Have you ever been to a football practice? There is a rhythm to them, a progression from fundamentals, to one-on-one drills, to seven-on-seven, linemen versus linemen, to 11-on-11. Mix in a few periods (practices are broken into 5-minute segments) of special teams here and there, but in general, it is a carefully orchestrated exercise. Everyone seems to know where to go and when, how long to stay in a certain place and when it is their turn to come on the field or stay on the sideline. During the spring, the Huskies often have two huddles going so that as soon as one group runs its play, the next one is ready to go.
When you've covered as many football practices as I have, and seen the same drills a hundred times, standing on the sidelines through 24 periods day after day, your mind tends to wander. Sure, you talk to the reporters on hand, to other staff members, and there are certain periods that are definitely more interesting than others.
But for some reason today, even more than watching, I was listening. It sounds a little like chaos. Each of NIU's coaches, not to mention the grad assistants, has something to say to his players after each rep. They could be pointing out technique, congratulating them, explaining or chewing them out. Occasionally, the coaches are pretty funny. Whistles blow, players jaw at each other (in good competitive spirit) and the next play goes on.
"I could run through that hole," Coach Kill will yell at a running back. "Get in the hole."
Today, some of the popular themes from the offense were "get your pad levels down, sit down," "don't be soft, use your hands" and "move your feet." The coaching is CONSTANT.
Another thing you'll hear is the communication among the players on the field. "Rip 84, Rip 84" Chandler Harnish will call as he prepares for the snap. "Liz 88, Liz 88" says DeMarcus Grady.
There is no doubt that football has a language all its own. So just for fun, after practice, I asked the coaches, where do all those words come from? Are they passed down from generation to generation? Made up by the current crop of coaches or players? Do all schools use "rip" and "liz" like we do - to designate right and left (offense) or strong and weak (defense)?
"You could probably write a book on the origins of the terminology and why we do things a certain way," said head coach Jerry Kill. "It is kinda like a universal language. All I can tell you is I was playing in 1980, the first year I came into college football, and that's when I learned the terms `Rip and `Liz. That's when I started using `em and I've been using `em ever since."
Linebackers Coach Tom Matukewicz explained that there is a method to the madness of the terms they use.
"You want words that are a single syllable and something that doesn't sound like another word [that you already use]. They should be short, clear and definitive."
And apparently naming the plays and formations can be a pretty humorous process.
"We used to have a thesaurus in the staff room," said quarterbacks coach Pat Poore. "When you're naming a play or a formation, people would start throwing out things - Reagan/Lincoln, ram/lion, ridge/ledge, rocket/laser. Occasionally you could go off the letters like thunder/lightning or rain/cloud. You want random things that go together. Some of the suggestions could get pretty crazy."
And while "r" words and "l" words are the most common, they are not quite universal. When Poore was at the University of Chicago, he said that they used "gee" and "haw" instead of "rip" and "liz". Apparently, those came from the terms that sled drivers use to drive their dogs in races like the Iditarod.
So next time you go to football practice, and remember, at Northern Illinois fans are invited and encouraged to come by and even stand on the sidelines, stop and listen. If you've played competitive football, you'll probably know just what's happening. If not, you'll quickly realize that it's a language all its own.
A big THANK YOU to all our student-athletes, who do so much for Northern Illinois University!
Today is Student-Athlete Appreciation Day here at NIU and on campuses across the country. A day to thank our student-athletes for everything they do for us, and phew, that is a lot. These college students represent Northern Illinois from coast-to-coast, building the image and expanding awareness of our great university. This year alone, we've had student-athletes compete from California to New York, and from Alaska to Florida, all with "Northern Illinois" emblazoned across their chest. I can think of little else that disperses the Northern Illinois moniker so far.
But the Huskies don't just represent NIU far and wide, they do it in the right way. For the 2007-08 academic year, our student-athletes had the best grade point average in the MAC. This fall, the Huskies achieved their seventh straight semester with a 3.0 or better.
Getting it done in the classroom is great. Getting it done in the classroom and between the lines is even better. The NIU men's soccer team finished second in the conference and were nationally ranked, the Huskie football team earned a spot at the Independence Bowl, gymnastics and wrestling each sent two competitors to NCAA competition, and the list goes on and on.
Speaking of going on and on, that's what I'm doing right now. In brief, our student-athletes do way more for Northern Illinois than we could ever enumerate. As a small token of our great appreciation, our administrative team handed out "Thank You"s in a language college kids understand best: food. Each student-athlete got a "Snack Pack" that featured chocolate chip cookies, a granola bar, fruit, and bottled water. It's the least we could do to show our infinite appreciation for our Huskies, who do so much for us.
Huskies like wrestler Bryan Deutsch, who, when he won the MAC Championship at 157 pounds this year, swelled with pride.
"I was really proud, happy to represent Northern Illinois," he said.
We're really proud, happy that you represent us, too.
-The Huskies had by far the best weather they have had this spring with no rain (or snow) and very little wind for Thursday's two-hour workout.
-Players are wearing different numbers this spring, and it looks pretty strange to look out and know that #24 is not Bradley Pruitt (it's Tracy Wilson) and #85 is not Matt Simon (that's Tyler Clasey), while newcomer Kyle Jenkins is wearing Craig Rusch's old #99. It definitely will make the savvy Huskie fan do a double-take.
-Following practice, Larry English worked out for a pro team for the third straight day as two representatives from the Denver Broncos were on hand. On Wednesday, the New York Giants sent a couple people from their football operation to do the same. The Broncos' folks came out early to watch NIU practice prior to meeting up with Larry.
-Northern Illinois Asssociate Vice President and Director of Athletics Jeff Compher was on hand after practice to distribute the Huskie "Snack Sacks" given to each NIU student athlete on Thursday as part of National Student-Athlete Day. (for a complete description of the day, see below)
-Are you watching the video on the front page of niuhuskies.com? NIU Media Services maven Brad Hoey will be posted his latest "1 minute interview" with Jerry Kill and defensive end Brandon Bice today or tomorrow and also running is the Huskies' new football season ticket spot.
-Remember, you can hear first-hand all the language used by Jerry Kill and defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys at the spring game as the Huskie Auctions are currently featuring a chance to "wear the headset" at the 2009 Spring Football Preview on Saturday, April 25. It really is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be on the inside of a Huskie football practice. Click here to check out the Auctions page.
Alex Jones went 2-for-3 with two RBI in Wednesday's win over Milwaukee,
and I wasn't there for any of it. Coincidence? Probably not.
The NIU baseball team continued its hot streak, with a 5-3 win over UW-Milwaukee yesterday at Ralph McKinzie Field. The Huskies have now won seven of their last nine games. Get the full story from The Northern Star
On a personal note, I went out to watch the game and enjoy a little "spring" weather. Not five pitches after I sat down, the Panthers cracked a home run over the left field fence. I left, and we held them off for the win. Am I bad luck, or is it just coincidence? Do the Huskies have incredible good luck when you're watching? How about bad? Send me your best good luck/bad luck stories involving NIU to be featured here on the blog.
Spring football practice continued this morning at Huskies Stadium. We'll have a wrap with some news and notes from practice later on today. This is practice numero five (the only Spanish words I know are "numero" and "siesta") out of 15, all of which culminates in the NIU Football Spring Preview, April 25 at 1 p.m. You can literally get as close to being a division-I college football coach as you will ever get (most of you, at least) with the auctions that are currently up on NIUHuskies.com. Winners of the Sideline Experience and Coaches Box Experience get to listen in on the coaches' headsets during the spring game. That's how to Experience It Live, if you ask me.