Recorder Sports Staff
When Amsterdam Rugged Rams offensive coordinator Tim Holloway sees coaches on the opposing sideline desperately signal for a timeout to give their defense a break before a game is even five minutes old, he can't help but smile.
Because it means the master plan is working.
"When we're really effective offensively that first drive, the defense has to jump and do a timeout," Holloway said. "That's our ultimate goal, to get those things to happen and put pressure on them."
In his first year as Amsterdam's offensive coordinator after taking over for the retired Bob Noto, Holloway has installed a no-huddle offense to try and take advantage of the Rams' bevy of playmakers by having them play at a rapid pace against a defense that would, under optimum conditions, get continually more tired and out-of-sorts.
When it's worked, especially early in games as teams try to adjust, it's been brilliant. In their first four games this season, the Rams received the opening kickoff and marched down the field to score in less than four minutes -- often forcing the opposing defense to burn a timeout along the way.
But, Holloway admits there have been rough patches, including the first half of the Rams' Week 5 loss to Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk, when a series of early three-and-outs kept Amsterdam's hurry-up attack from gaining that necessary early steam.
"It's definitely taken some time to buy in," Holloway said. "We didn't really cut our playbook back a ton, so it's been a type of thing where it's been a growing process this year. We've seen times where it's been very effective, and there's been times where you've got to keep selling the kids on this as the right thing to be doing."
Before getting his players to buy into the no-huddle system, Holloway first went out and looked for some help on the best way to install the scheme.
"Even as coaches, we've all got to be lifelong learners," he said.
Fortuitously, he only had to look a few miles west on Route 5 to find a coaching staff with plenty of experience in putting in a no-huddle offense.
The Fonda-Fultonville Braves rolled out their no-huddle offense to great effect in 2011, helping the team reach the Section II Class C Super Bowl. Members of the F-F coaching staff were originally schooled in the no-huddle after hearing Oregon Ducks head coach Chip Kelly speak at a clinic held at Notre Dame, and when Holloway came by asking for some pointers, Braves offensive coordinator Sean Thompson was more than willing to oblige him.
"They don't need a lot of help from us, obviously, but they had heard we went to a football clinic at Notre Dame and heard Chip Kelly," Thompson said. "Basically, we got together and shared what we learned. It really wasn't about plays, it was more about how to install that system and the advantages of it, the disadvantages of it."
Holloway took what he learned and adapted it to the playbook already in place at Amsterdam, leading to a divergence between the two systems. While the Braves operate essentially exclusively from the shotgun with three and four-wide receiver sets, using hand signals from the sidelines to relay in plays to quarterback Russ Williams, the Rams run out of a greater variety of formations -- I-formation, split backs, single-back sets and the spread -- with Holloway calling in plays that quarterback Geo Rodriguez and the Rams' skill players cross-referencing the call on a crib sheet slipped into their wristbands.
"They're speeding things up, maybe with some different formations," Thompson said. "I think that's why Amsterdam is one of the best football programs in the section, because they have certain principles and plays that they always run all through their program that they stick with, but they're good enough coaches that they can adjust to their talent and tweak things so they can take advantage of their personnel."
Not that it was particularly easy -- especially at first.
"It was difficult right off the bat," said Rugged Rams senior tailback Brett Stanavich. "Just the different calls, we all had to be on the same page. We had a lot of missteps in practice, a lot of faults, but I think we've worked that out throughout the year and I think we're getting it down pretty good so far."
Holloway has had the Rams' offense practicing at a high tempo -- often even higher than they'll play at during a game -- since the preseason, but said that oftentimes, the biggest challenge with installing the no-huddle at practice is making sure that all of the surrounding circumstances all come together so that the offense can keep up its rhythm and pace.
"The hardest part is simulating it in practice -- getting your scout defense set on the ball, getting the ball spotted so we can continue to work under pressure," Holloway said.
But, when it works, and then the Rams slow down their breakneck practice pace just a little bit once gametime comes around, things start to sizzle.
"We go 150 percent during practice, so when we get into the game and we're going about 90 percent, we're comfortable with it," said senior tight end Isaiah Martin. "Teams aren't ready for our speed."
It's been particularly tortuous on defenses that try to attack the Rams by loading up near the line of scrimmage. Both Queensbury and Gloversville tried to overload their defenses at the point of attack, only for Amsterdam to reel off big play after big play -- resulting in seven touchdowns of 25 yards or longer in that two-game stretch.
When it hasn't worked -- like against Ravena, the only team to stop the Rams from taking the opening kickoff and marching the length of the field for a touchdown -- Holloway said it's come down to a lack of effort and execution.
"If you're not putting the effort in, it ain't gonna matter," he said. "It doesn't matter if you're huddling, no-huddle, whatever offense you run."
But when everything clicks, when he sees the early touchdowns and the even earlier defensive timeouts, Holloway knows his paradigm shift is paying off.
"Admittedly, it's a work in progress. We've got to stay committed to it, and ultimately it comes down to effort,' he said. "If the kids are going to buy in and by what you're selling them, and they want to execute it, then it's a really effective way to go -- especially when you've got the athletes that we have."