are made in the spring. On hundreds of sodden fields young hopefuls in tattered
and colorless uniforms have been engaged in the time-honored practice of
"knocking heads." For 20 sessions—all the NCAA permits—the men have
been given a series of violent, body-bruising workouts, which coaches favor
only in the spring. This is in contrast to fall practice, where stars must be
protected from injury.
Coaches can tell
little about their freshman crop during the fall. Quite a number of outstanding
stars of doubtful academic proficiency never even go oat for football in their
first fall. The head coaches, supported by the deans, are only interested in
varsity careers. Most head coaches don't want "winning" frosh teams,
for obvious reasons. True, there was a coach down South who kept his job for 15
years, although his varsity teams were singularly unsuccessful, by always
having a winning freshman team. Each winter on the banquet circuit he would
say, "Well, gentlemen, we didn't win many this year, but we had a great
undefeated freshman team last fall. We'll git 'em next year." This worked
until one evening an irreverent old alumnus arose to protest, "Mr. Coach,
this is all mighty fine about what you're going to have next fall, but I'd like
to live to see the damn day when we're gonna have next year's team this
Fall practice is
mostly aimed at polishing, perfecting and preparing for next Saturday's
opponent. Spring practice is less important to the veterans, although at this
time the coaches try to remedy old weaknesses noted in the preceding campaign.
But to the rising sophomores the spring trials are vital. On these fields so
many high school stars with bulging scrapbooks wane and wilt. The high-scoring
halfback from Poly Prep unexpectedly shows a tendency to squat at the hole when
menacingly confronted by an upper-class backer-up, while the 230-pound tackle,
who was an irresistible bull-in-a-china-shop at his local high, suddenly
becomes Mary's little lamb when he squares off against players of equal size.
These things are not revealed in statistics—they are the intangibles
concretized by the pitiless spring.
prime objective of the coaching staff in the spring is (euphemistically
speaking) to establish the "intestinal fortitude" of each candidate. To
a lesser extent this period is also used to experiment with new plays and
formations and to try out players at different positions. For instance, a big
freshman fullback might not have the quickness to play in the varsity backfield
and yet be a tremendous defensive linebacker. He will be moved more than likely
to a center or guard position. There might be a fast moving tackle, who is
perhaps a little light and springy for an interior line post. He will be placed
at end. Spring is the time for experiments with plays and personnel which can
be costly if saved for September.
My friend Douglas
Clyde (Peahead) Walker, who worked with me at Yale and is now the coach of the
Montreal Alouettes, had the darndest spring drill that I've ever seen. He
called it his lion-one drill, and it was just that. He would line up an entire
offensive team and just put one man on defense. They would block him right,
left, straight ahead and mouse-trap him. Of course, only the men assigned on
the regular plays to block him were supposed to do the actual blocking. But it
just didn't work out that way: five or six men would hit him on every play. And
all the time Peahead was exhorting him to "make the tackle." He would
give each lineman from end to end about 10 minutes apiece of this drill.
"You know," he drawled, "after a couple of weeks of this it's not
hard to tell who your football players are." Facetiously, one day he told
me how he selected his backs and linemen: "I just take about 50 of them
down to the woods next to the practice field. I blow my whistle and tell them
to come out on the other side as fast as they can. If they dodge the trees on
their way through, they're backs. If they just run over them and knock them
down, then those are my linemen."
There is no soft
way to become a football player. Football is blocking and tackling, and it
can't be taught on the blackboard. Behind all the glamour of crowded stands,
with the bands playing and flags flying on a fall Saturday afternoon, are hours
of physical contact on the practice field. It's drill, drill, drill, drill and
sometimes drudgery. It's getting knocked down and knocking some one down.
THE WORLD THIS
On the coast.
Ronnie Knox at UCLA was playing handball and thrust his throwing hand through a
wire-encased window. But he was back for the last few sessions of the UCLAns'
late spring practice. Across town at USC the blockbusting fullback C. R.
Roberts was making life generally miserable for opponents.
fullback Jerry Drew, barring the injury bugaboo, could be the most explosive
back on the Coast this fall. And John Brodie, Stanford's All-America
quarterback candidate, could put the Indians in the Rose Bowl with his pinpoint
passing. He threw three touchdown passes in a spring scrimmage. Watch Dick Bass
at College of the Pacific.
New Coach Darrell
Royal is attempting to rebuild strife-torn Washington with a get-tough policy,
and apparently has a free hand. "Don't Gripe—Transfer" is his platform.
"People tell me," he grins, "that they are behind me—win or
tie." Luther (Hit and Run) Carr, a sensational freshman halfback, is being
tried at the vital split-T quarterback position. He is an erratic passer but
can run like the wind. If Carr makes the grade the Huskies could very well
field the first all-Negro back-field at a major college, along with Credell
Green, Jimmy Jones and Bobby Herring. Another new coach, Jim Sutherland, is
drilling at Washington State, where Jack Fanning, an all-round athlete from
Rogers High School, Spokane is the sophomore to watch.