Franchise columnist and co-host John E. Hoover is now also a Featured Columnist for VYPE High School Sports Magazine. Read his newest columns every month when VYPE hits the newsstands.
When Locust Grove coach Matt Hennesy was put in charge of USA Football’s under-18 team last year, he was given the green light to run the team his way.
That meant some, uh, unique changes could be expected.
On the first play of the North American Championship against Canada on Jan. 28 in Orlando, Hennesy called for a “swinging gate” formation that put the Canadians into a pre-snap scramble. The result was a screen pass that went 57 yards for a touchdown.
“We kicked two onside kicks, ran four fake punts, typical stuff that I do,” Hennesy said.
The result was a resounding 26-0 victory for Team USA.
Sounds simple enough, sure, that America wins at America’s game. But the hard truth is that the American U18 team had lost six in a row to Canada, including a tense defeat last summer in the IFAF U19 World Championships in Harbin, China.
Hennesy was defensive coordinator on that team, and the loss left him stinging. When senior manager of the U.S. National Team Program Aaron Ingram promoted Hennesy to head coach, he told Hennesy to make whatever changes he thought would make the difference.
Probably the biggest change Hennesy implemented came months before the game ever kicked off. With only a week to both get to know each other and practice/prepare for the game, Hennesy moved quickly on the former.
“As soon as we got our roster, I actually created a group chat for each position — the coaches and the players — and everybody started talking about a month out, started introducing themselves,” Hennesy said. “We had a little form that everybody filled out, and then we started adding each other on Twitter, kind of following each other, so it was kind of like when we got there, we already had a relationship. We just had to put the name with the face, and I truly think that was one of the things that made such a big difference for our team in being able to come together and bond together on game night.”
Hennesy’s background is defense, so he was happy that Team USA got the shutout and yielded only 18 yards total offense to the Canadians. But he was also happy that his Locust Grove offensive coordinator, David “Pookie” Blevins, was calling plays. Bill Williams of Holdenville also was on the staff.
The roster included five Oklahomans: outside linebackers Jaren Dirtseller and Caleb Gibson of Locust Grove, starting center Will Bates of Locust Grove, cornerback Ledgen Angeli of Hartshorne and running back Lance Jones of Inola.
“It was neat,” Hennesy said, “having five Oklahoma kids there and three Oklahoma coaches.’’
Hennesy is now USA Football’s new regional director for Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Arkansas and Missouri, and he’s already at work coordinator this year’s regional camps. Players from anywhere can sign up (go to USAFootball.com).
It may be a long shot, but American football will be voted on by the International Olympic Committee in 2020 for entrance into the Summer Olympics. Who knows how high Hennesy’s ladder goes with USA Football?
“Of course, that’d be really cool to be able to coach in the Olympics, you know?” he said. “As a football coach, growing up, it’s not really something you think about going through the ranks, but it may actually become a reality now, which would be an unbelievable experience.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.