In a typical two-minute drill last season, Central Catholic quarterback Ayden Pereira would receive a buzz word, such as “shark,” from the sideline and repeat it so his teammates could identify the play on their wristbands.
Instead of reading out complex verbiage from the huddle, such as “Arkansas St. right, X back 79,” Natick quarterback Will Lederman would look to the sideline in the hurry-up offense, where a card told him the play, and left it up to him to adjust protections with voice commands (“Randy” for right, “Larry for left) and use hand motions to give his receiver any hot routes.
Those programs that have a system in place for a no-huddle offense will be ahead of the curve when football starts up during the Fall II season (Feb. 22 to April 25) this spring.
On Friday, the MIAA’s Board of Directors unanimously approved the sport for competition, with a number of modifications in place as recommended by the Football Committee in accordance with state guidelines aiming to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Other than requiring masks at all times, most of those modifications focus on game administration and regulating team sidelines. Gameplay itself is largely untouched, except for the traditional huddle.
According to the official MIAA document on football modifications, huddles require “spacing between players facing the same direction.” The modifications recommend hand signals or signage from the sidelines, and discourage huddles when possible.
For those quarterbacks and countless other student-athletes who have been champing at the bit to take the field, running a little more no-huddle is no problem.
“For us, 80 percent of our offense is already no-huddle,” said Lederman, who has committed to play at Bentley University. “So we’ll have an easier transition. But we know it’s a shortened season, so we’re going to be doing daily meetings on zoom. We’re going to use the weeks we have right now as much as we can for everybody to learn the new playbook.”
Pereira, a 6-foot junior from Auburn, N.H., said he’s been working with his skill players since the fall and will be ready to hit the ground running this spring.
“I’m just pumped we’re playing,” said Pereira. “They could’ve told us we had to play with a nerf ball and I would’ve been excited. I’m just happy we’re going to get a season.”
As it stands, teams will be required to practice for 15 days (after three days of conditioning) before any game action, with March 12 targeted as the first possible game date thus potentially preventing teams from playing up to eight games. But the MIAA COVID-19 Task Force has scheduled a meeting with the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) in the coming weeks to revisit the requirement that all workouts must be held outside, with inclement weather delaying potential starts.
Regardless, the season will be much shorter than usual, and the stakes won’t be as high without a state tournament, so some coaches are looking at this spring as an opportunity to integrate no-huddle concepts into their scheme.
Justin Kogler used a triple option system to guide Old Rochester to the Division 6 Super Bowl in 2018 before taking his multi-faceted approach to West Bridgewater, where the coach guided the Wildcats to the Div. 8 Super Bowl in 2019.
Now he’ll look to run his system without a huddle.
“To be honest, this is something I’ve always wanted to go all-in on,” said Kogler, a 2001 Durfee graduate. “I’ve always had a no-huddle offense, but I’m not a no-huddle coach. I’m going to use this as an opportunity to see if we like it. I’m excited to toy with it.”
With around 40 players in West Bridgewater’s program, Kogler won’t have to worry as much about modifications limiting the gameday sidelines to 45 players and on-field cohorts to 25 players in practices and games.
But a large program like North Andover — which usually has 70-plus players and around a dozen coaches counting volunteers — will have to adjust.
“It’s going to be tough to tell a kid who’s been practicing every day, paid their user fee, and works hard, that he’s not going to be on the gameday roster,” said North Andover coach John Dubzinski.
Still, Dubzinski said he’s “ecstatic” to hear that the modifications won’t affect the “integrity of the game.” The former Everett assistant, who led North Andover to an undefeated season and Div. 2 Super Bowl title in 2018, just hopes that his student-athletes show integrity off the field and avoid breaches in protocol that could cost the program games.
“We have to preach to the kids that we’re putting the faith of our season in their hands,” said Dubzinski.
“They need constant reminders that, ‘You’re not a run-of-the-mill student, you’re a student-athlete and people depend on you. There are other kids are depending on you, and for some of them, this is their last shot.’”
Speaking on behalf of the subcommittee in charge of creating football modifications, MIAA associate executive director Richard Pearson said Friday that “There was extensive discussion centered around the fact tackling would remain in the sport. Once players began tackling and were in close proximity, other modifications were not necessary.”
However, the MIAA seems to be unyielding on the subject of indoor practices, stating plainly that “No football team activities may take place indoors.” That includes domes, bubbles, and other enclosed structures, forcing every program to shovel their field (if necessary) and get outside by Feb. 22 for a shot to play as soon as possible.
Practicing in cold weather when teams are preparing for postseason games is one thing, but holding a training camp and preseason on 15 winter days could be challenging.
“In our normal preseason, we get so much accomplished,” said Stoneham coach Bob Almeida, who steered the Spartans past Old Rochester, 26-20, in the 2018 Div. 6 Super Bowl.
“We have meeting time, film work, weight room time, and suitable weather to get in shape. You’re not starting from scratch, you’re making some adjustments and trying to stay sharp for a game.”
“But we talk in football all the time about being mentally and physically tough and it’s never going to be more revealed than in this season. We’ll do whatever we have to do, shovel the fields, anything is manageable. We’ll find a way.”
▪ The Massachusetts athletics community has united in support of Bishop Feehan hockey player, A.J. Quetta, who suffered a serious spinal-cord injury during a game at Pope Francis last Tuesday. As of this weekend, over 10,000 individuals and hockey teams have donated over $680,000 to the GoFundMe Page set up on Quetta’s behalf, including significant donations from Patriots safety Patrick Chung, owner Robert Kraft and from multiple Boston Bruins players.
▪ BC High soccer captain Anatoliy Berezyuk has also received an outpouring of support while fighting an aggressive form of brain cancer. As of Sunday, the 18-year-old from Quincy has close to $150,000 in donations on a GoFundMe Page set up in his honor.
▪ On Friday, the Boston City League played its first basketball games and first athletic events other than hockey since last March. Boston Public Schools begin a gradual return to live learning next week and there are plans to hold a City League Tournament for basketball teams from Feb. 23-27.