FNF Coaches Talk — Rival communities celebrate co-op championship, more freshmen making varsity impact, Lamar Jackson gave HS coaches fits

It’s Friday, Coaches! We hope you’ve had a great week, and enjoy the weekend. Here are three more stories for you.

1. Rival communities come together in Alabama to celebrate champion (Jefferson News Tribune)

This is kind of a cool story about rival communities coming together to support a co-op football team in Alabama.

Central of Clay County has helped bond two communities that were once fierce rivals, then reluctant partners and now proud supporters of a two-time Class 5A state champion. It has taken the better part of a decade to get used to.

“A lot of folks, the only time they’re on this campus is at a football game,” said Tommie Wood, the public address announcer for Clay Central’s football games, on a chilly November night as he prepared for the Volunteers’ first playoff game. “Whether you’re from Lineville or you’re from Ashland, and you came right here and had an opportunity to sit by folks who you never sat with at a game before.
“I think that is the one common thread that has really bound this together. To me, that’s kind of the thing that’s solidified this entire merger.”

Small-town football is thriving in this east Alabama county, population 14,000 and home to Mount Cheaha, the highest point in the state. While overall participation in high school football has been on the decline in the U.S., the trend has not been as dramatic in the Deep South and Alabama seems to have bucked the trend altogether.

What could be done to drum up more interest in football in your local community?

2. A look at the evolution of freshmen greatly impacting high school sports (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Are you seeing more freshmen excel at the varsity level? Apparently, they’re seeing it in Pittsburgh.

High school sports have changed in a lot of ways over the past couple decades and one of the biggest changes is the proliferation of freshman athletes who are showing up as starters on varsity teams and sometimes having a big effect — in many different sports.

Coaches, from high school to college, believe the onslaught of freshmen athletes is due to a few reasons. One of them is that some pre-teenagers specialize in a sport at a young age and play it so much — sometimes year-round — that they are more prepared and more skilled to have an impact as a freshman.
With the specialization of sports becoming so popular, some pre-teenagers regularly play a sport year-round, whether it’s AAU basketball, travel baseball or Cup soccer. By the time they get to high school, freshmen are more skilled because of the added experience.

Why do you think more freshmen are making an impact at the varsity level these days?

3. Lamar Jackson has been causing defensive coaches nightmares since high school (Washington Post)

No coach is jealous of the Tennessee Titans defensive staff as they prepare to stop Lamar Jackson on Saturday night, but some of us can certainly relate.

It’s always a challenge stopping a dual-threat QB, particularly when that player happens to be the fastest player on the field. As you can imagine, Jackson has always been the fastest player on the field.

It started in high school. Donald Hanna, whose Village Academy team faced Jackson’s Boynton Beach High squad, had heard about a kid who stood out even in the youth football hotbed of South Florida. Teams game-planned not to stop Jackson but to outscore him, an approach one coach compared to going up against Michael Jordan. Hanna suspected Jackson was the type of speedy quarterback common in the area, but during a spring scrimmage in 2013, he realized how wrong he was.

“No matter how many people you assigned to him, he made them miss,” Hanna said.
It didn’t dawn on Hanna until weeks later that his school had helped birth the legend of Lamar Jackson. One day, players rushed into his business education class pleading, “Look!” Hanna watched as, on screen, Jackson eluded one Village Academy defender, outran a second and timed up a third so that, just as he was about to deliver a crunching hit at the goal line, Jackson froze. The defender whiffed and sailed out of frame. It looked like a cartoon.
The play — the audacity, the jarring athleticism — had gone viral, racking up millions of views on YouTube, Vine and a popular video blog among teenagers usually reserved for brutal fights.
“It hit WorldStar, and I was like, ‘Oh, s—,’” the coach said.

That fall, ahead of another game against Jackson, Hanna changed his defense to an approach that would be replicated and tweaked against Jackson in college and the NFL. The coach didn’t want Jackson to beat his team by running, so the defensive linemen rushed at the offensive linemen instead of around them. Hanna wanted to collapse the pocket, close running lanes and force Jackson to beat Village Academy with his arm.

The young quarterback did, but Hanna saw it as an improvement that “we actually kind of held our own.”

What is the best approach to slow down a quarterback like Lamar Jackson?

What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk