When Montgomery County varsity football head coach John Klekamp decided to make some major adjustments to his offense this summer, the ripples were felt at every level of the program.
That's why, in order to make those changes a reality for its seventh and eighth grade squads, the Wildcats coaching staff held a middle school camp every morning for two hours this week.
"We've been averaging almost 30 kids a day, but we're going into the high school dead period next week, so we've got some players out on family vacations and things like that," said Klekamp. "For our high school coaching staff it's a chance to get to know some of our middle school kids and work with our middle school staff and get them ready to coach this group of kids. We've spent most of this week working on offense. We've been able to install their new playbook in just one week."
As for the specifics of this camp, it took place June 26-30 at the high school. One benefit to the location was that it allowed the younger athletes to put in work on the varsity game field and use the varsity locker room and facilities, which is just one part of Klekamp's plan to teach these kids the meaning of hat it means to be a Wildcat.
"We're going to run the same type of plays and spread out our athletes and use them in space at the middle school, too. It's a little more challenging at the middle school level if you don't have the skill base to do that at the skill positions like receiver, running back and quarterback, but right now we're pretty fortunate," Klekamp said. "Our youth coaches have done a great job training these kids to play football. Now we have enough skill at the middle school level to do what we want."
When it comes to the future of the Wildcats, Klekamp definitely has high hopes for the eighth grade team. While he feels the seventh grade squad doesn't have quite as much depth, he likes their chances on the gridiron this fall, as well.
"One of the things we talk about is our three principles of Montgomery County football. Since I took over as head coach, winning and losing on the field is important in teaching them to be successful, but I want them to be better people," said Klekamp. "We talk about them doing the best they can at everything they do, doing right when nobody is looking and being honest. Those are the things we start off with. Every day I quiz them. Because today is the last day of camp we'll talk about it again."
Another aspect of this program Klekamp hopes to impart on these younger athletes is what's expected from him and his staff if they want to wear a Wildcat varsity uniform. On the field that means playing at full speed every single play without having to be told to do so.
"That's so important. We want to teach the kids what the expectations are as soon as possible," Klekamp said. "Our middle school staff comes and hangs out at our high school practices and we want these players to understand the basic expectations. For example, we just ran our defensive pursuit drill and that has to happen at full speed all the time. We want to get as many players to the ball as we can every play. That's how we're going to be successful. Whoever gets the most guys to the ball wins."
The impetus for this gang-tackling concept comes from the fact that Klekamp feels in a high school or middle school game you might see one or two perfect tackles. Strength in numbers, on the other hand, is a strategy that tends to pay dividends more often than not.
"We tell these kids about how someone else has played on this field and worn the exact same uniform they're wearing. Someone else has dressed in that locker room," said Klekamp. "They came before you. You honor them with your play. You honor your family in the stands, who spend time and money so you can play football. Those are the things we try to instill regarding pride. We want our players to be good character guys and respect not only the game, but also the people who blazed this path for them."
One change to the program this season is that one of Klekamp's varsity assistants is now going to be the head coach at the middle school. While that individual wasn't on-hand Friday morning, there were two other middle school coaches, one varsity assistant coach and a parent present, which allowed the athletes to be divided into two different groups instead of constantly rotating athletes in and out or forcing half of them to watch while the other half work.
"For our middle school camp, it's most important for our middle school staff to be here. I don't make it mandatory for the high school coaches, but some of them have been here this week," Klekamp said. "When you compete athletically you generally compete academically because you getting kids to sell out to the concept of doing their best in life. That means being the best you can be at home and in the classroom. One thing we preach is that a teacher is always right even if they're wrong."