Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Make Your Special Teams “Special”

Posted by admin May - 11 - 2021 - Tuesday

This is about as close as I’ll get to talking “X’s and O’s” on this site.

After watching the state championship games in Virginia last week, it became obvious to me that… even at THAT level, some coaches did not properly prepare their players on their kicking teams. It cost them. One team, for example, had the defending state champs on the ropes late in the 4th quarter. They were held deep in their own territory and had to punt. Their punter, in his own end zone, fielded a low snap. Rather than kick/throw/run the ball out of the back of the end zone, he tried to scoop up the ball; lost control and it rolled to his side. The defending state champs’ punt return team fell on it— 6 points! Knocking it out of the back of the end zone would’ve only cost them 2. They lost by 5 points!

Another team (foolishly) kicked deep to one of the fastest players in the state of Virginia. Guess what? 86 yard kickoff return TD! In another game, the team “popped up” the kickoff. It came down short and to the side. The player on the return team stood there and watched it bounce. (Probably thought you play it like a punt— NOT a “free” kick!) The kicking team recovered the “free” kick on the 33 and went in to take the lead in the game! Time and again, critical errors in the kicking game led to major momentum shifts in a state championship game. These happen every week of the season.

It was pounded into my head when I was a player that “the kicking game is 1/3 of the game! Spend the time necessary to execute your Special Teams as efficiently as you do your Offense and Defense.” It paid off for us many times during my 43 year coaching career. One of my favorites was actually when I was still an assistant coach. It was late in the first half of a hard-fought game against a very well-coached team. We had stopped them deep in their own territory with less than a minute left in the half. They were going to have to punt out of their own end zone. As our deep returner ran onto the field, I said, “Mike. Signal a fair catch no matter how much yardage you think you can get! OK?” He did as I asked and fair caught the punt on their 32 yard line. I then told our QB to go tell the ref that “we want a free kick on goal.” He looked at me funny but I said, “Go! Go tell him.” Fortunately, the referee knew the rules and said “Ok. Bring out your kicking team.” The QB also happened to be our place kicker. I told him to put his block/tee down on the 32 and get Mike, the Returner, to hold it on the block. “Put the rest of the guys ON the 32 but off to the side.” We got lined up and the ref made the opposing defense line up 10 yards back! Huh? They had no idea what was going on. But they backed up to the 22 and waited. As our kicker approached the ball, several of their guys “rushed” the kick. Flag! He missed the field goal attempt (yep!) wide right. However, the flag was for them being Off-side! They crossed the 22 before the ball was kicked. They marked it up 5 yards and everyone reset. This time they didn’t move and, yes, he made the kick. As time ran out and we headed to the locker room, I saw the opposing coach confront the officials. He was pretty upset because we had just taken the lead on something he’d never seen (nor knew about) in a game before. When we came back out 15 minutes later, he was still conversing with the officials! It threw them completely off their game in the second half and we ended up beating them. I bet that YOU didn’t know that you can attempt a field goal after a fair catch, did you?

There are so many funky rules still in the Rule Book that relate to the kicking game. I had a long-time official tell me that he believed that those rules were “left over” from the early days of football when the “foot” was still a BIG part of the game! I made it a point to study those rules and we spent a lot of time in preseason pounding those rules into our players’ heads. We reaped the benefit numerous times.

By studying the kicking game, I initiated some rather unorthodox ways to execute our kicking teams. A couple of examples are: 1) We NEVER kicked off deep down the middle. It’s a recipe for disaster! We didn’t onside kick; but we did have a number of different “pop up” and “hot grounders” that we used. 2) Use your back-up QB as your Long Snapper! He simply “throws a pass” between his legs. It’s accurate and should have pretty good speed on it. Finally, have ONE kick off return and never change. The one we installed every year provided us with several kick off returns for TD’s and numerous returns to midfield. It was a weapon that turned momentum and/or won a game for us over the years.

I put together a dvd that Championship Productions distributes for me. It has all of this (and more) information on it. Check it out. And…. study your Rule Book in the offseason and learn what these crazy rules in the kicking game are… so they can help you win a game!

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