For 20 years the Red Ramblers have been running a bewildering repertoire of 150 plays off nine different offensive formations. Furthermore, they run from the single wing, T, double wing, split T, short punt, full spread, winged T and two semispreads without ever bothering to go into a time-consuming huddle. Johnny's quarterbacks still call signals, with a speed calculated to keep the opposition always a fraction off balance. Referees, accustomed to the 25-second interval allowed for the huddle, have to be warned to keep out of the Ramblers' path. Occasionally, a sluggish, huddle-habituated official will persist in getting in the team's way. But the Ramblers even have a play for handling this situation. The fullback eases him out of the play.
The team is also well equipped with defensive formations. It uses the 7-diamond, 5-3-2-1, 6-2-2-1, 7-2-2, 6-3-2 and 4-4-2-1, as the occasion requires, and can set up special defensive patterns with veteran ease when it encounters, say, an off-beat spread. Primarily, however, the team's defensive strength stems from the highly unorthodox play of its forward wall. Since Johnny's linemen seldom have the weight to bulldoze the opposition, he has had to devise a technique for line play built on skill, speed and deception. None of his linemen ever use the conventional four-point stance. Instead, he teaches them a semicrouch that enables them to keep in constant motion, like men with the itch; they can always see what is taking place in their opponent's backfield; and they can lay their hands on the opposition's charging line from any and every angle, giving them the jump when they go after the ball carrier.
NOTRE DAME TYPE
The speed and deception of the Rambler offense, born of necessity because of the team's scant poundage, has earned it the title, "the Notre Dame of high schools." Appropriately, Knute Rockne was a Rambler fan and occasionally presented the team with Notre Dame's discarded green game jerseys. These jerseys were good for morale, but hardly practical, since there was a slight disparity in the size of the two teams.
The secret of Mooseheart football lies in the fact that the elementary, junior high and high schools all lie on the same football-mad campus. Mooseheart boys play organized football for four years before they become eligible for the varsity, and for the last three of those years they play a full schedule with other junior high teams in the area. When they finally report to Johnny they have been thoroughly schooled in his intricate system and have had actual game experience in running about half his plays, off five of his formations.
UP FROM THE RANKS
Potential quarterbacks come under his personal tutelage in the sixth grade, when he screens the 11-and 12-year-old squad, presents likely prospects with his mimeographed "Quarterback's Manual" and tells them, "Here thinking football is as important as playing football. The team doesn't exist we can outpush, so we got to outfox 'em. And that's the quarterback's job."
Peter Joe Baines, 15-year-old, 95-pound signal-caller of this year's freshman team, says "Johnny's been buzzin' around ever since I was 12. Yesterday I went to the dressing room on an errand and before I could get away he made me name the zones of the field and answer half a dozen tactical situations." Johnny thinks highly of Peter Joe who, when he led his team against a DeKalb freshman team that had gone unbeaten in 18 games, even faked the referee out of one play. He bootlegged the ball around end for 20 yards and a touchdown while the official was blowing the whistle on a halfback who had feinted into the line. When the play was called back and ordered rerun, Peter Joe wasn't the least nonplused. He just sent three men into the flat, against an overshifted DeKalb defense, passed and got his touchdown back.
The greatest virtue of the Moose-heart build-up system, in Johnny's eyes, lies in the fact that "it makes players that ain't," and partly compensates for his persistent lack of manpower. "If a kid has guts he doesn't have to have native ability," the coach claims. "In five years we'll teach him enough fundamentals and position-play so that he can count on seeing varsity action his sixth. Understand, though, I got nothing against native ability."
This is one of those seasons when the little coach has more players that ain't than players that are. Ten of last year's starting 11 graduated, and then, this September, three linemen were declared ineligible and a halfback was lost because of a knee operation. Johnny says if people had any sense of propriety they'd be wearing mourning for him. "I'm dead this year," he moans.