communication.
3611 Commercial Avenue, Northbrook, IL 60062 www.minxray.com MinXray’s powerful, compact radiographic imaging systems provide the latest in digital technology and are an excellent aid to assist in the diagnosis of sports related injuries and as an available tool for other medical screenings. See our ad on page 38
290 Junction Street, Berlin, WI 54923 www.riponathletic.com Ripon Athletic is a custom manufacturer of jackets and uniforms, Made in the U.S.A. for team sports apparel. Product lines are sold and serviced through sales representatives and approved team sporting good dealers. See our ad on page 7
National Football League AFCA Corporate Partner
345 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10154 www.nfl.com Home of the National Football League See our ad on page 46
495 Pioneer Parkway, Clare, MI 48617 www.rogersathletic.com Since 1968, football coaches have trained youth, high school, college and professional champions by making Rogers Athletic training on-field and strength and conditioning equipment an important part of their programs.
Royal Basket Trucks
201 Badger Parkway, Darien, WI 53114 www.royalbasket.com Royal Basket carts are durable, welldesigned containers on wheels offering an excellent solution for collecting, sorting, storing and moving all types of sports equipment. That includes laundry in both wet and dry environments. See our ad on page 33
1731 Timber Hills Drive, DeLand, FL 32724 www.qwikcut.com Powerful and feature-packed, QwikCut is built to give your team the competitive edge you’ve been looking for. Access your games and data anywhere, anytime, on your browser or with your smartphone. See our ad on page 17
1450 Janesville Ave., Fort Atkinson, WI 53538 www.spacesaver.com At every level — from K-12 to collegiate to professional — we’ve designed sports equipment storage solutions for some of the most renowned athletic programs in the country. Whether you’re working with a small storage closet or a state of the art athletic facility, we offer the right solutions to keep your gear protected, organized, and accessible so your equipment room can represent your program the way it deserves. See our ad on page 31
Rogers Athletic Company AFCA Convention Silver Sponsor
Porta Phone AFCA Convention Bronze Sponsor
145 Dean Knauss Drive, Narrangansett, RI 02882 www.portaphone.com Football Coaching Communication Systems See our ad on page 11
Werner Ladder AFCA Corporate Partner
Xenith AFCA Convention Gold Sponsor Sports Attack AFCA Convention Gold Sponosr
PO Box 1529, Verdi, NV 89439 www.sportsattack.com Designed by football coaches, the Snap Attack football training machine is a snap, pass and kick machine that will maximize your time on the most difficult to practice phases of the game. The Snap Attack football machine’s solid polyurethane throwing wheels firmly grip the ball for an accurate spin. The wheel guards protect arms from potential wheel burns as well as help to keep the wheels as dry as possible in inclement weather. See our ad on pages 2, 3
3330 Cobb Parkway NW, Suite 324-380, Acworth, GA 30101 www.turftank.com Turf Tank ONE is an intelligent field painter robot designed to mark all types of sport fields easier, faster, and more efficiently. See our ad on page 4
2901 Armory Road, Las Cruces, NM 88007 www.samsonequipment.com Elite manufacturer of custom, heavy duty weight training equipment. See our ad on page 52
USA Today AFCA Corporate Partner
7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA 22107 www.usatoday.com/sports Our technology eliminates the need for an operator while increasing precision and sustainability. See our ad on page 46
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1201 Woodward Avenue, Floor 5, Detroit, MI 48226 www.xenith.com Driven by a relentless pursuit to change the game, Xenith is committed to groundbreaking innovation and product design. Our products are designed for you and your needs as an athlete to enable success on and off the playing field. It is in our DNA. It is rooted in our history. And it will forge our future.
Zoombang AFCA Convention Silver Sponsor
Samson Equipment Company
555 Pierce Road, Suite 300, Itasca, IL 60143 www.wernerco.com Werner, a WernerCo brand and the world leader in ladders, offers a complete line of climbing products designed for working at heights. The portfolio includes ladders, attic ladders, scaffolding, pump jacks, stages, planks, step stools, accessories and fall protection equipment including harnesses, lanyards, anchors and compliance kits. From ladders to fall protection, Werner provides a full line of climbing equipment that’s engineered to give you maximum safety, durability, and productivity at every height. See our ad on page 46
26947 Katy Freeway, Katy, TX 77494 www.zoombang.com Zoombang Protective Gear was developed through a collaborative effort with some of the most respected professional trainers, equipment managers and athletes. Zoombang polymers, being fluid-like at rest, will easily conform to the individual player’s anatomy and help fill voids between the athlete and traditional hard shell equipment. The result is an overall equipment fit that was previously impossible to achieve.
Don’t Get Ready, Stay Ready By Adam Reed
Equipment managers have long been used to changing their well-laid plans without notice. For them, it’s nothing new. “We don’t live in the world of rainbows and butterflies and sunshine,” Chuck Hall, director of equipment operations at the University of Louisville, says. “We live in the world of, ‘Is it going to snow today? Is there going to be a twister tomorrow? Is there going to be a hurricane a week from now?’ We live in the land of what-ifs. “Time is critical because you’re trying to plan six, nine, 12 months out into the year of what could happen. Plan for the best, but know that the worst could happen.” When the worst did in fact happen one year ago, equipment managers attacked the process of keeping their football program on the rails proactively, with a mindset born of constantly asking questions no one else wants to consider. What’s training camp going to look like if we have to hold it in January? How are we going to share an indoor facility with all the other sports that are kicking up at the same time as the football training camp? If we have to play during the coldest months of the year, are we going to need to rent heaters? What do they cost? What about heated benches? Will any of our suppliers be shut down for a meaningful period of time? Do we need to get on the waiting list anywhere to make sure that we have reserves? The list goes on and on. For Dana Marquez, associate athletic director in charge of equipment operations at Auburn University, handling these constant “what-ifs” boils down to the three pillars he’s built their department on: service, education and innovation. “Not having people around because of COVID required time management, making sure people can get in and out of here in a very time efficient manner, and making sure 30 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
inventory was up to speed quickly without any waste of movement,” Marquez explains, summarizing how those pillars were mobilized, enabling his staff to handle even a situation as unusual as a 100-year pandemic. “It was no more evident than this year that those three pillars meant everything to us, and it worked exactly how we planned it,” he adds. From the equipment manager’s perspective, it would be easy to look at the challenges of a highly-infectious virus and assume that health and sanitation were the only real concerns. In reality, the pandemic has shown everyone in athletics how valuable the proactive mindset of the equipment manager is, and that it’s well past time to start looking at the bigger picture. “If you look at the industry that we’re in, athletics in general is a very reactive community,” Marquez explains. “It was ironic because I got asked early on, ‘Dana, do you guys have an ozone chamber?’ I go, ‘I have two of them, and I bought them in 2006.’ “But that’s what the equipment guy does. Prepare for the unexpected, right? The people that are prepared can do it. The people that aren’t scramble and get frustrated.”
Investing In Inventory
First and foremost, equipment managers need to be in supreme command of their inventory. An accurate knowledge of how old inventory is, understanding what equipment they are storing they no longer need, and being aware of any existing surplus are all a huge part of being able to stay ahead of potential supply problems. “We’re so used to our vendors being on time with items and not having any supply chain issues,” Ben Herman, assistant athletic director for equipment operations at Eastern Michigan University, says. “Just to go through this experience, we now have to make plan B, C and D to try to
EQUIPMENT MANAGEMENT make sure that the team doesn’t miss a hitch or doesn’t really feel the effects.” Herman says the pandemic was a good reminder for his staff about the value of reaching out to vendors early and often, making sure everything looks good on their end. On the program’s end, Herman and his staff use FR TRAC, an inventory management solution provided by Front Rush. “How do you place a booking order unless you know exactly what you have?” Herman asks. “What really having the storage and having an inventory system does for you, is basically, on your computer you can see exactly what you have on the shelf.” Herman isn’t alone in using modern technology to track his inventory. Hall uses Equipment Ops software by Helmet Tracker at Louisville. “I can sit here from the director’s chair and I can see every bit of inventory value of what we have on hand, no matter what sport or department it is in,” Hall explains about the Helmet Tracker system. “During a pandemic, not being able to get all the supplies you need, you can share that information with one another a lot easier, when you know what everybody has.” Not only does the football program benefit from the system, but the accurate reports and accounting for every piece of gear pays dividends for every program at the school,
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allowing certain commonly used items to be shared where appropriate, and giving the director a constant overview of where the entire program’s supply levels are at.
Creating Safe Spaces
Understanding inventory is a critical first step, but how do you store everything? When it comes to being prepared for anything, the answer to this question becomes absolutely critical. Not only does the proactive equipment manager strive to be efficient and organized with their storage, they place a premium on having flexibility with how space and personnel are utilized. At Louisville, the equipment staff benefits from a large warehouse, but even with that benefit, they still rely on Spacesaver to help them maximize their efficiency and flexibility. “We use Spacesaver here in everything we do, in all our buildings, our warehouses, on our shelving,” Hall says. “Fortunately, using them, we are able to maximize the area that we have.” With all the extra cleaning procedures every day, and the regulations on the number of people who are allowed in a given space at one time, being able to manage equipment with as few personnel as possible is huge. For example, Auburn went from one shared locker room to having three, separate rooms with multiple smaller groups
EQUIPMENT MANAGEMENT of athletes coming in and out much quicker than ever before, while at the same time also trying to maintain six feet of distance at all times. With challenges like that, it’s important to maintain a constant grasp on how much space you have, and how you can compress or expand as needed.
Sanitation in 2021
Lastly, if it isn’t clear already, sanitation concerns are here to stay. The challenges of COVID-19 show the harsh reality of how many programs are wholly unprepared to handle an outbreak of infectious disease. When sickness does strike, whether it be a deadly novel virus or the common cold, the level of preparedness of the equipment staff will quickly be revealed. “We had Lysol when no one else had Lysol. We still have Lysol and no one can find Lysol,” Marquez says with a chuckle. “We did all of our ordering of all of our sanitation equipment in March before it really broke. By the tail end of the year, we were almost back to normal. The sanitation was still consistent. We were in a flow, we already knew what we were doing.” Marquez adds stockpiling items like disinfectant spray, masks, gloves or static electric sprayers wasn’t out of the ordinary for Auburn. He has watched as other programs struggled to find solutions during the pandemic, especially at the high school level.
“High schools are 100 percent not even close to being where they need to be now,” he says, adding that coaches and equipment managers should invest in their own sanitizing and cleaning equipment, and set themselves up for both a cheaper short-term solution and long‑term preparedness. Hall’s staff at Louisville takes a similar, self-sufficient approach, and he also echoes Marquez’ praise of ozone machines, which provide a quick, reliable way to sanitize large quantities of equipment with minimal labor. “We have the sprayers, but I tell you, the biggest one, if you can afford it and you can do it, find an ozone machine,” Hall says. “It just helps with every kind of disease that’s out there. It helps keep your locker room clean and disinfected, and that’s the number one thing.” “There are a lot of great ones,” says Herman. “But for us, with the ZONO, we really liked where you open the cabinet doors, roll stuff in on carts that are pre-staged and then you roll them out. For us, not having to load each individual helmet in and then load it out — it doesn’t seem like it would be a big deal — but it’s just a huge time saver. “We can get everyone’s helmets sanitized and dried in two cycles. While the first one’s going, we can go around the locker room, grab the rest, fill up those carts, and then we’re just doing the swap. It seems simple, but it sets your mind at ease. We use it daily.”
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Six Top Controllables For Strength Coaches As strength and conditioning coaches find themselves in a spin-cycle of conducting training during constantly changing circumstances, it can be frustrating to focus on the many aspects of the job they can no longer control. In this article, current Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches association (CSCCa) leadership reminds coaches of all the ways they can still make a positive impact. By Adam Reed
Coaches have all seen (and probably shared on social “normal people” wonder just how much coffee they must media) a list of those things every player can always be in be consuming. control of no matter the circumstances. The list for coaches has more to do with big-picture Attitude. Effort. Discipline. Punctuality. concerns. While the effects of the pandemic rob them of The list goes on. It’s the structure, routine, so popular because and quite frequently, of the obvious truths the equipment they it conveys, but also are used to relying on, because athletes need the real challenge this “It’s about instilling that you value to be reminded of those tumultuous time brings truths often. is how these obvious, people and what they have to say So too, do physical challenges have their coaches. drawn focus away from even if you disagree with it. As a Coaches — what makes a strength specifically strength and and conditioning coach leader, you should be truthful and conditioning coaches a true force multiplier. — are human too, and In the spirit of honest, but also understand that they also struggle with controlling what can be trying to control those controlled, below is a some just need to be heard...” things that are beyond list of strength-coaching their ability to impact. controllables that do not The list in their case is depend on circumstance. much different, as most Each aspect goes handstrength coaches are bastions of elite discipline, maximum in-hand with the others, and each is reinforced by the effort and having a positive attitude that makes most wisdom of two strength and conditioning coaches who have 34 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
Photo: RoadTripSports.com/Chuck Cox
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One of the most obvious ways in which athletic performance has changed over the last year boils down to how coaches connect with their athletes and other members of the staff. From the early days of learning how to leverage technology like Zoom, Skype or FaceTime, to finding new ways to navigate in-person training within the guidelines of local safety restrictions, coaches have been challenged to connect because of the circumstances surrounding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. They have been challenged, but not relieved of their responsibility to do so. According to CSCCa President Ethan Reeve, it’s important for coaches to continue to take an active role in leveraging these methods to stay plugged into their staff’s and Ethan Reeve athletes’ lives. “I think a lot of us have made those connections and stayed in touch,” Reeve says. “Something that we did that I really liked, now, with the Zoom meetings, we had assignments with our interns to go out and reach out to different strength coaches and then come back and share those ideas. And that worked really well.” Such a seemingly small exercise like this can make a world of difference when months of video calls start to all blur into one. Some programs have athletes and coaches who are checking in or showing face, but there is minimal connection. Though no small task, it’s important to realize that with today’s modern technology and a little bit of extra effort, there really is no excuse for failing to make real connections. Also, of note, Reeve practices what he preaches, with an open invitation to anyone in the profession who needs advice on this, or any other aspect of coaching. “Any strength coach can call me or email me, I’m here to help out in any way,” Reeve says. “We’re here to help and we’re here to listen.”
Listening probably feels a bit obvious for this list, but again, when virtual meetings and checking in becomes the norm, normally sincere conversations can easily slip into the category of white noise. 36 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
For CSCCa Vice President and University of Alabama at Birmingham Director of Athletic Performance for Olympic Sports, Stacey Torman, it’s impossible to be a good leader as a strength and conditioning coach without Stacey Torman being a good listener. “It’s about instilling that you value people and what they have to say even if you disagree with it,” Torman says. “As a leader, you should be truthful and honest, but also understand that some just need to be heard.” Listening during periods of distance can be daunting. When normal control measures are removed, coaches tend to want to dictate more instructions, guidelines and fail-safes in an attempt to overcorrect. Torman’s message of maintaining integrity in outward communication while also placing emphasis on the value of the communication coming in, speaks to the savvy of a veteran coach who has been stuck in the middle of tough situations for nearly three decades.
Reeve has quite a long career of overcoming challenges to fall back on as well. The current director of athletic performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga had stops at Tennessee, Oklahoma State, Ohio and Clemson, before spending 16 years at Wake Forest. With all that experience, what’s the word that kept coming up over and over as he looked to share with coaches where their priority should be during a particularly challenging time? Care. “I’ve made mistakes in my approach, but I’ve done this for 44 years, and I wouldn’t be here today if my approach wasn’t somewhat successful,” Reeve explains, before explaining the bottom line of why his approach has kept him in the profession so long. “That approach of listening and caring about the coach and caring about the athletes has got to come through.” Caring doesn’t speak to the gritty, hard-nosed, bluecollar identity most coaches want for their strength and conditioning program. Reeve certainly appreciates these qualities and strives to instill them at UTC, but after a long career, he sees caring as the true gateway to unlocking them. “We are not having pizza parties in our weight rooms,” Reeve clarifies. “We are helping kids become great through good discipline and great effort. We want them
ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE to work hard and get the most out of them — but it’s [effective] because we do all those things that show we care.” Now more than ever, athletes need to know their coaches care more about them as a person than they are concerned for their potential contributions as an athlete. Ironically, when those priorities are straight, coaches will achieve an unparalleled level of buy-in that could take the whole program to another level.
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Set The Example
The previous point may lead coaches to wonder, “How do I demonstrate to my athletes how much I care?” Assuming of course that coaches really do care, conveying their care becomes simple, but far from easy. Coaches must demonstrate care by their own example — each and every day. “The big thing is to be a good role model,” Reeve explains. “You come in to work every day and you get after it and give your best effort. The kids see that. “They can see it right away as you write their workouts and put them up on the board for them and you coach them and you’re paying attention to them. I think those things are so important. Then the word gets out, that the coaches really care about them.” Since the early days of strength and conditioning, coaches have admonished athletes to let their hard work do the talking and reap the rewards in all aspects of life. Taking a little extra time to model this approach manifests in the way coaches communicate with athletes and go the extra mile to set them up for success. It remains a foundational element of being the type of coach who puts others first — an attribute which is an absolute must during a time of transition when focusing
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solely on yourself can lead to an exhausted, lonely place, where coaches are of no help to anyone.
Along those same lines, the willingness to put others first doesn’t end with the studentathletes. In fact, many strength and conditioning coaches find this part of the job comes easiest to them. What often proves to be far more challenging, is having the same servant’s heart and caring approach when it comes to other coaches. “Coaches are so busy with their own game plans and the pressure to keep their job,” Torman says. “You approach it as a strength coach by saying, ‘I am here to help you.’ With subjects like return-toplay protocols, it’s so important to have these conversations with them, without saying ‘Hey, you need to do this.’ “They do need to do it, for the health and well-being of the student‑athletes. It’s extremely important. Kids can die from it being mishandled. It’s just the demeanor and approach. Don’t go in there blazing with your opinions first.” Tempers understandably flare when the issue being discussed could cost an athlete his life, but even in this circumstance, coaches would benefit from trying to put themselves in their peer’s shoes, and at least begin the conversation with an open mind, from the premise that everyone ultimately wants to reach the same goals. From here, coaches can much more easily find common ground, applying the same active listening and genuine care they would with their athletes, to try and be an ally and not just an advocate for their own deeply held beliefs.
Of course, reality continues to rear its ugly head as coaches are forced to make business decisions about the welfare of their athletes. The example Torman gives in the previous point is no accident, as strength coaches have been tempted to bend the rules regarding safety. Coming back too soon or too fast from periods of inactivity — with or without having tested positive for COVID-19 — should be a no-go that’s not up for debate. Yet many coaches are giving into that temptation, and the end result can be damning for everyone involved. Fittingly, in June of 2019, the CSCCa and the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), issued a landmark consensus guidelines paper designed to protect athletes
returning to training during what are known as “transition periods” following inactivity. Before the words “novel coronavirus” were a part of coaches’ vocabulary, the groundwork was done to protect athletes from unnecessary injuries and yes — even death. With this wonderful resource based on thorough research and having been rigorously vetted by Master Strength and Conditioning Coaches and leading sports-medical experts alike, the onus now falls on the individual strength and conditioning coach to follow these guidelines to their every detail. In a world rife with constant change and a fog of uncertainty about the future, no strength and conditioning coach should be guessing at if their approach to training will put athletes at risk. This is especially true considering that history tells us that most
catastrophic, life threatening injuries in sports occur during practices or training sessions while athletes are still in a period of transition back to rigorous training. Ignoring these guidelines, or remaining willfully ignorant of them, is inexcusable. If one thing stands out as a worthy goal for navigating the challenges of this ongoing pandemic, it should be for each and every athlete to come out of this as healthy as possible. Much of what determines if that goal will be reached, is absolutely within the strength and conditioning coach’s control. As vaccines become more widely disseminated and the country looks to turn a corner toward a bright new future, this is no time for complacency. We’ve come too far to take backward steps and potentially endanger the lives of those we’re bound to protect.
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Tops In His Field The Werner Ladder AFCA FBS Coach of the Year Award is presented annually to the FBS coach whose ability to positively shape his program and his athletes has garnered the utmost respect from his peers across the nation.
When Werner Ladder became the title sponsor of the AFCA FBS Regional and National Coach of the Year Awards in August 2019, they stepped up to support a tradition that’s been around since 1935. This particular coach of the year award is unique and prestigious in all of sports, because it’s one way coaches can honor the best of the best in their profession. After all, the award is voted on entirely by coaches. To give you a sense of the respect derived from the Werner Ladder AFCA FBS National Coach of the Year, you need look no farther than some of the names to recently adorn the trophy: Gary Patterson (TCU), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame), Dabo Swinney (Clemson), Ed Orgeron (LSU), David Cutcliffe (Duke), Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Barry Alvarez (Wisconsin), Les Miles (LSU), Chip Kelly (Oregon), and Kyle Wittingham (Utah). The list of outstanding coaches to win the award goes on and on. While Werner Ladder is most certainly the world leader in ladders, with a complete line of climbing products designed for working at heights, the heights to which these award winners have climbed are a testament to their character, work ethic and devotion to the studentathletes and institutions they serve. At the 2021 AFCA Virtual Tom Allen Convention, the association named Indiana University’s Tom Allen the 2020 Werner Ladder AFCA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) National Coach of the Year. He now joins the all-time list of award winners voted upon by their peers as the best of the best in college football coaching, having bested four other regional finalists for the award, including Luke Fickell (Cincinnati), Jamey Chadwell (Coastal Carolina), Doc Holliday (Marshall) and Brent Brennan (San Jose State). Allen is the third Indiana head coach to earn Werner Ladder AFCA FBS National Coach of the Year honors. The other two were Bo McMillin in 1945 and John Pont in 1967. “Werner is once again excited to be the sponsor and associated with such a prestigious award,” said Stacy Gardella, vice president of brand marketing at WernerCo. “Coach Allen led Indiana to one of its greatest seasons in 2020 as the Hoosiers ‘stepped up’ to every challenge they faced.”
Climbing The Ladder
Earning the title of Werner Ladder AFCA FBS National Coach of the Year is no simple feat. It should be noted that — unlike many awards given to successful coaches every year — this award isn’t necessarily given to the winner of the national championship. The standards for winning are typically quite different from just winning it all. 40 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
Coaches know how difficult it is to achieve success within a football program, and the elements that combine to create a successful program can vary from one program to the next. Certainly, winning is crucial to success, but so is building a phoenix that rises from the ashes, improving GPA and graduation rates, successfully establishing a healthy program culture where one didn’t previously exist, and more. “Especially at the FBS level, the coach who usually wins the award is somebody who had a great season, and maybe hadn’t had a great season in the previous two, three, four or five years,” says Vince Thompson, Director of Media Relations for AFCA. “Every now and then, the person that wins it all gets coach of the year, but more often than not, it’s the guy who comes out of nowhere and has a great season, wins his conference championship, has the most wins in school history or improves to a level not seen in 20 years, for example. Coaches tend to reward that sort of program-building with their votes.”
Building The Foundation
As the years have gone on and more coaches have won the Werner Ladder AFCA FBS National Coach of the Year Award, it’s important to note what those coaches have meant to the game of football. Sure, there’s a certain amount of celebrity or notoriety that comes with winning such an award, but what’s even more important is the foundation laid by these incomparable leaders of men. Even a brief scan of the winners over the last 85 years reveals a who’s who among men who define the foundation upon which this great game is built. These are men who need no introduction, with names like Amos Alonzo Stagg, Frank Leahy, Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Paul “Bear” Bryant, John McKay, Darrell Royal, Tom Osborne, Gene Stallings, Johnny Majors, Vince Dooley, LaVell Edwards, Charlie McClendon and Grant Teaff. “Those are the guys who built our association and built college football,” says Thompson. “The popularity that college football enjoys today is built on the history of those great teams and those great coaches. “It’s part of the reason this award means so much to the winners and the voters. This award is voted on by adversaries on the football field, guys who know the winners, who know how they coach and what it takes to win. From 1935 to 2020, the award winners are the ones who overcome the most significant challenges, and when their peers say, ‘This guy is the best,’ it carries a lot of weight and it really means so much more.”
CHALK TALK | OFFENSE
Running The Duo At San Diego By Tyler Sutton, Offensive Coordinator, University of San Diego
The Duo Play made its debut in the University of San Diego offense during spring practice in 2017. As a staff, we decided the best way for the play to succeed at USD was to combine gap and zone techniques for the play. Duo fits well in our system for multiple reasons: simple rules, all-around versatility, and the physical mindset it manifests throughout every offensive position group. Duo gives us a great opportunity to impose our will on defenses with two and sometimes three double teams on the line of scrimmage (LOS). As an offense, we take pride in dominating first-level defenders from the start. This mindset allows for 3 or 4 yards early in the game to become 7 or 8 yards as those double teams begin to take their toll. Our running backs love Duo! The thick, front-side double teams allow our backs time to press the LOS with patience, allowing them to see the big picture and make the appropriate read. Duo allows the running backs freedom to make their read and cut off of a second-level defender as opposed to first-level defender in zone schemes. The ball has the ability to hit anywhere, forcing the defense to be gap sound. If the defense properly fits the run, the ball can still bounce, giving us a great one-on-one matchup versus a potentially uninterested defensive back.
Simplifying the base rules of Duo allows us to run the play from multiple personnel groupings and formations. Shifts and motion gain desired leverage and matchups at the point of attack. The simplicity allows us freedom to have several different body types execute the critical front-side blocks at the LOS. Defenses have to be ready to defend the Duo play versus any personnel grouping we have in the game. The evolution into combining gap and zone principles has made it possible to keep two double teams front side while blocking most defensive fronts. Of course we prefer Duo to what we think is the premium look, but calling Duo rarely results in negative yards. In just shy of 100 attempts in the past three seasons, we’ve only had five plays go for negative yards. We originally combine the front-side gap techniques and the back-side zone techniques for the purpose of having to Diagram 1
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practice against our defense. Our defense plays linebackers at about 3.5 yards and fill aggressively when reading run at them. Instead of coaching the backside guard to rock back into the shade and ricochet off the weak-side linebacker, we coached the center and guard to run a combo with tight zone footwork, allowing the guard to better handle weak-side run through. This allows us to rep the play versus our defense in training camp, but we must coach to develop the patience players need to stay on the double teams longer against teams with hanging second-level defenders. As shown in Diagram 1, we use different terminology for the front-side and back-side double teams.
Offensive Line Concepts In Duo
Our blocking schemes are determined by identification system. The center declares the “Mike Point” (MP). Back Side — The center’s double team is responsible for the MP in Duo; the first linebacker in the box away from the call side. We use letters (A,B,C,D) to differentiate our zone combinations, as shown with the A combo in Diagram 1. Against a four-down, over front, the center and back side guard, using tight zone footwork, will violently double team the nose guard to the MP (the weak-side linebacker). They must be ready to come off quickly to collect the weak-side linebacker, pulling the trigger in a backside gap or scraping over the top. The back-side tackle will base block out on the defensive end with no inside help. Front Side — Our goal is to be much thicker and vertical with our double-teams on the front side of the play. Against a four-down, over front, the front-side guard and tackle will blow up the defensive tackle (3 technique) with a doubleteam, taking him to their linebacker. This double-team will be a slightly more vertical angle than a normal double team in power because this double team is working to the true middle linebacker (+1 from the MP). As shown in Diagram 1, we tag “plug” in front of the front-side double teams to differentiate the more thick and vertical technique. This double-team can use the gallop technique, or preferred gap footwork, to get shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-tohip displacing the front-side defensive linemen. The primary difference between the front-side and back-side double-team Diagram 3
CHALK TALK | OFFENSE is that the front-side double-team only needs to come off if their linebacker hits the inside gap immediately. If their linebacker hangs or flows over the top, they should continue getting movement on the first level and the running back will make them right.
At USD, we prefer to run Duo with a four-man surface on the front side, not counting the center. You can run to a threeman surface, but must have a way to control the SLB. We have primarily used a big skill player as the third man in the surface with the ability to use any position player as the fourth man. We know there will always be an exception to the rule, but without defenses getting too exotic to stop this particular play, we can tell our players with confidence that these rules will handle 99 percent of the looks we could see in a game. There are two overriding rules no matter the front: • Third man in the surface (extra offensive lineman, tight end or fullback) — responsible for blocking defensive end by himself, or in a double-team.
• Fourth man in the surface (tight end, fullback, wide receiver) — responsible for blocking the SLB by himself or in a double team. The blocks from our third and fourth players in the surface are the most critical to a successful play. Our teaching at USD has been slightly different with the third man’s technique while blocking the defensive end. When blocking a defensive end that is aligned inside of us (we call it a 6i), we’ve taught the third man to stay as square as possible through the block, working our eyes through the defensive end’s sternum to the inside jersey number. Another significant difference is our preference that the third man works for vertical movement instead of trying to kick the defensive end out. If we are playing a front that the defensive end aligns outside of the third man, we tell them to block the defensive end on the angle they find them.
stands: When in doubt, block the safety. We love our oneon-one matchup with our running back versus a cornerback in space.
Running Back Progression
Our running backs love Duo because it gives them freedom to take what the defense gives them without being crippled by rules. When running Duo, our running backs will use our normal gap footwork, whether under center or in the gun. The running back’s read is the Mike linebacker; we will make our cut away from where he fits. If the Mike fills his gap immediately, the running back will work to get vertical in a gap wider than the Mike’s fit. If the Mike hangs, or flows over the top, the running back will find a crease and bang it in between the tackles. If all the gaps are filled properly, the ball can bounce giving us a one-on-one matchup with the non-force defender. Our premium look for Duo is a three-down front with a 4i technique on the front side. Diagram 3 shows the freedom for our third man in the surface to step down to double team while clearing the C gap and climbing to second level with little to no resistance. The third man has a much more difficult job versus a four-down front where they are responsible for getting movement on the defensive end. We also love to run Duo from bunch and condensed alignments in order to give the running back even more space on the perimeter if the ball bounces.
Our receivers have completely bought into the team toughness it takes to successfully run the football. Shout out to former wide receivers coach Taylor Chapatte for getting that done, and to current wide receivers coach Chad Savage for continuing the tradition! Our wide receiver blocking rules have evolved as the receivers continually showed they could handle finding and blocking the force defender. In 2017-2018 we generated a Duo base wide receiver blocking rule. The play-side wide receiver was responsible for blocking the jersey number of the play-side safety. We evolved last season to having the play-side wide receiver block the most dangerous man (MDM) between SAF and CB. As Diagram 2 shows, the Z wide receiver can take any path needed to get to the force defender. This became more prevalent for us when we ran Duo out of condensed sets with defenses checking to an aggressive cloud technique on the play side. Now our wide receiver can block the cloud CB allowing us to run off of a deep-half, pass-first safety. At the end of the day, the overriding rule for the wide receiver AFCA.com | AFCA Magazine | March/April 2021 43
CHALK TALK | DEFENSE
Implementing A Defensive System That Is Multiple, But Simple By Danny Verpaele, Defensive Coordinator, Kennesaw State University
Over the last 50 years, football has constantly evolved. The rules have changed, and offenses are spreading the ball out and scoring more points in today’s games. Defenses have had to adjust and adapt to the new schemes, tempos and rules in order to keep up. As a defensive coach, I would love for the days of 10-7 final scores to return, but those are rare in the current game. Trends come and go, and seemingly do a full circle over time. Even though concepts continue to change and progress, some have withstood the test of time. A team has to be able to block and tackle. Offensively, a team has to score more than its opponent and ideally not turn over the ball. Defensively, a team must stop the offense and get the ball back. It is a pretty simple game, right? As coaches, we all wish it was that easy, but we know the game is more complex. There are strategy, schematics and psychology to consider. I have been a football junkie my entire life and enjoy the mental aspects of the sport. I love to continue to learn more about the game. Yet there is an aspect I firmly believe in, and it’s something that we cannot forget as coaches. It’s a simple creed: “Keep the main thing, the main thing.”
that your players study in depth and can execute flawlessly.
No matter what kind of defense or scheme you run, there are some aspects that are vital for success. Like many, I believe the 1985 Bears defense is one of the best all-time. I am sure I am slightly biased, with my parents and majority of my family growing up in Chicago, but that unit boasted three important qualities that I always look for when comparing great defenses: 1. Effort – Regardless of the scheme, you must have 11 players running to the ball with elite effort. Playing with fanatical energy and chasing the ball like your life depends on it will cover up a lot of mistakes and issues.
Multiple, But Simple
Three “Musts” Of A Great Defense
2. Buy-In – You must have players who are committed to what we are and to each other. 3. Identity – You must be able to identify your team’s strengths. Find the things your unit excels at and can execute in any situation. Look for go-to strategies that your players are confident in and know intrinsically.
Just like offenses, defenses have been forced to adapt over time to stop new trends. I often hear coaches say they run a 4-2-5 or a 3-4. As we all know, there are many different ways to reach the ultimate result: a win. With all the different types of defenses, there is often a lot of carryover from one to another. Yet there are only a certain number of coverages and fronts a defense can run, and no matter what, you must have something 44 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
Implementing Your System
The road to becoming a coordinator varies depending on your situation. You may be replacing someone who was fired or left for another job. Each scenario has its own challenges. In some instances, you may be taking over at a program that has not been very successful. Other times, it may be the complete opposite, like assuming the reigns somewhere with a rich history and high expectations. At both Valdosta State and Kennesaw State, I was promoted to coordinator from within. In each instance, it was vital for the team to feel comfortable and have a smooth transition. While players respond to changes in staff roles and/or a new coaching staff, I made it a goal to keep the learning curve short and sweet. It was imperative to keep the verbiage the same or similar to what players already know so they can adjust quickly and respond seamlessly. Making it yours, while still holding onto what helps your players be efficient and successful allows the team to adapt. Regardless of your circumstance, you are inheriting a group of players. As a staff, you must assess the personnel and see what fits their strengths. I believe in having a defense that is multiple, but that’s also simple for the players to execute. Offenses today are wellversed in their systems. If your defense is predictable, the offense will be successful attacking you. You must give the offense different looks and keep them guessing with what-ifs. When we install our defense, we want to build off of our base front and coverage, which will be our foundation. These base alignments and rules are crucial for the infrastructure of the defense. From that structure, we get into different looks, fronts and variations of coverages. There must be carryover and “same as” in these different looks. We want to give our players base rules that they can stick to regardless of the various sets opposing offenses will show. When we add new fronts or move from one to another, it is vital that the fits stay the same as much as possible for the linebackers. How much we know as coaches is worthless if our players are unable to implement it. Our job is to take something that might be complicated and make it simple for our players to understand. (Diagram 1 and Diagram 2)
Growing As Teachers
Our job as coaches is to be efficient teachers and mentors. We must get our players to understand many different things. Everyone processes information differently and as coaches, we must identify how each player learns to find the
CHALK TALK | DEFENSE Diagram 1
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CHALK TALK | DEFENSE best ways to allow players to access and comprehend what we are teaching. There are the four basic types of learning: 1. Visual – Diagrams, presentations, playbooks, videos. 2. Auditory – Questions, teaching, speaking. 3. Kinesthetic – Walk-through, repetition, drills.
4. Reading/Writing – Drawing plays, tests to recap, summarize.
Ability To Adapt
When we put in our defenses and organize our installs, it should vary depending on the type of players we have and what their strengths are. Every year, the players change, and you need to be able to adjust what you do based on the players. You do not want to force a square peg into a round hole. We build our playbook and system so that we can do a variety of things, but we also understand that we will not run everything it
contains. Our goal is to have the schemes taught and ready to go if needed. During a season, you may have multiple injuries that can impact depth at certain positions. If we have a rash of defensive linemen injured and have to go to a three-down front, we need to have the capability to do so. We must have a set of tools that our players know how to use without having wholesale change and teaching an entirely new defense.
A good coach finds ways to reach players and help them understand. In today’s game, we must be creative and use technology to help our players engage and learn. The days of sitting in a dark room for an hour straight and expecting our players to stay focused is unrealistic for a majority of them today. Everyone uses different verbiage, but it is important to compartmentalize concepts into different categories. When we categorize coverages, blitzes and various defenses, it makes the learning curve easier for the players. Additionally, if you add something new, there will be some carryover.
One of the most important things is the order of our install progression. Within the first 6-8 installs, our goal is to instill 80 percent of the techniques our players will use. We aim for this mark so that when we add a new defense or adjustment, the players are not having to learn a new technique. For example, we can add a new blitz and tell the cornerbacks that they are just playing squat, and the linebackers are just wall players. I learned that from listening to Mel Tucker speak during his tenure with the Jacksonville Jaguars, which made a lot of sense and has stuck with me throughout my career. So, we are intentional within those first 6-8 installs to ensure each position is learning the techniques that we will use throughout the season. Each position coach has a toolbox for his group with concepts that must be checked off, as illustrated by the following examples for safeties. (Diagram 3 and Diagram 4) AFCA.com | AFCA Magazine | March/April 2021 47
Visualization And Imagery Techniques For Kickers And Punters By Ray Guy And Rick Sang
The skills of kicking and punting are based on directing a kicked or punted football at a target or toward a particular position on the football field. To accomplish these objectives, the kicker or punter first aligns in a precise position to effectively direct the flight of the ball. Throughout the alignment process, the kicker or punter uses natural aiming points and landmarks as reference points. Each time they refer to these positions on the football field, they have an opportunity to set an immediate goal and visualize the football reaching that target. Whether they realize it or not, they are constantly preparing to succeed by first seeing the results of their efforts before they ever kick or punt the ball. Kickers and punters can incorporate visualization and imagery techniques into their everyday routines in many ways. This is a natural approach to the mental aspect of the game and should be incorporated as part of the skill-training process. These techniques can effectively increase the kicker’s and punter’s abilities to perform under pressure by increasing their confidence. Through game-like experiences, kickers and punters use these techniques to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of training and give them the edge they need to perform at an optimal level. Every time the kicker or punter aligns in position to kick or punt and focuses on his reference points, he should quickly visualize the flight path of the football going directly to the target. For example, the placekicker has the opportunity to visualize when he’s determining his point of placement, when he’s toeing the line to determine his vertical alignment, and when he checks his target from his stance. 48 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
The placekicker can develop the ability to read his mechanics by seeing and feeling his body position (kinesthetic feel) during the post-kick check phase to learn the precise path of the football. He develops this technique so thoroughly that he anticipates the exact location of the football simply by evaluating the reference points of his body. As his eyes ascend, he’ll be able to extend the arm on the side of his kicking leg upward in a direct line toward his target, pointing as if he were touching the football in flight. As part of their pregame preparation, the kicker and punter should check the field surface, assess weather conditions and wind direction, and study the general layout of the facility. This is especially important before away games. They should identify certain landmarks or stationary objects to use as aiming points and become familiar with the environment. The pregame is also an excellent opportunity to align on various spots of the field and simulate game situations in order to visualize successful kicks and punts. This active form of imagery can be done anywhere on the field.
Attentional Focus And Distraction Elimination
Getting properly aligned provides a great opportunity for the kicker or punter to focus his attention on his target and then ensure every step of his alignment aligns precisely with his target. This process is the basis of kicking and punting a football in a precise direction. The routine of alignment requires focused attention that also serves to eliminate distraction. The alignment routine gives the kicker or punter something constructive to do
Photo: RoadTripSports.com/Chuck Cox
CHALK TALK | SPECIAL TEAMS
CHALK TALK | SPECIAL TEAMS when the game is on the line and the kicker or punter must focus solely on the kick or punt. As the kicker or punter runs onto the field, he should: • Know the game situation and focus on the official’s spotting of the football at the line of scrimmage. • Locate his target according to the placement of the football and precisely align in a position that ensures optimal direction and placement of his kick. • Check his target once he’s in his stance and quickly visualize a successful kick, which can be a simple positive affirmation toward where he’ll direct the football, before acknowledging his readiness to the holder or snapper.
• Keep things simple by limiting his thoughts, allowing him to focus entirely on performing at the optimal level he has prepared for. The progression of running into the game, determining his target, aligning precisely, visualizing the objective and performing optimally demands total concentration. The entire process requires attention to detail and allows the disciplined kicker and punter to eliminate outside distractions.
Enduring The Opposition’s Icing Attempts
When the game is on the line and a pressure kick is coming, you can expect the opposing team to try to disrupt the kicker’s focus by calling a time-out to delay the kick. This is known as icing the kicker. The opponent wants to make the kicker consider the magnitude of the kick. The delay also provides an opportunity for opposing players to do a little taunting by reminding the kicker of the enormity of the situation. They might even throw out a few personal barbs to try to create negative thoughts that anger or frustrate the kicker. Whatever the case, the kicker has a multitude of mental weapons to shield himself from a barrage of verbal attacks. First, to be prepared and game-ready, he should always strive to develop his skills until they become second nature. He should be so confident in his performance that he doesn’t have to think. He simply responds. He should plan to succeed by practicing the situation. He rehearses and practices the last-second kick and the kickwith-the-game-on-the-line scenarios throughout the season during a weekly regimen. He approaches every kick as if it were a game winner. It doesn’t matter if it’s a PAT in the first minute of the game, a 45-yard field goal in the middle of the second quarter, or a chip-shot kick early in the second half. He routinely approaches each kick as if the game depended on his success. This way, he can approach a true game-winning kick as if it’s just another kick. He identifies his target and aligns accordingly. The alignment routine requires focused attention that also serves as a remedy to eliminate distraction. He also focuses on the finish and on performing his mechanics optimally. By aligning properly and finishing properly, he allows
the fundamentals to be executed effectively. This in itself demands total concentration. He sticks with his routine. The act of running onto the field to perform the kick is a routine every kicker is accustomed to. An opposing team trying to ice the kicker might call time-out after the kicker finds his target and aligns in his stance. With approval from the coach, the kicker should consider running back to the sideline and standing next to the coach, just as he did prior to running into the game to make the kick. After the time-out, he gets approval from the coach and then goes back into the game, just as he did the first time he went onto the field. This is a great way to keep active during the time-out without standing on the field and thinking. More important, the kicker sticks to his usual routine. He separates himself from the opponents. When the time-out is called, the kicker is usually 9-10 yards away from the opposing team. This is too close because he’ll clearly hear any verbal barbs directed his way. Instead, he should immediately walk away to establish separation and allow some of the crowd noise to block out the on-field banter. He might talk to a teammate or take the chance to visualize the upcoming kick. He thrives in the moment. This is exactly the kind of situation he has prepared for. He develops the mentality to embrace the challenge. This is a moment he has played in his head over and over. Not only is he prepared, he is thankful for the opportunity. He talks with either the holder or the coach about something insignificant or what needs to be done after the kick is made. For example, while on the sideline during the icing time-out, the coach might say, “After you make the kick, make sure that on the kickoff you kick a deep squib kick down the middle of the field, and tell everyone we need an all-out effort to cover.” With these words, the coach provides a powerful message about his confidence in his kicker. Dusty Mangum, who began his college football career as a walk-on for the University of Texas, is best known for a 37-yard game-winning field goal as time expired in the 2005 Rose Bowl. Moments prior to Mangum’s kick, head coach Mack Brown told the senior, “You’re the luckiest human being in the world because your last kick at Texas will win the Rose Bowl.” The kick made Mangum an instant celebrity and a legend in the storied history of Texas football. Finally, the kicker repeats a positive mantra-finish to the target, fluid and smooth, focus on the finish. He stays positive, waits for the time-out to end, and then calmly kicks the ball through the uprights. This article was excerpted from the book Football Kicking And Punting by three-time Super Bowl winner and seven‑time AFC Pro Bowl selection Ray Guy & Rick Sang, co‑founder and director of the Ray Guy Prokicker.com Academy. The book is available for purchase from Human Kinetics at http://bit.ly/hksptms.
AFCA.com | AFCA Magazine | March/April 2021 49
Move The Chains
By Mike Podoll, Associate Publisher
Lessons Learned During The Pandemic That Have Permanent Staying Power The global pandemic of 2020 hit the scholastic sports world with an unexpected right cross that left jaws open and minds blank. Football coaches needed to stay focused on doing what was best for their players, moment to moment and day by day — all while staying mentally strong and persevering. The game requires no less, pandemic or not. While the novel coronavirus caught the entire world off‑guard, for some football coaches, the timing could not have been worse. Keith Klestinski was fishing in northern Wisconsin in late June 2020, when he received a call from his high school’s athletic director. The defensive coordinator at Marquette University High School in Milwaukee, Wis., used the societal shutdown as an opportunity to escape and find peace of mind in the northern woods. Klestinski was told that the Hilltoppers long-time head football coach, who is a close friend, had suddenly resigned and left the school. Stunned, Klestinski was asked to take the reigns as interim head coach for the 2020 season. As a member of the MUHS football coaching staff for more than 30 years and serving as a successful head track coach for 18 years, Klestinski embodied stability during the uncertainty of the pandemic crisis. Klestinski successfully guided MUHS through a sevengame schedule that was originally set for 10 possible games (without a playoff). The Hilltoppers finished 5-2, despite challenges that included cancelled games, game days switched mid-week, city-wide health department shutdowns in Milwaukee and even a civil protest that forced a change of venue for their home games. All the while, he continued to implement a seemingly endless list of new protocols and procedures unique to the pandemic. From the start, Klestinski’s primary goals for 2020 were steadfast and unwavering. He wanted his players, especially his senior class, to experience the process of a high school football season from beginning to end. The Hilltoppers coach maintains the importance for student-athletes to use football’s daily mindset as a means to focus on routine in a healthy way and absorb all the unique benefits the game provides. In January 2021, Klestinski’s dedication and positive energy was rewarded, as MUHS named him permanent head coach. Looking back on the chaos of 2020, Klestinski says there were a number of new rules and changes — put specifically in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic — that ended up having surprisingly positive results for his team. 50 March/April 2021 | AFCA Magazine | AFCA.com
One example of this, Klestinski says, is the concept of trust. “Trust was something that continually came up during the 2020 pandemic season. I noticed that the word trust was being said every day, multiple times a day and used during a wide variety of topics,” says Klestinski. “It became such a recurring theme for our team, that we now refer to it as our ‘Culture of Trust.’ “Being a large-enrollment private high school, we have students who come from 150 feeder schools in five counties. Our players don’t live in the same neighborhood and they go their separate ways after practice. During the pandemic, they were forced to trust one another to make the right decisions, when it came to quarantining at home and practicing healthy habits and social distancing. “Conversely, every player understood that his teammates trusted him to stay healthy and minimize risk. If one player goes to a party one night, contracts COVID and we have a team outbreak — there goes a game or two and possibly our season. We were all working way too hard to allow that to happen.” On the field, the notion of trust is an age-old concept. “Players must trust that their teammates will execute their assignments properly, and in turn, they know they’re being depended upon to do the same,” says Klestinski. “During our Zoom video meetings for players and position groups, which are a byproduct of the pandemic, there’s trust that all players are paying attention and there’s trust that everyone is studying their film assignments at home on his tablet or computer. “We’ve recently started our off-season strength and conditioning work, and we trust that players show up for key things like speed and flexibility training sessions, as well as doing at-home workouts, without cutting corners. “As a coaching staff, since the pandemic, and with the advent of easy access to video technology — we made the decision to stop meeting as a staff on Saturdays for day-long strategic planning sessions. Instead, each coach prepares his assigned work on his own, using video technology. We now have Sunday evening Zoom coaching staff sessions to plan. It’s streamlined our workload and, as coaches, we earned back an entire Saturday off, in-season, to spend with our families, which is huge. “As a coaching staff, we need to trust that we’re all going to work hard on our own assignments, not cut corners on the video work and bring great information to the meeting that will help us be successful and win games.” Mike Podoll is the Associate Publisher of AFCA Magazine. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @fcDaily_Podoll