Football 101: Observations from the Defensive Backfield

After ingesting a copious amount of ibuprofen this morning, I thought I would draft up a scouting report from my attendance at this past Saturday's Football 101 for Women. The camp has been held annually each June for about the last ten years. Organized by the University of Georgia's Athletic Department, it's designed to help endow a scholarship for UGA's female student athletes. Football 101 is always a fun and fast-paced day, and a unique opportunity to work one-on-one with the school's football staff.

For me, Football 101 is a strategically placed milestone between the spring game and fall kickoff. It satiates my football addiction just enough to last until the August pre-season reports start trickling in. And, after watching some of the team's motivational videos yesterday, I couldn't help but ask, "Are we there yet?" This season will prove to be an exciting one, and the team's 2012 theme has already been blinking on the monitors in the Butts-Mehre Building to welcome the incoming freshman class: "Our Team. Our Time. No Regrets."

The camp is spearheaded by Coach Tereshinski (or Coach T as we call him). He's an enthusiastic supporter of the program and takes in all the advice that comes with herding three hundred women for a day of football. In fact, after a number of complaints last year, he clamped down on the male population sneaking onto the practice fields and into the facilities for the tours, although the men were allowed to watch the afternoon scrimmage in the stadium. He's typically pacing the registration line in the morning (much as he does during the games) and engages all the attendees in casual conversation.

This is my third year participating in the event. My first year, I chose offense and I went with the all versatile fullback. Last year, I opted special teams hoping I'd get to learn something about kicking and punting, but I soon found out they weren't about to let a bunch of inexperienced women put toe to leather. Instead, I wound up as the punt team's long snapper, which was a lot harder than it looked. I figured as long as I didn't toss it over the "punter's" head (e.g. a grad assistant who threw the ball), I'd be doing alright. No problems there. But there's something humbling about being on the field with everyone's eyes trained on your upturned rear, including the coaches, waiting on you to snap it into the dirt.

Having covered those two sides of the ball, this year I decided to go for defense. After a photo opportunity with Coach Richt, we (the defensive players) headed for the team meeting room and an overview of what we would learn during the day. While waiting on Coach Grantham to arrive, one of the ladies asked Coach Olivadotti if he had been following Christian Robinson's travel blog. Coach O laughed and said no, but did say that Robinson was sporting a new hair-do. As it so happens, in heading back to Butts-Mehre later in the day, we spied a couple of the players working on the practice fields, including Robinson (incidentally, I got to wear his number -45- for the day). And, yes, he has some sort of Honey Badger thing going on at the moment. I hope it's just a summer fad.

I once heard it said that southern women know their religion: Baptist, Methodist, and College Football. Ladies also love a great defense and we gave Coach Grantham a well-deserved and boisterous ovation when he came in the meeting room. After discussing the defensive highlights from last year, he gave us a quick overview of the defensive line, which gaps are covered by which players, technical alignments, and insight on defensive schemes.


Note the inset photo of a Florida player on his knees. I hate Florida.


Coach Grantham teaching us defense - my head was spinning after about five of these slides.

Down at the practice fields, we lined up for some relatively painless warm-up exercises and then ran through four basic drills for about an hour. Coach Lakatos instructed on stripping and scooping the ball. Coach Olivadotti instructed on jumping and tackling. Coach Garner had us line up to jump off the ball, block the tackling dummy, then wrap up and hit the quarterback (basic defensive end stuff). This was a fun exercise because he would try to fool you with hard counts and would make you try again if you jumped offsides (I didn't jump offsides, but I failed miserably in tackling the quarterback). And, finally, Coach Grantham gave us some instruction on reading the quarterback's shoulders for pass defense and interceptions (I'm proud to say I caught my ‘interception').


Coach Garner instructing on how to jump off the ball.


Coach Lakatos teaching the "strip and scoop."

After drilling, we chose our positions. I signed up for safety. Now, I'm sort of a short, low center-of-gravity individual, the kind of body type that would have made Willie Martinez downright giddy to have in the defensive backfield. Fortunately, Coach Lakatos was an able instructor, and it didn't take long for me to grasp the concept of calls ending in 4 or 3 meant covering zone of either a quarter or third on my side of the field, or a call ending in 1 meant man-to-man against the tight end (and fortunately for the scrimmage they suited the tight ends in green jerseys for easy points of reference). As Coach Grantham lined us up in different schemes, he had a little fun with his offensive counterpart who was instructing within earshot on the upper practice field. Every time we ‘sacked' the quarterback, he had us yell "Kill the quarterback, Bobo!" I couldn't help but notice the grin on Grantham's face - he seemed to be getting a real kick out of it.

Right before lunch, we headed back to the team meeting room to see some of the motivational videos that the team watched before their games last year. The assistant video coordinator, who develops the videos, said one of the hardest things is trying to find rap music that he can either play or edit in such a way as to meet Coach Richt's standards. He said the motivational videos are typically the last thing the players watch before loading the busses to head down to the stadium. Following our ‘motivation,' we met with Ron Courson in the training room to learn about rehabbing players and the medical aspects of the athletic program.

Lunch was held down at the Georgia Center and featured both Mark Richt and Aaron Murray as the speakers. Coach Richt had only about fifteen minutes to spare because he had afternoon ‘recruiting' business to attend to, which we would all agree was the higher priority, but ably answered a number of questions. [Last year, by chance, I was fortunate enough to wind up at his lunch table.] Murray, of course, was a hit in a room full of women of all ages and spoke about what it meant to be a Bulldog, and how hard the team is already working this summer in peer-driven drills. He also spoke about his academics, noting that he just graduated and would begin a doctoral program in organizational psychology this fall.


Aaron Murray entertaining a room full of women.

After lunch, we headed down to the stadium for some pre-game warm-ups with the new speed coach Sherman Armstrong and then participated in a few more drills, including Coach Garner teaching us how to fall on a fumble. Now that was a fun exercise - I mean, how often do you get to fall down between the hedges? Also during drills, I discovered that I was better at scooping the ball than I was at catching, probably because I'm short and my arms are relatively close to the ground. (You just have to go with the body type that God gave you.)

After the drills, we lined up for the scrimmage. Typically, the scrimmage only lasts an hour or hour and a half, and because of the number of participants, you'll usually only get to run a couple of plays. We would have been able to run more, though, if Bobo hadn't taken his sweet time in the huddle. After a while, he had the whole defense yelling at him from the sidelines to hurry up.


Green notebook spotted: efforts to seek and destroy were unsuccessful.

Another thing I've learned about the scrimmages is that you have to keep your eye on Bobo; he'll run interference and block for the ball carrier (Coach Searels was also known to do that). He's also a creature of habit. The very first play from scrimmage was a long bomb (no kidding), which fortunately was intercepted by our defense. (See Coach, you can't even fool a bunch of girls with that one, or the half-back pass on the second play.) In the end, although the defense picked off a number of passes, including a return for a touchdown, the offense ran up the score. I have my suspicions that Penn Wagers was in charge of the officiating because we wound up with some pretty lousy spots, not to mention a non-existent play-clock. Coach Garner did his best to mix it up with Bobo, which was pretty entertaining in itself, and tried to pep us up when we got in the huddle, saying we were playing as well as we could against the offense, the coaches, and the officials.


Lining up during the scrimmage - we even had our own camera crew on hand to get it all on tape.

On a final and personal note, as a Bulldog I am exceptionally proud of the way the staff and coaches organize and run the camp. The grad assistants and the defensive coaches (Grantham, Garner, Lakatos, and Olivadotti), were both professional and fun to work with and had a tremendous amount of patience and humor as they tried to teach us how to play Bulldog football. It's also a family day for many of the coaches, who will often bring their children to hang out on the field. Coach Olivadotti had his daughter hoisted on his shoulders for most of the scrimmage, and all of the lady Bulldogs were glad to see her doing well.

Saturday was a beautiful day for football between the hedges. But, as I stood on the sidelines waiting to be called into action, I couldn't help but look up to my seats on the south side and wonder what this season might bring.

See you all between the hedges on September 1, and GO DAWGS!

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