||More Sports||Sign up||School Finder|
Before any current Buffalo Grove football player was born, there was the late Erskine “Erk” Russell and his underdog Georgia Southern team.
Equal parts brawn — Russell was famous for smashing his bald head into his players’ helmets, sometimes drawing blood, to pump them up for games — and brains, Russell left Georgia as a defensive coordinator in 1981, shortly after the team won a national championship. He left to head a GSU team that hadn’t existed since World War II. While at Georgia Southern, he and his coaching staff devised the Hambone offense.
“That was the coolest thing I had ever seen,” Buffalo Grove coach Mike DiMatteo said. The first-year head coach had a friend who coached at GSU and DiMatteo is implementing a similar offense at Buffalo Grove. “I had never seen anything like it.”
The Hambone offense, named after quarterback Tracy Ham, was option-based. But it still gave the quarterback the ability to throw, DiMatteo said.
The GSU Eagles soared under Russell, winning back-to-back national championships with Ham, the first NCAA quarterback to ever amass 3,000 yards rushing and 5,000 yards passing. The team’s offense garnered national attention, averaging almost 40 points a game some seasons despite not always having the best talent.
A history lover, DiMatteo — who teaches advanced placement European history and U.S. history — is trying to do something similar.
“We’re taking the approach that the other team probably has better offensive and defensive linemen than we do, and they’re probably faster and bigger,” DiMatteo said. “We’re going to pick two of their guys, and we’re simply not going to block them.”
But that’s how it goes, in theory. For Buffalo Grove, there’s going to be some time before everything gets actualized as the team experiences a transition.
After the first game, DiMatteo moved the quarterback from shotgun to under center. The next game, the team lost its starting quarterback, senior Brian Kleczynski, to a knee injury.
Enter the beauty of the Hambone. Because Georgia Southern wasn’t going to have the best athletes, the Hambone relied on creative blocking to overcome personnel disadvantages.
DiMatteo previously coached at Hinsdale Central and Lake Zurich. His teams at the latter, where he established a similar offense, experienced success. After narrowly missing the playoffs in his first year with the strategy, his team made the playoffs every year from 2000-’06.
“You have to adjust your thinking and adjust what you do based on the kids that you have,” DiMatteo said.
For this year’s Buffalo Grove team, that means relying on the run.
In Buffalo Grove’s 14-0 win over Hoffman Estates on Friday — its first of the season — the team ran the ball nearly 80 percent of the time, only passing 10 times for 42 yards. Quarterback Andrew Apel and running back Scott Smithern, both juniors, led the ground game, totaling 46 and 72 yards, respectively.
“We’re going to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and force the defense to play assignment football,” DiMatteo said. “They are going to have to be disciplined in what they do.” ~.