It was the tenth and final game of my freshman season, the fourth quarter, two minutes to go in the game. I was playing for Woodruff High School in Peoria, IL. and we had the game in hand, winning 20-0. As I stood on the sidelines watching my teammates put the game away I thought I heard my name called. Oh my gosh! The coach was calling MY name! I hustled up to the coach and looked up at him, afraid to even think it. Coach looked at me and nodded toward the field. “Get in there at left corner.” I sprinted in and yelled at the starting corner, “Summerville, I’m in for you.” I lined up in my position as the Bergan Trojans broke the huddle. I was pumped.
Now, why was this such a big deal? Well, it was the first time all season that I had been put in a game. Yep, tenth game, fourth quarter, two minutes to go. I had not played one down of a game all season. You’re probably thinking I must have been really bad. Maybe I was, but I didn’t think so. Actually, I was a pretty decent little athlete. LITTLE being the key word. I was about 5′ tall and weighed 95 pounds. I guess the coaches figured I was too small to put in a game. I never asked them. I knew I could play if given a chance. By the way, I hadn’t missed a practice and had never been late. I kept my mouth shut and hustled. So – I was certainly no troublemaker. I was…invisible.
Figure It Out
In many areas across the country participation numbers in high school football are down. Program development and player retention have become imperative. I sure hope what happened to me isn’t occurring on any of your freshman football teams. You’ve gotta figure out a way to get everyone at least a little playing time throughout the season. Counting offense, defense, and special teams, there are 77 positions (by my count) to be filled. When I coached freshman ball I made an effort to get as many kids a spot as I could. I also arranged “5th quarter games”. When the regular freshman game was over, we played one more quarter and the kids who were backups and saw little playing time got to start on offense or defense. The kids loved it.
Okay, I just gave two ways to get all your guys playing time. Are there other ways? You betcha! But you had better be creative and get out of the mindset that, “You can’t do that!” For example, Coach Nate Albaugh at Judah Christian in Champaign, IL. is just starting a football program at the school. Judah has 129 students and Coach has 17 players, of which 6 are freshmen. His dilemma and the dilemma of other small schools that get less than 11 freshmen boys to turn out for the team is, “How do we make a freshman schedule?” Well, we all know that most freshmen are not ready for varsity ball but still need to play some kind of game. So, he came up with a 4 on 4 game that freshmen play as a preliminary game before the varsity. The referees officiated, cones were set up to reduce the field dimensions, and they played a game. The kids loved it, they had a blast. Don’t like 4 on 4? Go 6 on 6, 8 on 8, make something up like a PE teacher would or like a sandlot game but get them playing football! We’ve got to give them a reason to come out for the rest of their high school years.
Listen To The Podcast And Learn More About Nate Albaugh’s Freshman 4’s Football Game!
The Rest Of The Story
So what happened those last two minutes I got in the game? We broke the defensive huddle and I readied for the my first play. Bergan broke their huddle and I looked at their alignment. No wide receiver so I tightened up. As the quarterback began his cadence I was thinking, ” I don’t care where this play goes but I’m getting in on the tackle.” The ball was snapped and here they came. It was a sweep right and the ball carrier was coming right at me. Perfect! I stepped up to make the play as I saw things develop, set up in my low stance as he got closer and just at the right time – BOOM! I lowered my shoulders into his knees and down he went. Just like I did everyday in practice. My teammates were slapping me on the back, the coaches were laughing and I felt like an All American. Next play, here they came again. Same play and I was confident of the same result. As I hit is knees, I could tell I didn’t get a good hit. It was a glancing blow. I missed. I never missed in practice. I couldn’t believe it. I scrambled up quickly and pursued the ball carrier down the field. My heart sank as he crossed the goal line and the game was pretty much over. I had mixed emotions. I had made a solo tackle but also given up a big play for a TD. I waited a long time, but I got in.
After an experience like that, you might be wondering if I went out for football my sophomore season. Yes, I did. I had a burning desire to play football. I loved it – no, I lived for it. But not all kids shared my passion. Many would not have come out for that second season. By the way, I played a LOT more my sophomore year. We’ve got to make it attractive to be part of the program. Take a look at Dominic Passolano: Player Retention, Program Marketing for more ways to keep kids in your program. He has a ton of great concepts and I’m sure you’ll get some tremendous ideas from the video.
Coach L. Albaugh DBLITY
Coach Albaugh coached high school football in Illinois for 28 years. During that time he coached at every level and on both sides of the ball. He was the offensive and defensive line coach for four undefeated teams and was a defensive coordinator in his last 11 years, twice reaching the semi finals of the Illinois state playoffs.