PIGSKIN PREVIEW TAB -- Knowing the plays helps

Quarterbacks are expected to memorize offenses complex and simple

By Donny Henn

The starting quarterback for the Lake City High School football team in 1981 was usually the best athlete on the field every Friday night.

Dave Possehl was fast and strong with a good throwing arm, and a confidence that made him a natural leader.


But Dave had one shortcoming as a quarterback: He didn't always remember the plays.

I remember fondly, because I was one of the receivers who shuttled in plays from the sideline. Every game, my good friend Dave could be counted upon for some levity in the huddle with an exchange that went something like this:

Me (arriving to huddle with new play): "Slot right, power dive counter, on three."

Dave: "Okay. Slot right, power dive counter, on three. (Short pause). Wait-wait-wait-wait! Okay, (Greg) Siewert, now is that hand-off to the right, or the left?!"

Some guys in the huddle would start chuckling immediately. Others with similar doubts waited until Siewert, our star running back/linebacker, finished explaining the play. Then we all laughed heartily as we shouted "break," clapped our hands and jogged to the line of scrimmage.

Former Lake City coach Jim Roforth wondered aloud why our plays on the field sometimes had little resemblance to the plays he sent in. And he probably wondered how we finished 7-2 that year.

"I don't remember if our playbook was that thick or complex; I just don't think I ever took it home and studied it," Dave confessed recently at our 20 year class reunion. "I guess I just didn't want to work that hard at it.

"Plus I knew I could always ask Siewert."


'A quarterback's job'

Kevin Ryan understood when he signed up for quarterback in seventh grade at St. Charles that learning the playbook thoroughly came with the position.

Now a senior, Ryan steps in as the Saints' starting quarterback and will pilot an offense that will begin the season with between 30 and 40 plays.

"After a year or two you learn to dedicate yourself to (memorizing plays)," he said. "Now the only hard part for me is remembering where all of the receivers' routes are going on pass plays."

Ryan has been running some of the plays since seventh grade, and he knows them by heart. But much of the Saints' offense will be new this season, as coaches phase out the 'Toss' offense and install more traditional formations.

"Our offense has changed a lot since I was in seventh grade; now it's totally different," he said. "There's a lot to remember, especially on passing plays. We have roll-outs, straight drop-backs, and quick drops. Now we're working in some shot-gun formations. The coaches say we're probably going to pass more this season."

Ryan knows that his coaches and teammates are counting on him to keep it all straight. He said that pressure doesn't bother him.

"I take pride in knowing all the plays," he said. "But I also know that it's my job and my responsibility as the quarterback."


Summer study sessions

Not every varsity quarterback has played the position since seventh grade. Tyler Sherden was a running back in his first two varsity seasons at Rochester John Marshall, and became the Rockets' signal caller last year as a junior.

Sherden found that the best way for him to memorize plays was to execute them repeatedly, so he and some JM teammates got together during the summer to jog through their assignments.

"The most studying I did was when we ran plays together as a group in June," he said. "Five or six of us got together for about three weeks, and we'd spend 20 or 30 minutes going over the plays."

Sherden said he has a good command of the JM playbook now, partly because it hasn't changed much in four years.

"At first you're just lost; I was overwhelmed by all the plays when I was a freshman," he related. "This year it's pretty easy for me. There are a lot of plays, but most of them are the same four or five formations with just slight variations.

"This year (Coach Jack Drews) tells me a play and I instantly have a picture in my mind."

K.I.S.S. in L.C.


The playbook at Lake City is actually less intimidating than it was 20 years ago, and that's by head coach Gordy Ziebart's design.

"Our philosophy is to keep it relatively simple, and we use the same terminology from the seventh graders on up," Ziebart said.

Three quarterbacks are competing for the starting job at L.C., seniors Jeremy Holst and Lucas Schumacher, and junior Sterling Malcomson.

Ziebart's offense is so basic that he no longer passes out playbooks to his players. He thinks simplicity has been a key to the Tigers' success in recent years.

"We're probably looking at running eight to 10 plays total in the opening game, with little variations," Ziebart said.

"By the end of the year we'll have maybe 20; that should be enough."

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