The red zone: football’s magnifying glass.
The yards mean more. Success can equal points, and one small mistake can lose a game.
Under a bright sky in Austin, Texas, the U.S. Under-19 National Team spent a generous portion of its Tuesday morning practice in Burger Stadium on red zone situations.
“It’s about short and quick crossing routes,” Team USA wide receiver Rashad Kinlaw said. The Notre Dame verbal commit from Absegami High School in Galloway, N.J., prefers the shorter field. “Things happen faster, and our routes are shorter.
“For a receiver, I think playing in the red zone is easier.”
With seven practices down and four to go before its first game, Team USA’s coaching staff is emphasizing and refining specific game situations. Red zone work in the morning was followed by a goal line walkthrough in the evening practice.
“We’re at the point where we’re identifying personnel for certain plays,” Team USA Head coach Steve Specht of Cincinnati St. Xavier High School said.
Added Vanderbilt-bound cornerback Darius Sims of Whitehaven High School in Southaven, Miss.: “As a defense, we’ve really got to talk in the red zone. I’m checking with the SAM ’backer (strongside linebacker) and free safety – we’re switching on receivers and communicating when we see where they go.
“If you take one wrong step, it could be a touchdown. You’ve got to play aggressive down there, but you don’t want to make mistakes.”
The U.S. is roughly 72 hours away from its first game when it takes on American Samoa at 8 p.m. CT Saturday.
“We’re not ready to play a game yet, but we will be,” Specht said.
REVVED UP Cory Jasudowich raced his first dirt bike at age 4. Three years ago, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound middle linebacker for Team USA had to choose between racing and football. Fortunately for the U.S. National Team program, the North Cheshire, Conn., native and Boston College verbal commit opted for shoulder pads over brake pads.
“That was a big part of my life when I was younger,” the bright-eyed and energetic Jasudowich said. “It was an adrenaline rush. Sitting on a bike about to race is like when you get up on the line.
“You feel that adrenaline racing dirt bikes just like you do on the first play of a game.”
TAKE THAT Things can get chippy between Team USA’s offensive and defensive linemen. Pushing and shoving after the whistle tends to creep in near the end of practices as the temperature heats up.
“It’s the heat, and guys were getting a little tired,” 6-7, 288-pound offensive tackle and Notre Dame verbal commit Hunter Bivin said. “When someone gets a little gassed, one small thing can set somebody off. It’s football. It happens everywhere.”
DON’T RIP VAN WINKLE Punter/kicker Cameron Van Winkle, a verbal commit to Washington, has been booming long, high punts throughout Team USA’s practices. His hangtimes consistently surpass 4.0 seconds. The incoming senior at Mount Si High School in Fall City, Wash., says the recent high temperatures in Central Texas help his cause.
“The heat helps – it helps a lot,” he said. “It keeps me warmer, and when the ball’s up there it just floats longer. Where you have cold weather, like in Washington, the air’s denser, and the ball sinks faster.”
Learn more about the IFAF Under-19 World Championship at: www.u19championship.com.