“Hit hard, have fun and respect the other team.” That was the keynote of Arrowhead Black head coach John Hanley, as he led his team onto the field for the first scrimmage that began the journey of his Lake Country Chiefs eighth-grade team to the start of the regular season on September 7.
Hanley’s team was one of several that gathered at Arrowhead Stadium on a beautiful Saturday morning in August. Hanley’s colleague, Matt McQuestion, brought the Arrowhead Red team to the same scrimmage. Teams from Grafton, Catholic Memorial and from throughout the Lake Country area gathered in what amounted to a preseason youth football extravaganza.
The squads rotated, and played at two 20-minute scrimmages against different opponents. Each drive started at the defensive 40-yard line, with each offense possessing the ball for equal amounts of time. As one might expect in an opening scrimmage, both Hanley and McQuestion saw a lot of work and improvement that needed to be done, but the scrimmage also revealed the building blocks of future success.
Arrowhead Black’s play in the trenches looked sound, and they found repeated success running option pitches to the left side. Defensively, they showed a similar capacity to control the point of attack. Other areas of promise included the aggressiveness of the team’s defensive backs in playing the ball. It didn’t result in interceptions on this day, but it provides the building block for future defensive plays.
The areas Hanley wants to see improved are tempo and a better grasp of the playbook. He stressed to his team the importance of continuing to set their bar higher, and reach a higher standard of performance in the twenty-one days before the games start for real.
Arrowhead Red has significant talent at the skill positions. Its quarterbacks, starting with Jeff Holtz are tall and imposing for the eight-grade level. “He’s got good field presence,” McQuestion said after the scrimmage. The head coach further praised Holtz’s ability to progress through his reads and identify the open receiver.
The Red team was down a few linemen for this scrimmage, and McQuestion said the offensive front needed to improve on getting to the second level and making the blocks on linebackers that are necessary to allow the team’s stable of fast running backs to get into open space. But there were still lineman who stood out. D.J. Deane, a big nose tackle, made his own presence felt and showed he can make a big impact on his team’s season.
Both the Red and Black teams went toe-to-toe with a good group of Grafton kids that went 7-1 a year ago. Grafton’s offensive line is very aggressive and its quarterback exceptionally calm in his running of the option, and creating the opportunities for big plays. It amounted to an ideal way for both Hanley and McQuestion to measure their teams against a high standard while there’s still plenty of practice time.
“We’ve got to tighten things up,” McQuestion stressed. “We need to work on gap assignment, and pick up the pace.”
It’s not surprising that both coaches left the scrimmages wanting a focus on tempo. Arrowhead’s state championship varsity plays at a rapid pace, and that system is emulated throughout the youth programs. It’s something the kids can look forward to working on at practice on Monday.
Ultimately, the youth scrimmage was a fun day of football, and both Hanley and McQuestion were glad the kids got their first taste of playing an opponent. It also benefitted the community as a whole—the girls’ basketball team was able to raise money by running the concessions stands. It’s the hope that this preseason gala of football can beocome an annual event. Indeed, on this Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium it was the perfect way to usher in the 2013 youth football season.