Less talk, more action: High school football teams using no-huddle attack
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Tom Brady is looking around the field, listening attentively as New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels relays the next play into the speaker inside Brady's helmet. Stevan Ridley has just rushed for four yards but instead of heading for a huddle, he runs to his backfield spot, waiting for Brady to bark out the play.
The Patriots' no-huddle offense has been a hot topic in the days leading up to today's Jets game at New England.
But no-huddle is nothing new, especially on Long Island high school football fields where lower-tech forms of the hurry-up offense have been in place for years.
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Riverhead running back Jeremiah Cheatom has just run for four yards and quarterback Ryan Bitzer is watching as two coaches hold up signs that read "Gray" and "White." Cheatom heads for his backfield spot without a huddle.
What do "Gray" and "White" mean? Coach Leif Shay isn't saying but the cards let his players on the field know what to do on the next play. And the opposing team has a lot less time to formulate the defensive set than if there had been a huddle. No electronic wizardry, but just as effective.
"Going out of no-huddle gives me a chance to see the field," Bitzer said. "It gives me time to see what's going on around me and make my reads."
Shay said he prefers the nonverbal route of calling plays to huddles or the old-school method of shuttling in plays through wide receivers, which he said, often turns Play 22X into Play 25X through miscommunication. "It's like that game of phone tag you used to play in Kindergarten, where [the message from the coach] never quite ends up the same," Shay said. "That's the problem with a huddle."
Connetquot quarterback Brian McKean is looking to the sidelines, listening as coach Mike Hansen barks out some words and numbers. The players skip the huddle and with assembly line-like precision, echo the prompts to each other.
"It's a very fun offense," Hansen said. "You get to run a lot of plays . . . We're not wasting time in the huddle. We can control the tempo of the game and keep the defense off guard."
After his Thunderbirds went 1-7 in 2011, Hansen said he and his staff decided to ditch the huddle and began installing the system during summer 7-on-7 drills. "We practiced it a couple days a week over the summer," McKean said. "[We went] over the hand signals, the name of the plays, and calling them out so the receivers can understand it. It wasn't really a hard process."
It seems to have worked: Connetquot is 7-0 this season after beating Central Islip Saturday.
Quarterback Davelle Hooks has just run for a couple of yards. Now he and the rest of the Freeport backfield are watching for coach Russ Cellan's hand signals. The team heads for the scrimmage line and Hooks barks out a blocking scheme to the linemen.
The no-huddle offense has been a way of life at Freeport since the 1990s. While it sounds complicated, Cellan says the system is not as difficult as it appears. "Our kids put a lot of time in and it allows you to do these type of things," he said.
Syracuse! Red! Seven!
So what are these signals being used by high school coaches?
They could be similar to the machinations of a third-base coach. Or three fingers in the air. Or you might hear a coach holler out a color, a university and a number, although only one of the three will be relevant. While the no-huddle fits into many systems, not every coach is comfortable with a lot of moving parts.
East Meadow coach Vinny Mascia said he is still a fan of the wide-receiver shuttle.
"I've been around for 30 years," Mascia said. "The game has changed quite a bit from when I started. In this day and age, with the no-huddle offense, there's a lot more hand signals."But, Mascia said, "We're not in a hurry. We like to keep our offense on the field, chew up a lot of clock and give the other team less plays . . . We're going to huddle, get the play in, and make sure it gets in right."
In the CHSFL, St. John the Baptist had utilized hand signals for most of Keith Schweers' six years as head coach before the Cougars went back to the traditional huddle this season.
"We want to control the ball more," Schweers said. "We feel like we can attack teams on the ground and utilize the clock."
But, Schweers said, his staff still uses hand signals, known as the "NASCAR package," to catch defenses off-guard.
It's MacArthur's ball, second-and-3. Coach Bobby Fehrenbach is gesturing from the sideline and quarterback Gerard Cunningham is gazing at his decoder wristband. The Generals head for the huddle and Cunningham calls a pitch to Tom Kelleher.
The wristband sure worked for the 1965 Baltimore Colts. After quarterbacks Johnny Unitas and Gary Cuozzo went down with injuries, running back Tom Matte filled in, calling plays from notes written on a wristband now on display at the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Only one guy has to know [the signals]." said Fehrenbach, whose team is 6-1 after Friday's 31-7 victory over Long Beach.
"We just signal the number to the quarterback to signal the calls. It's all right. There are a lot of different ways to do it and it's just what we do. For one guy to get the play and call it out is a lot easier than for 11 guys to get the play. With 11 guys, one guy can hear a different number."
No matter what the method, level, or era, the signal to opposing defenses remains the same: you have less time to stop us.
On Saturday, that task befell a host of high school defenses around the Island. On Sunday, in Foxboro, it's up to the Jets.