As the game is at present played, the back is more of a third half-back than a goal-tend, and so should be trained to half-back work. It has been well said that all that one can ask of the best rush line is to hold the ground their half-backs gain; and when one follows carefully the progress of the play, he sees that this is the proper division of the work. The half-backs, then, must be the ground-gainers of the team. Such work calls for dash and fire-that ability to suddenly concentrate all the bodily energy into an effort that must make way through anything. Every one has such half-backs in mind, but unfortunately many of those half-backs who possess this type of character have not the necessary weight and strength to stand the amount of work required. Although a light man be occasionally found who is particularly muscular and wiry, the constant shock of going into a heavy line of forwards usually proves too exhausting for any but those of middle weight before the end of a season be reached. It is not that the work of a single game proves too much for the light-weight half.
It is that in both practice and games he is so overmatched by the weight of the forwards whom he must meet that every week finds him less strong than the preceding, until his playing falls off so markedly that the captain or coach is at last convinced that there is something wrong, and the man is replaced by some one else, often too late to bring the substitute up to anything like the mark he might have reached had he been tried earlier in the season. Such thoughts as these will suggest themselves to the experienced coach when at the outset of a season he has placed before him a number of candidates for the position of half-back, among whom very likely there may be two or three men of perhaps one hundred and forty pounds' weight. Likely enough, too, these men may be at that period easily superior to the middle or heavy weights. In such a case the very best advice that can be whispered in the ear of coach or captain is, to make quarters or ends of them, even though it be only substitute quarters and ends.
It will leave the way open for the proper cultivation of half-backs better built to stand the wear and tear of a season.
Almost equally to be deprecated is the waste of time often devoted to making half-backs of slow heavy weights. Only a quick man can perform a half-back's duties successfully; and although much can be left to practice, there must be some natural quickness to build upon. Slow men can be improved far more rapidly in the forward line than among the halves. All this regarding the weight of half-backs applies not only to Varsity teams, but school teams as well, if one will make the proper proportional changes in weight. That is, a Varsity player will be called upon to face a forward line averaging one hundred and seventy-five or thereabouts, and men of less than one hundred and thirty-five to one hundred and forty are too light to meet that weight. In school teams the rush line will be some twenty pounds lighter, and the halves can therefore be selected from even one-hundred-and-twenty-five-pound men, if well built. In other words, a half-back ought not to face over twenty-five pounds' difference in weight; and the more that difference is reduced, supposing that speed and agility be retained, the more chance there is of turning out a thoroughly successful player.
It is worth while to be thus particular upon the point of the early selection of candidates for the position of half-back, because, while no more work is demanded of them in a game than of others of their side, the quality of that work must be more uniformly good. When a half-back has to tackle, he must be as sure as a steel-trap; when a half-back has to catch, he must be a man to be relied upon; when a half-back is called upon for a kick, it must be no fluke; and, although no one expects a Half-back to always make on his run the five yards, he must be a man who will not be denied when he is called upon for that last yard which will enable his side to retain the ball.
JOHN CORBETT. Harvard.
Almost the first thing to be critically noted by the coach is the way in which a half-back takes the ball from his quarter. The case in which he takes it directly from the hands of this player has been already dwelt upon at some length under the head of the quarter's passing; but when the ball is thrown or passed some little distance, it is just as important that it be properly received. Except when about to kick, the half-back should be moving when he receives the ball, and, more than that, the reception of it should have no perceptible effect upon his movements. In other words, he must take it as easily and as naturally as a batsman in a ball game drops his bat after he has hit the ball fairly. No batsman remembers that he has had the bat in his hands after the ball has been hit, and yet, when he is at first base, he has left his bat behind him at the plate. Thus a football half-back should so receive the ball as not to know the exact instant of taking it, but find that he has it as he comes up to the line.
It will never do for a coach to suppose that an inexperienced half can be told that he must take the ball "without knowing it," but it is necessary to explain to a half that until he does take the ball naturally, and without having to stop and calculate about it, he can never come properly up to the line nor get his whole power on early. To acquire the habit of taking a pass easily, a half-back should spend a little time every day off the field in practising taking a sharp pass when on the run. By a sharp pass is not meant hurling the ball with all possible force against a runner so that he is nearly knocked over by it, and cannot by any possibility catch it except at the ex-pense of giving the catch his sole and undivided attention. Such passing in practice does far more harm than good. The ball should be passed with that easy swing which sends it rapidly, accurately, and evenly up to the runner without any great apparent force, for it is remarkable how much the appearance of force tends to rattle the runner, who easily handles fully as much speed properly delivered. Daily practice of this nature between the quarter and halves accustoms each to the other, so that the regular work of the team on the field is not disorganized by loose passing and looser catching.
While this passing is progressing, the coach should stand by the side of the half, and watch him closely, correcting any careless tendencies of receiving or stopping, and paying particular attention to his going in a straight line-that is, not running up to meet the ball and then sheering off again. The best half-backs endeavor to receive the ball at approximately the same height relative to their bodies, no matter how it comes, and they will correct quite a variation in the quarter's throw by a little stoop or a slight jump. A half-back must be taught to be uniform in starting, and in reaching the spot where the ball is to meet him. The coach will have no great difficulty in teaching him this steady uniformity of pace, which will enable the quarter to throw the ball so as really to assist rather than retard his motion. There are two other things which the half-back must practise apart from his team-play. They are kicking and catching. The former is of sufficient importance to deserve a separate chapter, but a few hints under the half-back column will not be out of place. It is usually the case that of all three men behind the line, the two halves and the back, any one can do the kicking upon a pinch, but one of the three is, nine times out of ten, manifestly superior to the other two.
In this state of affairs there is altogether too great a tendency to slight the practice of the two inferior kickers, and rely almost entirely upon the best man. It is quite proper to let the best man do all the kicking possible in an important game, but it is a very short-sighted policy to neglect the practice of the other two during the preliminary games. Not only should they have the advantage to be gained in the length of their kicks by daily practice, but they should also have the steadying experience to be acquired only in games. It may happen at any moment in a most important game that the kicking will devolve upon them on account of an accident to the third man, and it is, indeed, a foolhardy captain or coach who has not taken sufficient forethought for this contingency. The principal reason why we develop so few really good kickers is, that coaches, captains, and players have given so little attention to the detail of that part of the work. Fully nine tenths of the men who do the kicking upon American teams are more natural kickers than practised ones. Let me explain this so as to be fully understood.
As in boxing one often sees a man who, having taken no lessons, and being therefore unable to make the most of himself, can yet more than hold his own against a more finished opponent on account of his natural quickness, strength, and aptitude; so in football one sees here and there a man who is able to do some fair kicking without having devoted particular attention to it. In boxing, however, when a teacher takes the natural hitter in hand, he begins by putting him at work upon the rudiments of guarding, holding himself upon his feet, hitting straight, and moving firmly. He never undertakes to make a first-class man of him by merely encouraging him to go in harder, and increase his power without regard to the proper methods. In football, coaches rarely teach the kickers the first principles, but instead urge upon them only the necessity of constant practice in their own way. For this reason our kickers show all manner of styles, and the only wonder is that they kick so well in such wretchedly bad form.
W. Bull. Yale.