Another way to coach football

Column by Chris Graham

Coaches in American football aren’t so much coaches as they are field generals – who devise twin attacks, one by ground, another by air, with the basic intent of penetrating an opponent’s defenses and otherwise neutralizing their offensive capabilities to the point of being able to achieve ultimate victory.
And as field generals, they surely don’t need to be bothered with input from lowly foot soldiers – their officers, their coordinators and position coaches, yes, definitely. But … their players?
From Pop Warner to the NFL, the coaches call the shots, the players just bring them to some kind of fruition.
Which makes Waynesboro coach Steve Isaacs’ approach to the game so intriguing.

Take, for instance, that fake punt that he called in the third quarter from his own 29 down 7-6 to heavy favorite Turner Ashby.

That had to take a lot of guts on the part of the new coach in his first game in the purple and gold, right? You know, to call a fake punt backed up in his own territory like that?

“I just wanted to run a power play,” Isaacs said of the play, which worked almost better than he assumed it would when junior tailback Stephen Brown took the direct snap and broke inside toward what looked to be a game-breaking 70-yard touchdown run in the making.

Brown got tripped up at the line, but he got the first down – and the Little Giants marched inside the TA 5 before a Brown fumble returned the ball to the Black Knights, who ended up holding on for a hard-fought 9-6 win Friday night.

But back to that fake punt. Didn’t Isaacs say that he called not a fake punt, but a power running play?

“They changed it over to that quick-kick power play,” said Isaacs, who had earlier called a quick kick on a fourth down in TA territory that set up the fake quick kick as an option in this potentially game-changing situation.

“That shows me that they’re starting to understand my way of thinking. I just figured that we would run that power play up the gut, they hadn’t stopped it all night, we could get a couple of yards out of it. And they come out and shifted to that quick kick, and I said, That’s neat,” Isaacs said.

Isaacs, who won a state title at Bath County in 1995 and won the Jefferson District title at Western Albemarle in 2003, has had success over the years with a throwback offensive system, the single-wing, that demands that its players learn the ins and outs of play-calling at the line of scrimmage.

Brown, who finished with 77 yards on 19 carries and a tough one-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, seems to relish being under Isaacs’ wings this fall.

“Last year, we didn’t do none of that. We just went in there, and they just talked to us the whole time,” Brown said of Isaacs’ somewhat unusual halftime talk, which isn’t fire and brimstone as much as it is like a few minutes inside one of Isaacs’ math classes.

“This year, we go in there, and they tell us what we’re doing wrong, and we change everything up – and we come up different,” Brown said. “Last year, it wasn’t like that. Whatever they wanted to do, we did. Coach asks us if we want to do it – and if it’s going to work, we do it.

“I’ve never had that happen before – have a coach ask me something like, if it was alright for him to do something,” Brown said. “He does it all the time. He’s always asking us, Can we do this, can we do that? And if we can’t do it, we say no – but if we can, we say yeah.”

Something that the guys had to tell Coach at the half opened up things for Brown and his backfield mates in the second half – and helped WHS come thisclose to pulling off what woulld have been a monumental upset.

“They were keying on everything – when our guards would pull, they would key on that. So we just left the guards right there and just kept running at them – and they couldn’t do anything with it,” Brown said.

Isaacs thinks it is only logical that he would get the input of his players on the field about what is going on out there on the field.

“They’re out there – they know if the linemen are slanting, they know where the strength is,” Isaacs said. “Just what they told me, and I depend on them to tell me, led us to change a couple of blocking schemes the second half. That’s when we had that big long drive. If we’d continued on with the same blocking scheme that we had in the first half, we wouldn’t have been able to drive the ball. We change that blocking scheme, and there it is.

“When they come off the field and say, Let’s just stay with it, because they haven’t adjusted to it – then we moved our blocking back over in that one set to get that power play off the weak side going, and they didn’t adjust to that – it was just boom, boom, boom,” Isaacs said.

As much as things were clicking Friday night, Waynesboro still ended up on the wrong end of the final score.

“And I hate moral victories,” Isaacs said.

But if nothing else, Isaacs has a new set of believers – in his team and in the Waynesboro community, which has struggled with its football squad in recent years, including a 6-24 run in three years under Isaacs’ predecessor, Danny Dorton.

The bleachers were full for the first game of the Isaacs’ era at WHS – and the standing-room-only crowd gave the new coach and his players a standing ovation when the final horn sounded.

“The bleachers were full, we’ve got people around the fence – and it was just a great atmosphere. And our kids – you could see that twinkle in their eye. It was just neat. And … ahh, three points short,” Isaacs said.

Brown, for his part, still has that twinkle in his eye.

“I think teams at first were like, Oh, Waynesboro ain’t nothin’. Now they’ve got something to think about. We’re coming strong,” Brown said.

Chris Graham is the executive editor of The Augusta Free Press.

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