The art of taking a secure hold of the ball when called upon for a gain and retaining its possession from the time it is received from the center or quarter back till the play is ended is an important feature of football, but one often overlooked. How many times, by one disastrous fumble, is a team that has apparently won been forced to see its colors trailed in defeat! How many backs, fast, strong and brilliant have been tried again and again only to be discarded because of this one fault!
Regardless of its ground-gaining ability, little is gained by any team unless its members know how to keep a firm grasp of the ball throughout the progress of a play, for one fumble is usually enough to hand over the coveted pigskin to the opponents and with it an opportunity to punt it back again for many yards, necessitating a second fight over ground previously battled for and won.
There are three correct methods of carrying the ball, all of which are accurately shown in the accompanying illustrations. Two of these are for use when the play is designed to pierce the opponents' line, while the other is for running in the open field or circling the end.
In all plunges into the line the ball should be held tightly against the pit of the runner's stomach, both hands and arms being used. There are two positions in which the ball can be held, some runners preferring to carry it straight across the body, while others find the vertical position more secure. Regarding a choice, each player should suit himself. He should always bear in mind, however, at all stages of the play, the absolute necessity for maintaining the firm grasp by both hands and arms on the ball. Often, after a plunge into the line, a runner, when being thrown, will throw out one arm to save himself and thus he often loses his hold on the ball or allows an opponent to steal it. The player should school himself never to forget his duty to this extent, for it not only places the ball in serious jeopardy but increases, rather than diminishes, his liability to injury, as the arm, thrown loose from the body, is very liable to fracture in the mass of men that is piling up on him as he is tackled.
For a run round the end or for one in the open field, the runner should grasp the ball with the "outside" arm, leaving the other to assist him in stiflf-arming tacklers. The ball, as the illustration shows, should be held tightly against the body, the rear end securely pressed against the body and well under the upper arm, while the forward end is grasped by the fingers and wrist. The fingers should be well over the end and should assist in pulling the ball back into the pocket formed by the body and elbow. If the ball is held in this way, with plenty of strength exerted all the time to keep it rigidly in position, fumbles or loss of the ball by any attempted "theft" will be entirely obviated. It is always best, however, for the runner to make doubly sure against a fumble when tackled, by clasping the top of the ball with the free hand, as he is thrown to the ground. This also prevents possible injury to the free arm, bringing it up under the runner where it will be protected by his body.
Frequently a combination of the line-plunging and open-field holds of the ball is desirable, this being especially effective on such occasions as when an attempt at the line has proven so successful that the runner is entirely clear of the first line of defense. In this case he will be wise to shift his hold of the ball to that employed in a run round the end, thus bringing his free arm to a position where it can be used in the run through the open field which is to follow.
The secure grasp on the ball which must be the acquirement of every successful ground gainer should not be a matter of thought. He should learn to take it intuitively the moment the oval is passed to him, and this requires practice and patience. It is only by repeated trials in actual play and by faithful application to his work that the player can reach this stage of efficiency; but the art once learned will not be forgotten and is well worth the pains needed to acquire it.
Proper position to hold ball on runs around end or in open field - Rear end of hall should be well under upper arm and the fingers should have a firm hold on forward end of ball; elbow should hold ball close against body.