Welcome to the most unique play-calling system in the area.
There is Mr. Smithers of the Simpsons animated TV series, cracking a whip.
It gets even more random than that, with a picture of the Iowa Hawkeyes logo in one segment of giant cardboard, and a logo of AC/DC, the hard rock band from Australia, in another. And, just to make it even more arbitrary to the average person, there’s a drawing of a cube and then a razor.
To members of the Rocori football team, all these placards mean something.
Or, they mean nothing.
It just depends on the situation. There could be hand signals from a coach. Or, the quarterback can call a play off his wrist band. Or, one of the Spartans backup quarterbacks holding up a placard with the aforementioned symbols – there are many more – could be signaling a play.
All matter when it comes to the Spartans, who are the state’s defending Class 4A champions.
“It’s all just stuff that kids will remember,” Rocori head coach Mike Rowe said, adding: “We don’t even know what’s going on sometimes, so I don’t know how they (opponents) can.”
“And I think it’s fun for the kids, too,” Rocori assistant coach Pete Warne added.
It’s also part of the sideline show at Rocori, which attempts to repeat after winning its first state championship in school history and the first in the area since 2005.
“It’s just different ways to signal plays,” said Rocori senior quarterback Mac Mueller, who will take over the signal-calling on the field this season. “It’s all different reads, kind of hard to explain … You can put different things together.”
Rowe said he got the idea for the placards from watching the University of Oregon Ducks play. Rocori’s style of the no-huddle spread is very similar to offenses run at fellow Central Lakes Conference member Willmar. And, Mankato West has had huge success with the same offense.
But the placards seem to be all Rocori’s, at least in these parts.
“I don’t know of anyone else doing it in Minnesota,” Rowe said.
It presents a unique challenge to opponents, who must prepare for a style they don’t see often.
And, you better be in shape. With the no-huddle offense, there is very little time for defenses to rest or to make substitutions.
The no-huddle has helped Rocori have one of the better passing offenses in the area since Rowe took over as head coach three seasons ago.
Some things are necessary to run Rocori’s wide-open, no-huddle, spread offense.
* It takes a smart kid. The last two Rocori quarterbacks to use the system were Nate Meyer and Derek Lieser, both all-around athletes and excellent students. Meyer is at Division I South Dakota State on a football scholarship this fall.
The QB has to be quick-thinking. After the play is called, he can change things up depending what the defense does. And last year in the playoffs, defenses spent the entire game trying to out-smart the Spartans, often changing formations right after Rocori called its play.
Of course, the Spartans would then change their play with an audible from the quarterback.
“The quarterback needs to be very football saavy,” Rowe said.
To train his future quarterbacks, he has the backups holding up the right boards for each play. That way, they learn the system and see how it works while the starters run the plays.
* Having a variety of quality skill players helps. It’s not unusual to have a half-dozen Spartans catch passes in a typical Rocori game. Good hands, good speed and running precise passing routes all matter.
“All our receivers are ready to play,” Rocori senior tight end Nick Thorpe said. “They know they can get it anytime.”
It’s hard to focus on any one player if you’re on defense.
“Everyone’s a threat,” Rocori senior defensive lineman Colton Johnson said.
* And, the lineman have to pick things up quickly, too.
“The linemen need to be really intelligent,” said Rowe, noting that the line on the 2011 championship squad had an average ACT score of 27, including a pair of 32s. “It’s not like the old days where you can line up and base block someone.
“You need to be smart.”
Passing is OK
Some myths were disspelled with Rocori’s Prep Bowl run. You can run the offense in bad weather, even in Central Minnesota, where it gets real cold, real windy and sometimes real wet come late October and November.
“We’ve lost a game or two because of it,” Rowe admitted.
But they became the 11th area team to win a state title since the current playoff system was instituted in 1972 because of their wide-open offense. They hope it will be good enough to earn them a repeat.
And while the state semifinals and Prep Bowl are played in the climate-controlled Metrodome, they know they must win big games outdoors.
“Most of the time, it really isn’t that big a deal,” Rowe said of the weather.
Rocori’s offense is a hybrid of his many experiences as a coach. He’s a native of Winnipeg, where the Canadian Football League is well-known for its wide-open play.
He spent three seasons as a starting safety at Valley City State in North Dakota, earning his bachelor’s degree in 2002. He then taught and coached in Napolean, N.D., which is near Aberdeen, S.D. His next stop was in Drayton, N.D., about an hour north of Grand Forks.
He then spent two years as a graduate assistant at St. Cloud State while earning his master’s degree. Next came one-and-a-half years as the defensive coordinator at Minot State.
Before getting the Rocori job in 2009, he was the defensive coordinator at Central Lakes Community College in Brainerd and a teacher in Onamia. He has been an elementary school teacher at Rocori, but is moving to the high school as a physical education instructor.
His players say he relates well to them.
“He works well with kids,” Rocori senior linebacker Adam Dingmann said. “He knows what it’s like to be a teenager, still.”
But it’s not all fun and games. The Spartans condition hard and if things aren’t going well, Rowe lets them know.
“If things go well, he’s happy, just like every coach,” Mueller said.
“And we try to keep him happy,” Johnson added.
Right now, everyone’s happy at Rocori. There’s a state title in football to add to ones won in boys basketball and baseball. And there’s hope for more.
Wear are they now?
Here’s a list of players from the 2011 state Class 4A championship football team that are known to be playing college athletics this season:
* Evan Guggenberger, WR-DB (St. Thomas)
* Sam Kuss, OL-DL (St. Olaf)
* Nate Meyer, QB-DB (South Dakota State)
* Sam Moriarty, RB-DB (Minnesota State-Mankato)
* Billy Morris, OL-DL (Valley City State)
* Mitchell Mueller, OL-DL (Valley City State)
* Christian Pedroza, K-WR-DB (Cardinal Stritch in Milwaukee for soccer)
* Sean Terres, WR-DB (North Dakota State for baseball)
* Alex Tray, OL-DL (Valley City State)