“…and for those reasons, we’ve decided to start Jeff in the season opener.”
As soon as the words came out of his mouth, David Remmers froze in his chair. On the other side of his desk sat two young men, who in the course of nine words just had their lives altered forever. One, Craig Sayers, just learned that despite two years of leading a football team as its quarterback, that the job was no longer his and that despite being named a captain, his charges would find themselves with a new leader. The other, Jeffrey Rogers, learned that the team he grew up idolizing, and dreaming of playing for, would be trusting him in his first game as a true freshman – against the defending national champions. One dream realized, one dream shattered.
Remmers continued to wait for a reaction from either player. Slowly, a smile broke out over Rogers’ face, but the freshman seemed hesitant to react in any verbal manner, perhaps understanding the moment. Slowly, Sayers rose from his chair, made brief eye contact with his coach, then abruptly dropped his eyes, turned sharply around and exited the office, pulling the door closed tightly behind him.
The coach knew that was not the end of the matter. On the other side of that glass door was a locker room that was in the state of end-camp bliss. Preseason practices were winding down and, for the players, there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But the quarterback decision was one that hung over all of them, and the players knew that the meeting taking place in their head coach’s office was likely the tipping point in the decision-making process. So Remmers wanted to gauge the initial reaction. As Sayers exited his office, the locker room was filled with the sounds of music from the sound system, music likely picked by linebacker Kelvin Mason, another senior and a three-year starter. If Sayers was the leader of the offense, Mason was the leader of the defense, and the heart and soul of the Central Valley State football team.
He was also Sayers’ roommate.
Remmers heard the music stop, and some muffled voices. He then heard some voices grow in volume, and he could sense anger in some of what he was hearing. This, the coach expected at the start.
“I don’t think they’re happy, coach.”
Remmers shifted his eyes from his office door back to his freshman quarterback. Rogers was still sitting in a chair across from the coach, shifted slightly in his seat, resting his right elbow on the armrest and pitched toward the coach’s desk. “Jeffrey, that’s for me to worry about. Those guys respect Craig, sure, but they want to win. You give us the best shot at winning some games here. Play the way we know you can, and you’ll have them on your side in no time.”
“Remember what I told you in your living room the day before you committed to us, what I told you and your mom and your dad? That you were the future of this program, and that as soon as we thought you were ready, this team was yours?”
“Yeah coach, I remember. You said a lot of things.”
Without moving his eyes from the player’s, Remmers reached with his right arm and slid his desk phone closer to him. “I know we did, but we weren’t the only team after you. But I wanted you and your parents to know we already viewed you like family.” The coach then looked down, clicked on an outside line, and started to dial the phone. It rang twice, before a woman’s voice picked up and answered. Rogers recognized it instantly and his eyes brightened.
“Dolores?” Remmers asked.
“Yes, hello coach. Is Jeffrey okay?”
“Dolores, is Bob around, I have some news about your son. Something I’d like both of you to hear.”
“Bobby? Coach Remmers is on the phone, can you pick up in the den?”
After a few seconds, a deep-throated voice checked in with “Afternoon coach.”
“Bob, Dolores, I told you when I saw you last that we’d take care of your son, and that he’d be taking care of us as well. Well, that’s gonna start sooner than everyone anticipated. I wanted to let you know that in just over a week, when we travel to Dallas to take on the defending national champions, you son is gonna be our starting quarterback.”
There was a brief pause, and then Rogers’ mom started to repeat the words “oh my god, oh my god” over and over. Meanwhile, there was a confident laugh from Bob, who then stated “that’s my boy. I knew he could do it.”
“We’re proud of what Jeffrey has done for us in camp, and he’s here with me right now if you wanted to say hello.”
“Hi mom, hi dad.”
His mom was the first to speak. “Jeffrey, we’re so proud of you.” “That’s right, son, we’re both so proud and happy for you.”
“I need to go address the team, but when we’re down in Dallas, we’re gonna need all the support we can get. Jeff’s gonna need that too. Can we count on you guys being there?”
“Of course, coach” the husband and wife answered in unison.
“Thanks. We’ll talk soon. Bye now.”
Remmers hung up the phone, and then extended his right hand to his young quarterback. As they shook hands, he outlined the next steps: “Congratulations, now let’s go tell the rest of the team.”
Both men rose from their seats, and exited the office. The locker room was more subdued than it was moments prior, the loud music and voices diminished to a level more akin to a quiet dinner party. Remmers shouted out to the group: “Everyone to the U, now.”
The U was the body of lockers reserved for the rising seniors. While underclassmen found their lockers arranged in rows that created a great deal of proximity to the other players around them, making changing after practice or games a bit more of a challenge, seniors got to have their lockers in “the U,” a U-shaped set of lockers with benches and recliners in the middle of them, some TVs and, most importantly, control over the speaker system. But given its spacious nature, it was the best spot for addressing the team as a whole, outside of using one of the many meeting or conference rooms in the facility. Remmers walked from his office to the dry-erase board at one end of The U, while his players slowly gathered in front of him. The other coaches, who were aware of the decision, started to filter in as well. Before he started to speak, the coach scanned the crowed. In the back, near his locker and leaning against it, was the young man who caught the wrong end of the decision. Sayers alternated his gaze from the floor, to his coach, and back.
Remmers began. “As you know, we have a number of talented players at each position on this team, but there are only so many snaps to go around, and we’ve had to make some tough decisions at a number of spots, and still have some decisions left. But we needed to make one now, and that was deciding who was going to be our quarterback. We’ve got a good group of guys there, but two really stood out for us. Both Craig and Jeffrey played very well through spring, and into camp, but we gotta pick a guy. We’re going with Jeff.”
The coach waited. No one made a sound. He scanned over this players and looked for some cues, anything he could read from the reactions. He didn’t get a lot of eye contact back his way, and that wasn’t the best sign. He saw a number of players, mostly seniors, lean back in their chairs or recliners.
“Craig has meant a lot to this program, and he’s a leader for this team. But as coaches, our job is to get this team in the best position to win football games, and that starts here in a bit up against a damn tough football team. We believe that Jeff gives us that chance, and that’s what we’re gonna do. But to have the kind of season we want – the kind of season we believe we can have – everyone needs to buy in. We need everyone on board. Remove the obstacles. That’s our goal each week, and it starts with Texas Northwestern.
“So, that’s where we’re at. We’ve got 10 days ‘til Dallas. 10 days until we punch the defending national champions in the mouth. Remove the obstacles. It’s time to work. Positional meetings in an hour, men.”
With that, the coach turned and left, as the murmuring began behind him. He was headed to one of the conference rooms, for an offensive coaches’ meeting. There were other decisions to make. A figure materialized beside him.
“Well that went well.”
The voice was that of Jason Fabrizo’s, the offensive coordinator. Remmers read through the words and the tone. Fabrizo remained unhappy. He had lobbied for Sayers to get the nod, the quarterback that Fabrizo had coached the past two seasons. Now the OC had to get a team ready with a new offense and a new quarterback to take on one of the nation’s top defenses. And he had 10 days. Needless to say, Fabrizo was not a happy camper.
“It’ll be better once we finalize our game plan.”
The two men walked past the bank of offices, turned left down a long hallway, and headed past a number of doors before they arrived at their destination, the Cutliffe Room. When the football complex was built a few years ago, many of the meeting rooms were named after former players of note in Bobcats lore. The Cutliffe Room, where many of the offensive coaches’ meetings took place, was oddly named after Randy Cutliffe, a longtime safety for the school. Remmers and Fabrizo came in and took their usual seats, Fabrizo near the front, Remmers near the back and the controls for the video system. Already present were Henry Hauer and Walter Douglas, as were tight ends coach Peter Constantine and running backs coach Dave Wasserman. Wasserman was seated near the front of the room as well, across from Fabrizo. Hauer and Douglas sat alongside the OC. Constantine, well, he was a stander, and he was leaned against the back wall, near the light switch. An unwrapped cigar was in his hands.
Remmers referred to Hugh Villencia, the team’s offensive line coach. Close your eyes for a moment and picture an OL coach, and chances are you’re likely pretty close to painting the reflection of Villencia. Straight, floppy black hair, often slightly unkempt. He was usually dressed in warm up pants with a light CVSU pullover on, whether it was 95 degrees outside or 25 degrees outside. A former lineman himself at the Division II level, he had moved up the coaching ranks from high school in his home town now to one of the top programs in the country. But coaching the OL was not his only task, he was also in charge of two special teams units: the kickoff team, and the field goal block team. He had a penchant for making slightly crazy people do even crazier things, and if you were a wedge-buster on the kickoff team or a driver on the kick block team, Hugh loved you unconditionally. Until he didn’t.
“Sorry coach, I’m here now.” Villencia slid into the room and took a sead next to Wasserman.
“Okay,” Remmers began. “Texas Northwestern Warriors. 10 days. We need a script and a game plan. Final run through now.” Remmers turned over his left shoulder to Constantine. “Peter, can you get the lights.”
“Sure coach.” Gone was the cigar, now unwrapped and in the older coach’s mouth to be chewed, because that’s what Constantine did. As constant as that habit was, even more constant was the lack of a spit cup. The lights went out, and the head coach took the remote as the video began. Even though the entire coaching staff had been studying the Warriors’ defense since last February, and knew everything that Remmers was about to say, the head coach always conducted this meeting by running through one last quick video breakdown of the defense, hitting the high points, and doing it himself. Other coaches did it differently, but Remmers liked being in control. It was probably the last time he’d really be in control of anything until the game was over.
Constantine, still chewing, turned the lights back on at the request of his head coach. Remmers continued.
“So, as we know, gonna see a lot of four-man fronts this game, lot of 43 or 42 depending on what we come out in personnel-wise, sometimes some 33 if it’s a third and long. Up front they like to put both their DEs in a wide-9, and both of them, 44 and 89, are talented players. Especially 89. That defensive end, special kid but he’ll freelance at times. They’ll use him to control backside gaps, knowing you might send two at him, and that can free up those linebackers. They’ve got both DEs and their SAM (43) and WILL (34) coming back up front, as well as that free safety, 9. Everyone else is gonna be a new starter, although most saw action last season. In the secondary, this is a Cover 2/Cover 4 team, primarily Cover 4 although they’ll mix in some 2 and 6 depending on formation, down and distance, situation and ball placement. But we have seen them do some single high stuff, especially dropping 9 deep.
“Way I see it, as we’ve talked, there are two ways we can script this and plan this. One, we can establish the run. Yeah, they’ve got four returning starters coming back up front including that DE who’s an All-American, but given how they play we can do some things – especially now with Rogers – where we can get them slanting toward power and we can use him to attack weak.”
“Yeah, right towards that fucking All-American you just mentioned.”
“Yeah Dave, that fucking All-American I just mentioned.”
Remmers went on. “But with pistol and some of the other things we’ve installed, we can get them moving one way on run action and Rogers should find space on the edges. Hugh, you got worries about blocking these guys?”
“We’ll be ready.”
“Coach, everyone in this room expects us to run the ball. We’re on a neutral field up against the defending national champions in their backyard and starting a true freshman quarterback. You don’t need the experts at ESPN to game plan that out. Plus, the only guy coming back in our backfield is gonna be our running back. ” As he said the word neutral, Douglas made air quotes with his hands, to drive his point home.
“What are you thinking Walter?”
“Let’s go out there and sling it. We can throw on these guys.”
Remmers outlined the secondary again. “Yeah, base Cover 4 team. Lots of teams try and attack them in the passing game by going 3×1 and either looking to isolate the single receiver weak in a one-on-one type situation, or they do some things with #2 and #3 to the trips to try and get that SAM LB in conflict. They rely on that LB to read between #2 and #3, and he’ll widen to that side of the field as well, opening up some space for the backside on the slant or shallow. They’ll also ask him to carry #3 vertically and as we just saw, sometimes he’s a bit slow there and can get caught watching. We can also go mesh and try and get those LBs running too.”
“All with a freshman QB making his first start.”
“I know Jason.”
The offensive coordinator stood up and started to pace a bit. “We’re going up against a top 10 defense – both against the run and against the pass – with a new QB. Everyone expects us to establish the run, play conservative, ball control, field position, close to the vest. Normally I’d say let’s go out there throwing and catch ‘em, but…”
“But I just don’t know coach. We – you – decided on Rogers. Kid can play, kid can throw it. We’ve got two new starters at wideout, but both of them saw significant playing time last year, both are talented kids going up against less experienced DBs. But this is a pretty big stage.”
Hauer chimed in. “Everyone and their grandma knows we’re gonna come out running. We picked this kid for a reason. Let’s come out swinging.”
“And when he makes a mistake? Throws a pick? Gets sacked and lays the ball down?” The RB coach had a point.
“He won’t get sacked unless he fucks up.” Again, Villencia loved his guys.
Remmers leaned back in his chair. Both options, frankly, sucked. But he needed to pick one and start installing the script. He looked around the room. All eyes were trained on him, including those of Constantine, who wasn’t chewing anymore.
How should CVSU approach their offensive game plan against Texas Northwestern?
— Inside the Pylon (@ITPylon) July 31, 2017