Under-17 coaching staffs building teams at brisk pace

By Joe Frollo

Most high school football programs have three to four weeks of two-a-days to install their offenses and defenses.

For USA Football Under-17 International Development Week participants in Austin, Texas, players and coaches have four days to get on the same page.

Team USA White head coach Donald Davis of Calvert Hall High School in Townsend, Md., said the process is difficult but not impossible.

“We knew about the time constraints coming in,” Davis said. “It’s about making it sound but making it simple, especially for the linemen. For skill position players, you just need to put them in the right position and they will be successful.”

The three U.S. teams and Team Sweden practiced 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 to serve as a walkthrough for Tuesday afternoon’s jamboree at Burger Stadium.

Simplicity is the goal for Jeff Ables, the Team Red head coach from Austin Bowie High School. He came in with some ideas of what he wanted to do but has changed much of it to fit the personnel.

“Some of these quarterbacks have never taken a snap under center,” Ables said. “They all do different things back in their programs. We will work to the players’ strengths, keep it simple and keep it fun.”

Team White quarterback Kyle Gallagher said he is running basically the same offense as back home in Endwell, N.Y. The most difficult aspect has been translating the terminology.

Terms can mean one thing at Maine-Endwell High School and something completely different in Austin. He’s slowly getting it though and put in some extra study time before the jamboree to be ready.

“It all seems a little bit rushed at first, but after a couple of plays we get used to it,” Gallagher said. “I just do what the coaches tell me, and they will correct me if I need help.”

Studying the playbook after practice has been the key to success for Michael Guerrido of Deltona, Fla. The University High School free safety spends as much time going over his notes as he does working on the field.

“There have been a few long nights re-reading plays and asking my teammates how we do things,” Guerrido said. “It’s getting to the point where it will start to come naturally.”

With rosters around 40 players each, some U-17 players are being asked to play both sides of the ball. Call that an honors class when it comes to study sessions. Both Connor Humphreys of Gresham, Ore., and Brannon Barry of St. Charles, Ill., are learning offensive and defensive schemes.

Humphreys is a left tackle and defensive end for Team White. Barry is a wide receiver and defensive back for Team Red.

“If you are coachable, you can pick up pretty quickly what it is the coaches are telling you to do,” Humphreys said. “Every coach may have different words or different techniques, but in the end it’s all the same.”

Or as Barry put it: “Football is football. There are different terms and different coverages, but the coaches expect us to work hard then go to the dorms to study. It’s all about repetition – on the field and in your head.”

ATTENTION PARENTS  Parents and fans attending the Under-17 games Thursday morning at Burger Stadium are reminded that Texas law prohibits anyone being on the playing field or track surrounding the playing surface who is not involved in the competition.

Spectators are required to sit in the stands. USA Football thanks you for your cooperation.

NO DOWN TIME  Players and coaches hold meetings at the University of Texas as well as on the playing field. Derik Calhoon of El Cerrito High School in Richmond, Calif., said he’s not shy about asking a coach a question – whether it is part of the schedule, at a meal or during a random meeting on campus.

“The coaching has been great,” said Calhoon, an outside linebacker and free safety for Team Red. “You have to be focused and always listening. The coaches may be telling someone else exactly what you are confused about.

“For defense at least, the coaches aren’t too scripted. They are letting us play and trusting us to be in the right place.”

LONG WAY FROM HOME   Glenn Cummings traveled more than 2,000 miles with two players from Colchester, Vt., to take part in Under-17 International Development Week. Grant Cummings is a running back for Team Blue, and Nick Bacon is a defensive end on Team Red.

Cummings also is president of Northern Vermont Youth Football, whose coaches are certified by USA Football’s online education.

“We came down to get my son and Nick exposure to college-level coaching and a look at what football is like outside the state of Vermont,” Glenn Cummings said. “It’s a great opportunity for players to embrace the whole week. We will try to come again and to try out for the Under-19 National Team when Grant is ready.”

NEVER GIVE UP  Davis ended Tuesday morning’s practice with a story for his squad about determination. The White Team coaches played basketball Monday and as Davis saw a loose ball roll away in the backcourt, his mind wanted to go after it but his body just wouldn’t cooperate.

This is a lesson that age catches up to everyone. But for these U-17 players, their bodies are in prime shape, so it’s often their mental toughness that is the first to wane.

“When I was younger, there would have been no hesitation as I got after that ball,” Davis said. “That’s what it should be like for you guys now. You’ve got to want it. You’ve got to go after it. And you’ve got to get it.”

SHAKE THE RUST OFF  The Under-17 jamboree Tuesday afternoon was a chance for players to put some of what they learned into use during full-contact scrimmages. For  nose guard Miguel Rodriguez of Livingston (Texas) High School, that meant challenging himself against often bigger,  heavier offensive linemen.

“It feels great,” said Rodriguez a 5-foot-5, 175-pound fireplug with a motor that has impressed coaches. “I’m blessed to have the opportunity to play against the best in this country and Sweden. There is such a good level of football being played here. I can’t wait to get back to Livingston and share as much as I can with my teammates what I have learned.”