Sept. 8, 2010
Football Fever From a Basketball Coach
-Gene Steinmeyer, Northwest Head Women's Basketball Coach
I had a great first weekend of college football, except for the Bearcat loss. I might be a women's basketball coach, but I really like college football. I could get in trouble for admitting this, but I let Sam go to the Northwest football game even though he missed the last half of the school day with a persistent cough. Then on Saturday, we headed for Lincoln for Sam's first experience of Big Red Football. My brother found us a couple of tickets. Sam got into the spirit early when he bought a plastic ear of corn that fit on his head. He became an official "Corn Head."
Times have changed. I saw my first Husker game at age 12. I bought a $.25 knothole ticket and sat on wooden bleachers in the south end zone of Memorial Stadium. It was the first year of the Bob Devaney Era as the Nebraska football coach. I though it was great, but it was a far cry from the 85,500 people that saw the game Saturday. By the way, Sam and my ticket cost $50.75 more than my first ticket.
Usually, Sam's nephew and my 12-year-old grandson will go with us to games. Jacob missed the first quarter of the Bearcat football game because of his own football practice. It's his first year of junior high football. I took him home after the game. I offered to take him with us to the Nebraska game and scalp a third ticket, but he was going to visit cousins in Sioux City. He did have a request, though. He wanted to know why I occasionally put Sam's name in my blog but never his name. Well Jacob, you and your junior high football team inspired this week's blog.
Growing up in small town Nebraska meant you had to like football. I was about as big as Sam growing up and not exactly built for a contact sport. However, when you grow up in a town of 220 people, you are expected to play football. When I was 6- or 7-years-old, football gave me a nickname I kept right through high school. All the boys gathered several times a week to play football in a vacant lot filled with rocks and broken glass. The bigger kids ran the show and chose up sides. The shrimps like me got to play, but I was limited to an "all-time center" role. I could hike the ball to the quarterback, but then stay out of the way while the real action took place. It was tackle football and not for the feint of heart or shrimps like me.
Of course, that didn't make me very happy. I might have been pretty young and tiny for this group, but I thought I was 10-foot tall and bullet proof. However, I couldn't talk the bigger kids into letting me handle the ball, except to start the play as all-time center. My chance finally came after a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, the ball was hooked right to where I was standing on the sidelines, killing time until I could hike the ball to the bigger kids. The ball was right at my feet, so I did the only logical thing; I picked it up and headed for the goal line. I was little and slow, but I was shifty. I weaved my way past two or three would-be tacklers and suddenly I was in the clear and only 20 yards from the goal line. Glory was just a short sprint ahead. The big kids would have to let me play now. Just then, the fattest kid in Clatonia, an older boy by the name of Dick, waddled up from behind, tackled me to the rocky turf and ruined my moment of glory.
I think my running success was due to so much laughing going on with the bigger kids. I'll never forget when the smartest and almost the biggest kid in town told everyone that I looked liked a peanut running with the ball. Steve, the smart, big kid, meant that everyone else looked like nut-crackers and I was the peanut trying to avoid getting cracked wide open. Unfortunately, the nickname stuck. Even today, sometimes I'll go home for a visit and someone will call me "Peanuts." My football career was off to a great beginning.
I played 8-man football at Clatonia High School my freshman year with very little success. I didn't play enough to earn a "C" letter and membership into the Clatonia Letter Club. I played offensive and defensive end, but my 110-pound body didn't put fear into many of my teammates. If you have ever seen the movie Rudy, I was the Rudy of the Clatonia football team. I got beat up and was not allowed to play in games. The nickname "Peanuts" also didn't spring fear on our opponents. The next year, Clatonia consolidated with Wilber and now we played 11-man football.
The next three years at Wilber-Clatonia High School was pretty uneventful. The head football coach, Frank Elliot, thought I was Randy and Randy was me. Randy was a freshman with about my talent. I spent my sophomore year with the embarrassment of being a bulging 120-pound offensive end without a real name. I was pretty excited when one Thursday during the pre-game walk-through, Coach Elliot put me on the kickoff team. However, when the list was made and posted on the wall, Randy was on the kickoff team, not me. Mistaken identity had done me in. I was so afraid of Coach Elliot, I didn't even tell him when I separated my shoulder during a one-on-one tackling drill with a running back 100 pounds heavier than me. I couldn't raise my right hand to catch passes, so for the rest of my career I became an offensive and defensive tackle. We were so bad that I even started my senior year at the giant weight of 155 pounds. The Wolverines were not a football powerhouse.
When I went to college, I thought for sure the most involved I would become with football was from the stands. I proved I could be a very obnoxious fan, especially at the Nebraska games I was able to attend. I was that fan you hate to sit beside. However, when I became a basketball coach, football coaching came with it. I spent a couple of years in a great high school program at Milford, Neb. Remember Andy Seeley, who was the Sports Information Director at Northwest in the early 2000s? His dad was the owner-editor of the Milford Times and Andy was an annoying 6-year-old getting into everything at the paper office. I even wrote sports articles for George Seeley during my four years at Milford.
I took my first head basketball job at my home school of Wilber-Clatonia. Since I had come from a very successful football program at Milford, the head coach, Steve Joel, now the superintendent for the Lincoln Public Schools, hired me as his defensive coordinator. I gave it my best shot, but I was no Scott Bostwick, the great Northwest defensive coordinator. I wasn't blessed with talent or brains with my defensive players either. I knew I had to stick to basketball after one embarassing loss to Centennial High School. Centennial had about a 20-0 lead with one play left in the half. The ball was at midfield. Centennial ran the ball all the time. It didn't matter if it was 3rd-and-inches or 3rd-and-20, Centennial was going to run the ball. They ran the wishbone offense, made famous by Oklahoma and Barry Switzer. Centennial called time out to decide what running play that would produce a score from 50 yards in one play.
I went to my defensive huddle. I knew what they were going to run. The wishbone is the triple threat offense. Would they hand it to their fullback? That wasn't very likely. How about a quarterback keeper? They probably wouldn't score on that. So the only option was a pitch to the trailing back. I had two pretty talented linebackers and I told them not to worry about the fullback, but for one to nail the quarterback and for the other to take the pitch man. I even suggested they would run the play to our left. Sure enough, I guessed right. The quarterback faked to the fullback, pulled the ball out and pitched it to the back, who ran 50 yards for a touchdown. Where were the brother linebackers? They had nailed that poor fullback on the first fake. Football coaching was not going to be in my future.
After Coach Joel took off to begin his administrative career, I took the opportunity to leave high school football. However, my bosses thought I should keep busy in the fall so they made me the assistant junior high football coach. After a year of that, I became the head junior high coach. After observing junior high football kids for that first year as an assistant, I saw the value of being organized. I bet we had 30 false starts the year I assisted.
My goal as the head coach was to be really organized. Every time we jumped before the snap, I made my seventh and eighth graders run laps. I had an offensive unit, defensive unit and special teams all listed on sheets and put on the wall weeks before the first game. We were ready for organized football. We weren't very talented, so if we had fewer penalties than our opponents, I would consider it a win. However, a problem popped up I never anticipated. We played Tri County Junior High. We kicked off and stopped them on the first drive. I yelled offense and we lined up for our first play. Russ, our quarterback, lined up the team, looked at me and called a timeout. He came to the sidelines and said we didn't have a right offensive guard. Lumir, a farm boy out for sports for the first time in his life, was the right offensive guard. He must not have heard me yell, "Offense!" He must have misread the sheets on the wall.
We exchanged punts with Tri County and we began our second offensive possession. Just as Russ came to the line, he called another timeout and headed to the sideline. Lumir had failed to take his place at right guard once again. Again, we traded punts, and Russ and the offense headed out for a third possession. All of the offense except for one absent right guard by the name of Lumir headed for the huddle. Once again, Russ had to call timeout. I was really frustrated with Lumir. We were out of timeouts before the end of the first quarter. I tried to be patient and asked if Lumir had heard me yell for the offense to go on the field. Then, Lumir ducked his head and admitted what problem he had. "Coach, I don't know the difference between the offense and defense," he explained. I had put the teams on the wall, but Lumir needed a dictionary to find the definition of "Offense". I would have never guessed a junior high kid didn't now the difference.
That did it for me as a football coach. I stuck to basketball and found my way into college sports. Now, I'm following Jacob's junior high football team. He plays for Stanberry. He is one of the big kids and plays on the line. I'm sure he knows the difference between the offense and defense. I really hope he doesn't go for the fake to the fullback too often. Everyone needs a nickname, but I'm sure his won't be Peanuts. I bet he even is on the kickoff team. I can't wait for his first game.
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