Monthly Archives: September 2012

Week Two: Calhoun High School

After one practice and a scout meeting at Calhoun High in Port Lavaca, I have a few impressions.

At first, I was a little thrown off by the scouting process and atmosphere but the more you look at the system the more sense it makes. As I wrote in my first post about the Sandcrabs, the way things are done in Lavaca are kind of unique. The multiple option offense they run, all the two-way players and even their nickname are not what you typically see in successful big-school Texas programs. Add to this the fact that they have very few D I prospects and someone who didn’t know better might assume this to be a struggling program rather than one that has built a great tradition as a perennial 4A power.

While the Sandcrabs use the same scouting program as almost everyone else (HUDL), they probably rely on the computer less than any other team I’m covering. The reason for this is in keeping with the philosophical underpinnings of the program. The rarity of the option offense they run means Coach Whitaker and the offensive staff are often in the dark when it comes to using film to determine how they will be defended.  They make educated guesses based on what they see, but they won’t really know how Somerset will try to stop them until they line up Friday night.

But, it doesn’t matter anyway, the offensive package is complete and has built in ways to attack any front. Whatever the defense tries to take away will open a different option for the Sandcrabs, it’s simply up to the offensive staff to recognize what’s there and exploit it.

Of course, the coaches can only make the right calls, the players need to execute correctly or the entire chess game falls apart. Seeing them on the practice field, on the sidelines or during pregame, the Sandcrabs don’t look all that impressive. In fact, most of them don’t look like good football players until they’re playing football.

This is the second part of the unstated philosophy. This is a system that allows marginal athletes to play outstanding football thorough coordinated action, outstanding technique and hard work. The line has just two blocking schemes and the backfield works the same option drills every day, from 7th grade up, until they can do it blindfolded.

The final piece of the puzzle is the speed training, weight training and conditioning that turns average high school boys into an outstanding football team. It’s a simple system, but deceptively well organized and elegant in its implementation. They believe in doing a few things very well and that when combined with multiple formations and a few wrinkles, they can solve any defense they see.

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Carthage vs. Lindale

I’ve gotten several requests for a picture of the infamous scoreboard written about in the Wall Street Journal and SI. I thought about arguing about the negative press it’s gotten, but I’m tired of that, if you care about my opinion, look at my post concerning Allen’s new stadium in archives. It’s basically the same argument I’d make for the scoreboard, just a 59.3 million dollars cheaper and a few hundred miles east. Anyway for those who haven’t seen it, here is a picture.


It’s a great scoreboard, but it shouldn’t overshadow the work being done at Carthage. This is an outstanding program, run by hardworking coaches who care about the kids who play there. That this community has decided to provide a world class environment for their kids that goes way beyond a scoreboard is nothing they should have to defend to anyone.

Anyway, on to the game, Carthage bounced back from a zero week upset, beating Lindale 38-21. While they still have a lot of work to do, they took a big step forward, cleaning up some of the mistakes that cost them so much against Jacksonville. The Bulldog secondary did not give up the big play and Carthage did not put the ball on the ground. All week, the coaches emphasized that they traditionally get off to a slow start, so they didn’t panic about what happened last week. Carthage runs the most complex offense I’ve ever seen. With so many adjustments and variations build in and it often takes new starters a while to get it down. I was amazed to watch the offensive strategy sessions this week. I understood just enough to know how much I didn’t understand. The only way a system such as this can be implemented is by a large staff who provide individualized coaching, Three state championships in the last four years show that this formula works. I expect to see Carthage smooth out the rough edges as the season progresses and compete for that fourth ring in December. As Coach Surratt said repeatedly to his squad, “Its not how you start, but how you finish that matters.”

As with my zero week in La Marque, I really enjoyed my short time in Carthage and it was kind of sad to leave as the coaches were sitting down to review the game film last night.


I did leave and drove 300 miles to Port Lavaca, arriving just a little late for the morning coaches meeting. I will be with the Fighting Sandcrabs this week, Check back in a few days for an update.

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More on Carthage

Coach Surratt with team after practice Wednesday

40 something hours until the Carthage Bulldogs take the field against Lindale and some of my general impressions of the week.

-The heat this week is just awful, around 100 and humid every day, on the hot artificial turf it’s even worse,,, but I got the chance to sneak up to the air-conditioned press box for a while today.

-I get the impression this team is not in any way letting Fridays upsetting loss effect what’s going on this week. They know they’re a good team, they know they need to play better and they are confident they will. They’ll learn from the loss, fix the problems that caused it and be just fine.

-Practices at Carthage are very physical, have got a little sharper each of the last three days and a little hotter each of the last three days.

-I only know what I’ve seen on film of Lindale, and they are definitely a quality team, but if I was coaching at Carthage, I’d be cautiously confident about Friday night.

-See link for preview of Friday’s game.

One of the major factors in the quality coaching I’ve seen at Carthage this week is how well they use video and technology to supplement their instruction. Carthage tennis coach, Jim Milstead and a student assistant, film team drills, 7 on 7 and inside run sessions from two angles everyday at practice.  They quickly upload the film into the HUDL system and, often before practice ends, the film is available for the coaches and players.

With 22 bodies moving very quickly in different directions on every play, even an outstanding staff misses many of the minute details that make the difference between failure and success.  The filming system at Carthage allows the coaches and players to see and go over every step and every move by every player on each rep. during practice, from two different angles. As soon as the players come off the field they head to various meeting rooms and offices to watch and have their play critiqued by their position coaches. This makes field time much more efficient as the coaches don’t need to keep 21 players standing around waiting while they correct the mistakes of #22. Instead, they can move quickly and correct problems later in the meeting room. It also motivates the players to do well on every rep. They become very aware there is no hiding from the camera and film doesn’t lie.

The process looks so seamless that I’m guessing many of the players take it for granted. But, it is a significant investment in manpower and infrastructure that allows the coaches to do such a good job without worrying about the technical details.

Manpower comes from Coach Milstead and his assistant, the infrastructure is in the design of the fieldhouse. The fieldhouse was build with ceiling mounted video projectors in every office and conference room, all tied into to computers with internet connections allowing the uploaded video of every drill, practice and game to be instantly shown in every position meeting. At Carthage, at least, the days of rolling video carts with VHS or DVD machines attached to 35 inch, 200 lb. televisions are long in the past.

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Week One: Carthage Bulldogs

The new scoreboard everyone’s talking about, biggest HS video screen in the US.

Friday night, Carthage High School did something that’s only happened twice in since Bulldog Stadium opened, they lost a home game. The Jacksonville Indians upset the Bulldogs 34-30, Friday night in a game that the young Carthage team had many chances to put away. The game ended in heartbreaking fashion for the home team. Leading 30-27, the Bulldogs secondary intercepted a pass with less than 2 minutes  seemingly clinching the game. The sophomore cornerback had the opportunity to run out of bound or go to the ground; instead he made a move across the field, running the ball into Jacksonville territory before having the ball stripped from him. Jacksonville recovered and scored the winning touchdown a few plays later, for a 34-30 upset win.
After the game ended the Carthage coaches gathered to break down the film and go over the game until around 4:30 in the morning. At 9 AM, Saturday, several coaches and players came in to watch the film again. Yesterday, (Sunday)  the entire staff of 16 coaches came in at 1:00 to breakdown the film for the upcoming Lindale game, come up with game plans, discuss personnel packages, script practice plays and set the practice plan for Monday. This took around 9 hours and they left a little after 10 PM. At 8 this morning (Labor Day) the coaches were back at their desks, breaking down more film and preparing for practice. The kids showed up at 9. After an hour of watching film of the Jacksonville game, the Bulldogs hit the field for practice around 10. At 12:30, the coaches and players ate a delivered pizza lunch and began to watch Lindale film and film of the practice they had just completed. The team left around two PM and the coaches went to work on tomorrows practice plan.
If you think this flurry of work is due to the tough loss Friday night, you would be wrong. You would also be wrong to think this just happens at Carthage or in Texas. While the staff sizes and professional status of the coaches makes the scope of this preparation somewhat unique to the Lone Star State, committed high school staffs all around the country log similar hours. Except by the coaches (and their wives) this part of the game is mostly overlooked.
The nature of the game, with its 45 second strategy sessions between plays(huddles), video scouting, unlimited substitutions and multiple formation and play combinations make the game uniquely open to these marathon planning sessions.

Carthage defensive staff at work Sunday

It’s become a national pastime to second guess coaches’ playcalling, it’s an easy and fun game to play and coaches DO make bad decisions just like anybody else. Just remember that those coaches know more about their team and the team they’re playing than the most involved fan could ever know.
This work is a big part of coaching, hard on the families, but also part of what makes winning a football game so rewarding. Achieving something you pay a big price for is always better than winning something that comes easy and if the Bulldogs get it done next Friday, they will have  reason to celebrate.

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La Marque vs. G-Ball Highlights

Nice highlight package from Mike Lockwood and

Thanks, Mike and good luck to all of you against Texas City, should be a good game.

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