We’re in the middle of the playoffs in nearly every state in the country (maybe every state) and each week the competition gets tougher. As more teams are eliminated the only teams left are the best in each class. We just finished the quarterfinals this weekend here in Illinois and I got a chance to watch a few games on the laptop by tuning into the NFHS Network. Isn’t it great that we can watch so many high school  games from around the country on our computer? Anyway, one of the games I watched was a class 2A quarterfinal game here in Illinois. Class 2A in Illinois is a small school division of schools around 300 students or so. So, it’s not big time football as far as D1 recruits but let me tell you, these guys play really good football. The game I watched was between two tradition rich programs known for their hard nosed style of play and prolific running games. One of the teams still runs a wishbone offense with a coach they’ve had for the last 30 years and believe me, they play old fashioned smash mouth football. As I watched the game I was impressed by both defenses. The hitting on both sides was ferocious and relentless. As an old defensive coordinator, I loved it. But it got me to thinking – where in the world did they find so many tough kids in such small schools? And did they train these kids to be physical and aggressive or were these kids pretty much born that way?

Two Trains of Thought

We used to debate those very questions  among our staff when I was still coaching. We basically had two trains of thought that emerged. Some of our coaches preached that you instill toughness and the abilty to tackle with a lot of physical drills and tough hitting in practice on a regular basis.  “You gotta toughen ’em up!” was their mantra. The other view was “Some kids are just tough – tackling and physicality comes naturally. We don’t need to have them knock the snot out of other to teach ’em to tackle”. Both sides agreed that proper tackling techniques needed to be taught and practices must be challenging to develop that all important MENTAL toughness. But we disagreed on whether a good tackler is born or made.

You may ask, “Well coach, what do YOU think?” After playing football in the backyard since I was six, after playing high school football, after coaching football for nearly thirty years, and after watching more high school football another fifteen years, I have concluded that a youngster can either tackle and hit or he can’t. Don’t get me wrong, every player needs to be taught and drilled the fundamentals of sure tackling and the proper safety techniques that go along. But when you turn ’em loose on the field, they can either do it or they can’t. They either have the “will to hit” or they don’t. I don’t care how many hitting drills you put them through in practice.

I watched a high school team play some games this year in their first season of football. The school had never had a team before. Only one or two players had ever played organized ball at the youth level. Some kids immediately took to defense but others struggled.  Why did some come out hitting? Heck, I don’t know, but they did. Another thing, some of those kids that we consider “soft” right now might develop the abilty to hit as they mature. I’ve seen that happen. It’s like a light swith that gets turned on. But one player in particular stood out. He was a freshman with no previous experience. Really smart kid on the scholastic bowl team in grade school and loved computers. Average kid with average athletic ability. In game one the first week the coach lined him up at defensive end because he was a decent sized kid at 6′ 170 lbs and was strong. Hoping that he could do an “OK” job as a first year freshman the coach took a chance. Result? The kid was all over the place making play after play. The coach was happily stunned! Where did this come from? By week three the young man was playing outside linebacker and the last few games he was playing middle linebacker and leading the team in tackles. Hey, it was just there. Don’t try to explain it.

What CAN Be Learned?

What we can definitley teach our players is how to get good angles, use the sideline as a defender, and know where our defensive help is coming from. We have many resources here at Chiefpigskin and plenty of them are on defense. Don’t forget to check out all of our videos on the store and the Online Clinic. Speaking of the Online Clinic, the Early Bird Special will be available until Thanksgiving for the 2019 season. Get in on it now for big savings!

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.