Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A-11 Story...Chapter 3

Chapter 3

“A-11 Makes its Debut on September 7, 2007 - The Nightmare in Moraga vs. Campolindo!”

IMAGINE the worst outcome that could overwhelm your greatest effort to try and ensure a reasonable or respectable modicum of success for a radical new venture…and then quadruple it.

On the team bus early that evening weaving through the beautiful rolling hills and trees of the Moraga Canyon towards Campolindo High School, every player and coach onboard was understandably excited, but brutally nervous, more than all of us anticipated. Truthfully, we were collectively worried about running the A-11 for the first time, but more importantly, we fully realized Campolindo was a big, fast and powerful football team, and very well coached. It was a daunting task at hand.

Looking back in review of our 2007 football training camp prior to Campolindo, we’d made a good decision to bring in the key football Referees from our region to educate them about the A-11, and to get their vital feedback regarding shifting, motions and a few nuances. It was important for us to get the Referees on the same page, in terms of prepping their crews to properly officiate the A-11 come game time.

However, in retrospect I made a significant mistake asking our players, coaches and parents to try and keep the A-11 a ‘secret’ until the Campo game. It was my hope the element of surprise would offer some advantage for our team…I was dead wrong. In fact, it made things a bit worse by putting additional pressure on our players and assistant coaches, and accidentally ratcheting up the drama within our Piedmont community. Campolindo and Piedmont are lovely towns, only separated by a casual 20-minute drive through the Tunnel, and they share affinities.
I should have officially let the word out that Piedmont would be trying a new offense like the A-11; it would have reduced the pain of the stinging loss to Campo for the kids, assistant coaches and parents. Instead, it was a humiliating blow that I should have seen coming, regardless of my hopes. Campo knew what we were doing well enough – word had traveled.

In the locker room after our pre-game warm up, the tension in the air was making things almost unbearable. It was muggy enough, and I had already asked the players to do an incredible amount giving on behalf of the program by switching to the A-11. Seeds of doubt from certain players and an assistant coach had become emerging stalks of serious misgivings.

At sunset, soon after the opening kickoff our Piedmont A-11 Offense took the field, and that’s when the surreal terror on offense began. (Our defense played well that night and Campolindo called off the dogs midway through the 3rd quarter or it could have been worse).
Respectfully to the players and assistant coaches, we had done a lot of work creating, tweaking and practicing the virgin A-11 system throughout the spring and summer, that most of us believed we were ready to unveil the A-11 and have some success.

Disaster! And, all of it was my fault – 100%.

Our offensive players were so spread out across the field of play, naked-like in their ultra wide A-11 formations – it was a major shock to see them actually competing live vs. an opponent under the lights. Just the simple act of looking at them on the field like that was difficult to soak in, especially after having spent the past twenty-one years being a traditional football coach.

Campo was going full-speed ahead, comfortable and confident in their system, and kicking our butts on the artificial turf. Their navy blue, red and white uniforms seemed like a tidal wave of colors overwhelming our white and purple uniformed players. Again, our Piedmont players were giving it their all to succeed, and their shortcomings were zero fault of their own. The errant timing and poor relationship of the plays (too east and west), the offbeat spacing and shoddy performance was totally my fault. I had miscalculated the scope of the project. I had not adjusted our methods of practicing differently quite enough, to fully compensate for the awkward foreign football geometry in the blood and guts operating system of the A-11 in a game situation.

Assistant coach (A-11 Co-creator) Steve Humphries, and the other coaches on our sideline were fully engaged in the game, while doing their best to plug the internal team wounds of dissention, and halt the ebbing of our total chemistry.

But, the debacle unfolded without respite. At halftime, I had one of the JV assistant coaches lead the team into the locker room so they could rest and begin regrouping, while I held a quick meeting with the Varsity coaches at the southern end of the field.

I looked around the tree-lined stadium venue and saw hordes of people having a great time over by the snack shack. I watched with chills crawling up my spine, as our football program’s greatest benefactor actually marched through the crowd and stormed out of the stadium shaking his head with disgust – obviously he had seen enough for now.

“F---!” Steve Humphries said, “We’ve gotta lot of work to do.”

All of the coaches agreed, except for one, our Offensive Line Coach. He was not a supporter of the A-11. However, regardless of his opinion about our offense, he was a great guy then, and is a great guy now. Sometimes, terrible situations simply get the best of people.
Our OL coach was cursing up a tornado in our gathering and was beyond reach at that moment. He made it clear that he did not know if he could make it through the entire game without losing it.

“Damage control, we must help the kids get through the game with some pride.” I said.

Back inside the locker room the players were scattered about, listless, sad, a few crying, and at least two pods of players shooting looks of anger at anybody looking their way. Who could blame them? Not me, it wasn’t their ill doing. They had done what I had asked, and I had failed them.
We only had a couple of minutes remaining before we had to return to the field for the 2nd half.
The staff and I focused our attention on helping the players stay tuned on “getting better” and “not giving up.”
Regardless, it was self-evident; tonight was not going to be a fun event.

Several of the players pounded their fists against the visiting team’s lockers and screamed at the top of their lungs, trying to release their frustration and anger without hurting anyone else.
Before going back to the field, I took a quick walk outside and around the corner from the locker room. Hoping not to be seen, I proceeded to spew vomit into a barrel trashcan nearby. I was sweating profusely and deserved every ounce of ill feelings and mocking sent my way.
Jogging back to the stadium through the Campolindo campus, our players and coaches came out fighting for our collective pride that had been shredded but was hanging by a thread. Watching our players continually battle throughout the 2nd half and never giving up was a testimony to their maturity, camaraderie and dedicated work.

We had begun the game hoping to achieve a stunning upset of powerful Campolindo. We ended the game scrapping, clawing and using every ounce of strength and vigor – simply to just get a few meager 1st downs in the A-11.

Our dreams of success had been reduced to desperate prayers of football salvation.

Final Score: Campolindo - 31 and Piedmont - 2.

After the game in the darkened parking lot. I leaned against the team bus, sick to my stomach, with a splitting migraine and wanting to wake up from the nightmare in Moraga. I was grateful to have such a great group of players, and equally thankful for the wonderful army of assistant coaches helping our team get through this catastrophe.
I waited quietly by our bus, as each player filed onto the idling diesel that would take us home.

One of my longtime friends and her husband had flown in from Hawaii to visit her family and also see our game. “It will get better, it’s just the first game.” She said, before they had to go.
I nodded and thanked them both for coming. “It must,” I replied, and I got on the bus.

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