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Chip's continued attempts to connect with Hansen and resolve the new player's troubles are key to maintaining team harmony. Finally, it is research in the library that provides Chip an understanding of Hansen's baffling, destructive attitude. Chip's friendly persistence finally brings peace and harmony to the team and to Greg Hansen's family -- particularly healing the relationship between father and son -- just in time for the conference championship game. A fourth down, last-second decision awaits Coach Curly Ralston, Chip, and Greg as the difference between losing the title and winning a trip to the Rose Bowl.
WILLIAM "CHIP" HILTON placed the ball on the kicking tee and backed up until he reached his kickoff position on the lush green grass of Camp Sundown's practice field. The sun's late afternoon rays were beginning to etch long shadows across the field, elongating figures like a distortion mirror in a fun house.
Minutes ago Chip's team had received the opening kickoff of the intrasquad scrimmage and scored in just seven plays. Taking the ball on the five-yard line, Chip had sprinted straight up the middle of the wedge to the forty-one-yard line before Biff McCarthy adroitly decked him.
In the huddle, Chip had called for a double fake to his ball carriers and a delayed pass over the line to Chris "Monty" Montague, his tight end. The faking and timing had been precision perfect. Chip had first faked a handoff to his power back, Fireball Finley, who was driving into the line. Then, backing up and pumping his arm, Chip faked a pitchout to Speed Morris, who was cutting to the right.
Greg Hansen, the reserves' middle linebacker, had thoroughly fallen for the handoff. The bullheaded six-seven linebacker met Finley head-on at the line of scrimmage and was flattened and buried in the line. Montague had brush-blocked the defensive end and cut into thehole left by Hansen. Chip had flipped the ball to the six-three veteran, and Monty had bulled his way to the reserves' forty-eight-yard line for the first down.
When they huddled after the play, Finley had come in laughing and then muttered grimly, "That ought to teach him something!"
"Quiet!" Chip hissed. "No talking in the huddle."
Chip secretly agreed with Fireball's sentiments, but he wasn't about to express his thoughts out loud. For some mysterious reason and from the first day of training camp, Greg Hansen had displayed a strong animosity toward Finley. In the play, Chip had figured that Hansen would focus on Fireball because of his dislike for the big fullback. The call had paid off. From that point on, Chip kept the ball on the ground and alternated his running backs, Finley and Morris. They had carried the ball to the twenty-yard line in four plays. The reserves called for a time-out.
When play resumed, Chip faked a keeper around right end and handed the ball to Jackknife Jacobs, his flankerback. The reverse sweep carried to the four-yard line.
The reserves were stacked in a 6-3-2 defense, but Chip fed the ball to Finley. The hard-hitting fullback smashed through and over the line for the touchdown. Chip had successfully executed the point after, and now it was the reserves' turn to show what they could do with the ball.
Coach Curly Ralston was talking to the receiving team as they huddled around him near the bench. Chip seized the opportunity to look over his kickoff teammates. Seven of the offensive unit regulars who had started with him in last year's conference championship game were lined up along the thirty-five-yard line. The other three players were second-string veterans. Gone were flankerback Ace Gibbons, pullout guard Mike Ryan, and split end Red Schwartz. All three had played their hearts out in their last college game. The one-point defeat by A & M had been a heartbreaker for everyone, Chip reflected. If only ...
Chip shook his head and growled to himself. "Stop looking over your shoulder!"
With his mind cleared, he focused his attention on the huddle. Head Coach Curly Ralston was upset because the offensive team had scored so easily against the reserves. Chip figured the coach was really laying it on the line inside that circle of players. It was no secret to anyone in training camp that Ralston and the entire coaching staff were concerned about State University's defensive weakness.
There was a shortage of offensive unit reserves, but no team ever made it big without a strong, rugged defense. All of Ralston's defensive units at State had been just that! For the past three weeks, the entire staff had concentrated on group work, with defensive play getting most of the attention. The coach had seemed to be satisfied with the offense, but he was far from pleased with the defense. There would be only one more scrimmage at Camp Sunrise after today. That game was scheduled for Saturday, only three days away.
It wasn't all bad, Chip concluded. Several sophomores and at least four junior college grads had distinguished themselves from the start. The junior college players were the most outstanding. They had held starting berths on an undefeated team for two years. Greg Hansen was a fullback, Whip Ward was a quarterback, Flash Hazzard was an end, and Russ Riley played center. And they were good! Good enough to make most Division One college teams, Chip reflected.
Chip shifted his attention to Hansen. The big junior college fullback was six feet, seven inches in height, weighed around 230 pounds, and was fleet of foot. He had declared repeatedly that he was a fullback and even announced that he had no interest in trying out for any other position. However, Hansen's tackling was se devastating that Coach Ralston had been using him as the middle linebacker on defense. "That's where he belongs," Chip commented aloud. "Even though he doesn't like it."
The tall newcomer grumbled, but he performed with savage aggressiveness in any position that Ralston placed him. But, as a power ball carrier, he wasn't in Finley's class. Not even close. Fireball had averaged six yards per carry the previous year against some of the best defensive lines in the country, and he was flawless in his execution of the plays. The big bruiser possessed uncanny deception in concealing the ball and was relentless in his use of precision and power.
Coach Ralston's line-blocking technique differed from that of most coaches. Instead of trying to force opposing linemen back through brute force, the strategy was to use their charges as levers to slant them aside. This style of blocking meant that a given hole in the line could change in a split second. Fireball was particularly adept at sensing line-opening changes and could swerve and hit in a new direction with lightning speed.
The blockbuster was a master of the sweep too. He could turn the corner and make the long getaway run. Once in the open he was away with the speed of a sprinter. On the draw play, the play that kept opposing linemen and linebackers honest, Fireball had the speed and power to run right over and through them. Fireball's power thrusts had helped Chip's passing game, and he wasn't about to forget it.
There was a lot more. Fireball's memory could photograph opponents' defensive formations and changes even when he was blocking, faking, or carrying the ball. And when he came back to the huddle, he could tell the quarterback what play should work and what passing pattern seemed most likely to be effective.
Ralston released the receiving team at that moment, and the players trotted out to their positions in the receiving alignment. The referee blasted his whistle, and Chip lifted his arm and checked his teammates. They were ready. He moved slowly forward and tried to kick a hole in the ball. It was a high kick, and the ball seemed to hover lazily in the bright blue sky like a hummingbird coming at a feeder. Chip grinned in satisfaction. This kind of a boot didn't have to be a long one. It gave his teammates plenty of time to get downfield and tackle the receiver.
Chip was assigned to safety duty on the kickoff, and he slowed down so he could back up the waves of tacklers. Concentrating on the receiver, he saw a gap in the receiving team's blocking formation right where Hansen belonged. The tall newcomer had sped back past the restraining line, but, instead of continuing to his position in the wedge, he had turned and was now heading diagonally across the field-straight toward Fireball Finley.
Only ten yards separated Hansen and Finley now, and an old science question flashed through Chip's mind: What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? This he had to see!
Fireball was moving with the speed of a gazelle on the open Serengeti Plain, gathering momentum with every stride. Chip glanced at Hansen and then back toward Fireball. He looked just in time to catch the big running back's move. It was a beauty, a perfect example of the veteran's deceptive running ability. Just as Hansen drove in for the block, Fireball changed direction and shifted his legs away from the blocker's shoulders. Simultaneously, without the loss of a single stride, Finley grasped Hansen's arms and, using the diving player's momentum, sent him spinning to the left and off his feet. Hansen sprawled on his hands and knees, and Fireball continued on toward the ball carrier.
Fearing the worst, Chip glanced apprehensively toward Coach Ralston. But the coach was concentrating on the ball carrier, and Chip breathed a sigh of relief. Hansen had deliberately disregarded his blocking assignment to get at Fireball. Only then did Chip permit himself a grin of satisfaction. If the sullen fullback had not recognized Finley's greatness before, this little episode certainly gave him something to think about.
Fireball's driving momentum carried him through the wave of blockers, and he met Aker with a crash that could be heard all over the field. The ball flew out of Aker's arms and bounded on the ground. Biggie Cohen took care of that! He gathered the ball in and sprinted across the goal line. Aker remained down, and Coach Ralston hurried out on the field with Murph Kelly, State's head trainer, trotting along beside him.
During the time-out, Chip continued his thoughts. Hansen had refused to accept the fact that Fireball Finley was one of the best running backs in the country. Besides, Mr. Indestructible liked to play every minute of every game. At six feet even, Fireball was seven inches shorter than Hansen, but he was just as heavy.
Fireball had a quick start and a tremendous second effort that enabled him to pick up two or three yards when his forward progress seemed checked. The previous year, Coach Ralston had used him both ways: as the power running back on the offensive team and as a cornerback with the defensive unit.
Chip noted that Aker was on his feet now, walking it off. Murph Kelly nodded to Coach Ralston. "He's all right, Coach. Just shaken up a bit."
"There's going to be more shaking up if we don't get some blocking and tackling," Ralston snapped. "All right," he barked, "let's go!" He turned away and strode briskly toward the sideline.
The defensive team huddled briefly two yards in front of the ball and then formed on the line of scrimmage in a tight 6-3-2. Ten yards behind the ball, Chip kneeled in the huddle and called for the placekick. "On three," he said. "Use good blocking now."
His teammates broke to the line with Finley and Jacobs positioned a yard behind the ends and Speed Morris kneeling six yards behind the ball. Speed indicated a spot on the ground, and Chip moved two steps behind that spot, lining it up with the center of the crossbar. Soapy Smith was covering the ball, and when Chip called his, "Set! Hut! Hut!" the ball spun swiftly and accurately back into Speed's hands.
Chip focused his eyes on an imaginary spot on the ball as Speed grounded it and then punched his leg through with the rhythmic swing and locked-knee action that had made him an accurate placekicker. The ball went spinning up from Speed's fingertips and straight for the center of the uprights. Chip kept his head down as he followed through on the kick, but he was aware of a charging figure that came hurtling through the center of the line. Still concentrating on the kick, Chip sensed that the breakthrough lineman was Hansen.
He followed the flight of the ball up into the slanting rays of the late summer sun, and at that precise instant the flying linebacker vaulted Speed and crashed into Chip with the devastating force of a charging bull. Caught completely off balance at the end of his follow-through, Chip was helpless. Hansen's vicious onslaught knocked Chip to the ground, whiplashing his head back against the turf.
For a moment he was stunned. He struggled uncertainly to his feet, fighting the daze that clouded his thinking. The running track that circled the field, the players, the bleachers, the goal posts, the camp buildings, and the elm-lined lake whirled and whirled around him as if they were fixtures on a spinning merry-go-round.
Bracing his legs to keep from falling, Chip fought the dizziness that fogged his mind and churned his stomach. Slowly, as through a cloud of smoke, Fireball Finley and Greg Hansen came into focus. Chip realized then they were slugging away at each other. He struggled toward them and was at the point of falling when Murph Kelly and Dr. Mike Terring grasped his arms. "Hold up, Chip," the trainer said. "Coach will handle it."
"Right!" Terring echoed. "Here. Sit down and sniff this until your head clears."
Lowering himself to the ground, Chip sniffed at the ammonia cap Terring had thrust in his hand. At that moment, Curly Ralston rushed between the swinging players. Grasping each by the front of his shirt, the coach pushed them apart.
"Break it up!" he shouted angrily. "What is this? A training camp for prizefighters or football players?"
State's head coach was nearing fifty years of age, but his tall, angular body was as solid as an iron bar. Holding the furious fullbacks apart, the coach glared at each of them in turn. "This has been coming on for some time," he continued, shoving them farther apart. "And I don't like it! No more fighting on this field by anyone."
He pointed a finger at Hansen. "You play football and forget fighting. Understand?"
"Finley started it," Hansen said angrily. "He hit me first."
"Finley may have hit you first," Ralston said sharply, "but you took Hilton out after he had kicked the ball. You had plenty of time to swerve aside. That's what started it. I don't go for that kind of football. We teach hard-nose football, or try to, but we don't teach dirty football or poor sportsmanship."
Ralston paused and took a deep breath. After a moment he continued. "You're a good football player, Hansen. Perhaps a great one. But you are also a stranger to us and to the kind of sportsmanship we expect from our players. Do you understand what I mean?"
Hansen nodded. "Yes, sir," he said. "I understand."
Ralston's face was still red from anger, but it was obvious now that he had his emotions under control. He whirled suddenly and frowned down at Chip. "Are you all right?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," Chip nodded. "I'm fine." He still felt lightheaded but was sure he could shake it off.
"You don't look find," Ralston countered. "Take him in and have a look-see, Doc." Turning to the waiting players, the coach gestured toward the track. "Five laps and in!"
Soapy Smith, Biggie Cohen, and Speed Morris, Chip's hometown pals from Valley Falls, hurried forward, their faces grim with concern as Dr. Mike Terring helped Chip to his feet. Soapy picked up Chip's headgear, and the three regulars surrounded him for a moment. Before they could say anything, Chip reassured them. "I'm all right. I'll see you guys later."
"Not if he gets you inside that isolation ward of his," Soapy warned, glancing covertly at Terring. "No visitors at any time, remember?"
"Beat it, Smith!" Terring said shortly, rolling his eyes at the brazen redhead.
Chip's friends tossed their helmets on the ground in front of the bench and started around the track. Fireball was far in the lead, his shoulders hunched forward, his head down, and arms swinging, he was the picture of frustrated anger. Greg Hansen was far in the rear of everyone, circling the track with short, digging steps. "Always the loner," Chip whispered to himself.
Excerpted from Fiery Fullback by Clair Bee Copyright © 2002 by Randall K. and Cynthia Bee Farley
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
|1||Always the Loner||1|
|3||A One-Man Team||22|
|4||The Heisman Trophy||30|
|7||Camp Breakup Game||59|
|8||The Fastest Gun||69|
|9||An Empty Victory||81|
|11||A Fullback Family||100|
|16||Freak Trick Plays||154|