How we went from 1-15 to League Champs, Cruised the Playoffs & Nearly Won the State Championship
The fascinating story of Queen Creek H. S. (AZ) ’98 Football Season
Coach Bob Whaley- Arizona High School football coach
I was a varsity football coach and was a member of a newly organized staff in ‘98 that took over a team at Queen Creek H.S (AZ). that was 1-15 for the two years before. The school’s program had deteriorated such that they had no organized weight program during that time. Facilities were zilch, we had a 30 year old hand-me-down Crouther blocking sled with taped up pads, and 7 footballs….oh yeah, we also had a kicking tee! We took that team to the state championship game. (We nearly won it in a close fought battle with the perennial power with a freshman QB after our senior QB went down in the 4
So how do you go from worst to league champs and cruise through the playoffs and make the state championship game? We had good coaches, and we knew how to teach the pass game, and we made sure that we ran the ball enough not to be one dimensional. We had two receivers that scored every third time they caught the ball. (Each caught over 30 passes.) We did this with a freshman QB that threw for 64% after he replaced, (after the 4th game) an injured senior QB that had been completing 63% of his passes.
I will try to focus on several of the things that I feel were very important to getting us there.
We as a staff were very united about the importance of conditioning and toughness as well as execution. Because we had no off season conditioning program or weight training, we knew we had to make up for that deficit, so we designed a conditioning program that promoted toughness as well as getting in ultimate shape.
Any sport has the same problem……when the players become fatigued during conditioning drills, the players begin to coast, sometimes just a little, often times enough to be noticeable. An old coach of mine used to have a favorite expression, “fatigue makes cowards out of all of us”. It is still as true today as it was then.
One of the ways we insured that we got 100% effort, and made it a team effort at the same time, was to use a timing factor with a specific number of conditioning reps.
I also had developed an accurate timer/buzzer with the NFL Cowboys and the Rams that enabled us to challenge our players in our conditioning drills and made a huge difference in the level of effort expended by our players. We used the timer also to put game timing pressure on our QB to make his reads, get set up and get the ball away quickly. Since we had a freshman QB after our 4th game, we had him getting the ball away in 1.3 seconds most of the time. We also used the timer extensively in our kicking game too.
During the first four weeks of practice, we also ran 12 min. of intense station conditioning (4 stations of 2 ½ minutes each.).
To set up the station drill, we picked one end of the field, put a coach/station at each corner of the end zone, and one coach at each sideline at the 50 yd. Line. The four groups of players really had to sprint to the next station in 10 sec. to beat the buzzer each time or they had to run it over.
After 4 days, we got into pads and helmets, we added 12 minutes (4 Stations) of hitting drills for a total of 24 minutes of stations, with 10 seconds for sprints (by the timer) from one station to the next. We made all 4 groups start on the whistle, and they all had to be at the next station when the buzzer went off. We took a water break after the first 12 minute round. During the first couple of weeks of this we had a lot of players leaving their lunches on the practice field on a regular basis.
Many coaches have run similar drills, but we ran them for four weeks! Some of the assistant coaches were grumbling that we did not have enough time to run plays. I told them “we will expand that time when they are ready”.
Believe me, station drills are one of the most intense conditioning experiences your players can ever go through. After we added the second 12 minutes of hitting stations, our players got tougher by the day. You can add whatever conditioning and hitting drills you want for each of the 2 ½ min. stations as long as they are very active and intense. Our players had so much sweat and effort invested by our first game, that they never even thought of quitting for a play, much less a game. When we got off the ball, we really ate people up.
To the surprise of many people, we started out 3-0. A lot of reporters that hardly knew we existed started giving us a lot of ink after that third win.
Let me give you one example how running a specific number of drill reps for time really helps. We started out conditioning by running 50 yd gassers, but after 3-4 reps, we had players strung out all over the field, some going from 50 to 80% speed. Then, out of frustration, we changed our methods. .
We put the squad on the goal line in two waves, one linemen type, and the other backs.
We told the squad that we were only going to run twelve 50’s, but everyone had to make the time or it didn’t count. We stood a coach on the 25 yd line and had the players (on the goal line) sprint to that line, touch the line and sprint back. Since I had a timer/buzzer that let everyone know when a set time elapsed, backs had to beat 8 seconds and linemen had to beat 9 seconds each sprint or everyone had to run it over.
Well let me tell you, after the 3rd sprint or so, they got tired and started to coast. When several of the players did not beat the buzzer we told them “that doesn’t count”! Man, were they ticked. Right away they started to make sure that they made it, and made sure that their team mates made it too. And, most important, just to be sure that they made the buzzer, they finished well before it.. (Because of the amount of effort expended by all, we had to watch the players closely to monitor those that were ready to drop, and we adjusted rests between sprints to allow them to stay at the 100% effort level.) For some reason, the players really tend to believe the buzzer, but if you use a stopwatch, they think you’re messing with them!
After that, when we ran sprints, out came the timer, I never had to raise my voice, and we achieved a level of conditioning that every coach wants. Our endurance in the 4th qtr was outstanding.
To coaches, the psychology of running a specific number of sprints for time is a great concept. Actually, we all have had our players start to dog it during conditioning and told them that their level of effort was bad enough to do it over again. We just took the concept a little further with a time factor added to a specific number of repetitions, and the timer, to get outstanding results.
Naturally, we told our players during our most intense conditioning, that we did not know how they felt, and that we didn’t want any players collapsing on the field. If they simply could not go any further, or were suffering from heat exhaustion, we told them to go off to the side until they could catch their breath or get heat treatment.
It became a matter of pride that very few players joined the “brown” squad unless they really needed it. In Arizona, it’s not unusual to practice in 112 degree heat in August, so we had to watch our players very closely. We had to adjust the rest period between reps accordingly.
I realize that many high school programs have excellent conditioning programs. It would be ignorant to claim that the conditioning part of our strategy was the whole reason for our success, but we did find out as a staff, that when you really push your players, they not only get in shape, but if it’s done right, they develop a toughness and a togetherness that other teams find hard to defeat. When you’re up against an opponent that never gives up and keeps coming at you, and at you , and at you, all of a sudden you realize that you’re in for a very long 48 minutes.
Let me give you an example. We had a Jr. right guard that was 6’1 and 190 lbs. on that squad. We created an award called the “Bent face mask” award. He was the first recipient of the award. It happened because in our 4th game, we went up against another small school that had three legitimate D I prospects. One of which was a 290 Lb. D tackle that was a pre season all state selection. Well, our right guard kept coming at him, coming at him. and coming at him, until late in the 3rd Qtr., he (the D Tackle), took himself out of the game and said “No Mas” He sat on the bench with a towel over his head. Our right guard had bent his own face mask up into a mangled piece of metal going after this kid. Our right guard finished the game going as strong as ever too. In my book, you should get down on your knees and thank the good Lord anytime you get a player like that. .
Also, I cannot emphasize too much how your players hate it when they don’t beat the buzzer. It creates a completely different mind set in your players that injects a great deal of urgency in a drill compared to a non timed drill. Most players now a days have grown up competing with electronic games as part of their life.
If you find a time is insufficient to allow the successful execution of a drill, or if too much time passes before the buzzer when everyone has finished, you can bump the timer time down or adjust it up to fit the situation. You can accomplish 100% effort with a stop watch, but with a timer, it’s so much easier, you can watch the action and let the timer do the timing.
There are very few things that are more satisfying than knowing that you have done a good coaching job. Going to the state championship game was an incredible experience. It actually changed the mind set of the whole community that we lived in. The school has made the playoffs every year since 1998.(That year was the first time that they had ever had a winning season!) It was fun to be a part of it. I hope that this article may help you in future seasons.