In his words: Nate Leonard
SAN ANTONIO — Junior center Nate Leonard is back again this season with a blog that will give fans an inside glimpse into UTSA's first season as a member of Conference USA (C-USA).
Leonard has helped the Roadrunners post a 4-5 overall record, including a 3-2 mark in conference play, and that has them one game out of first place in C-USA's West Division. The offense is averaging 27.3 points, 418.4 total yards (177.6 rush/240.9 pass), 22.7 first downs and 32:44 possession time (3rd C-USA/19th FBS) per outing this fall and the 6-foot, 280-pounder leads the offensive line with 56 knockdown blocks, including a season-high 10 against Rice (Oct. 12).
A leader on and off the field, the McKinney native was instrumental in the team's success last year.
He helped UTSA open its second season with five consecutive victories and the Roadrunners finished the year with three straight wins en route to an 8-4 overall record and 3-3 mark in their first and only campaign in the Western Athletic Conference.
The only player in program history to start all 31 games, he recorded 34 pancakes a season ago and anchored an offensive line that allowed just seven sacks in 368 pass attempts (t-2nd FBS), as the Birds averaged 31.2 points and 390.2 yards (159.2 rush/231.0 pass) per outing.
Below is his 11th entry of the fall.
Week #11: It's Not Always How You Draw It Up
I couldn't tell you how many football meetings I have sat through. Although they may be for different occasions and to discuss different situations, they all are the same, really. My fellow offensive linemen and I sit in the same seats, share heavy eyelids and anxiously wait until the next time we can take the field. We watch film as the laser pointer that Coach Marshall holds takes the form of a red pen and marks the screen like a poorly written English literature paper. Our droopy eyes fixate on the red beam and we take mental note of the shortcomings that we need to focus on when the next practice rolls around. Then comes the part of meetings that all the sports analysts talk about … the X's and O's.
I have always wondered why "chalk talk" is referred to as "X's and O's" because I never have played for a coach that actually draws up plays using those letters. Centers become capitalized B’s to represent "ball" and the other offensive players become quickly drawn ovals that resemble more of a dash than an "O." Defensive linemen are drawn as check marks, "Mike" backers as "M’s," "Will" backers as "W’s," "Sam" backers as "S’s," and "Jack" backers as squiggly lines that back in and out of formation with the check marks, M’s, W's, and S's. I don't know too much about safeties and secondary players, but they often are drawn up as dollar symbols, which I have always thought was pretty neat. Coach Marshall takes an Expo marker and, after jamming it up against the white board to make sure it works, draws out play after play, blocking scheme after blocking scheme until 6-foot-5, 320-pound defensive linemen merely become dry spots on a grease board. The plays always look so perfect, the blocks always are made and the defenders never put up much of a fight. The scheme always works and the tailback always scores.
That's all well and good, but football never shakes out how it is drawn on the board.
When we break the huddle and attack the line of scrimmage, many things happen. I quickly take a survey of the defense, recognize how many defensive linemen there are and make calls based on what I see. As my fellow offensive linemen set their feet and put their hands on the playing field, my directions determine their steps and scheme. The backfield also takes heed of my calls, as the calls I make determine what their assignments entail. I set my own feet and squat down to grip the ball. With a flick of my wrist, I adjust the pigskin so that the laces rest comfortably in my fingers. My eyes still are scanning the defense and I am extra sensitive to motion from the second level. The defensive line adjusts to our formation and gets set. I survey their stance. Is their weight mostly on their hands or are they cocked back in their stance in order to stunt or twist? Are they angled in any way that may tip a directional slant? After I anticipate the action of the defensive front, I glance at the feet of the linebackers. Are they moving toward the line of scrimmage? Are they on their toes ready to blitz or are they flat-footed ready to read the play? I keep my ears open and await any "trouble" calls from our wide receivers alerting the offensive line of any outside pressure that we can't see coming. I shift the ball in my fingers to make sure I have a sufficient grip. Eric starts his cadence and I focus on his voice as the defense barks out calls and tries to mimic our snap count to draw us offside. I recall the snap count in my head. “It's on one, right? Yes, it's on one.” I recall the play in my head, although my assignments are second nature to me. “It's 13 Peel, right? Yes, it's 13 Peel.” I dig my toes into the bottom of my cleats and my grip on the laces becomes tighter. The fingers on my off-hand wiggle in anticipation of the play. Eric barks out "SET!" and I prepare to snap the ball on the very next sound that comes out of his mouth.
A calm takes over. I don't hear anything other than the cadence. The thousands of screaming fans are silent. The wind blowing through the ear holes of my helmet is a mere whisper. The barking of the defense is an invitation. I don't feel anything but the laces in my fingers. My battle wounds are soothed. My shallow breathing is deepened. My rapid heart rate is the countdown. Eric screams, "HUT!" The white board falls from its precise perch on the meeting room wall and the perfectly-drawn plays shatter to pieces. An organized fight ensues or as Coach Marshall says, “The bottle is broken and the bar fight is on.”
I then regroup the crew to a huddle to start the process again and press on.
The same sports analysts who study the X’s and O’s predicted us to go 0-12. On Saturday, we beat the defending champions of Conference USA and we beat them handily. I guess Saturdays don't always go the way they are drawn up on the board.
Life is like a play that you draw up on the board. There are the people who surround you, which may include some "Mikes," "Wills," "Sams" and "Jacks." There may even be some dollar signs thrown into the mix every now and then. You have your schemes and your plan and, when you draw it up, everything works out perfectly. You make your pre-play reads and look for trouble calls. You try to anticipate the actions of those working against you and focus on the words of your quarterback, whether that's your God, conscience or motivation, but, when it gets down to it, life happens. You either can be on your toes or get caught flat-footed. Either way, you make your adjustments, regroup and press on.
This season always hasn't gone the way that we drew it up on the board in August, but we have pressed on and now find ourselves in the mix for a conference championship. There is a saying in the football world that goes, "They Remember November." I can't make many promises, but what I can promise is that "They" will remember the UTSA Roadrunners.