Right Guard Grant
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“How long have you been playing the tackle position?” he asked.
“About three weeks,” replied Leonard. “That explains it, doesn’t it?” He added an apologetic smile.
“Explains what? Oh, I’m not ragging you, Grant. Why, say, you and I had some swell times! If you’ve been at it only three weeks, I’ll say you’re pretty good. But where’d you been playing?”
“Guard. I played guard two years at high school.”
“Guard, eh?” Billy looked slightly puzzled. “Must have had a fairly light team, I guess. You don’t look heavy enough for that, Grant.”
“I am sort of light,” sighed Leonard.
“Yes.” Billy sized him up frankly. “You’re quick, though, and I certainly like that. Had me guessing lots of times, I don’t mind telling you.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Leonard murmured. “I’m pretty green at it.”
“You’ll do,” said Billy. “But, say, mind if I give you a couple of tips? It may sound cheeky, but – ”
“Gee, not a bit!” protested the other. “I wish you would. I – it’s mighty good of you.”
“Well, I don’t pretend to know everything about playing tackle,” Billy answered, “but there are one or two things I have learned, and I’m glad to pass them on to you, Grant, because you play a pretty nice game. Maybe if you were pressing me a bit closer for the position I wouldn’t be so gabby.” Billy grinned. “One thing is this, son. Watch the other fellow’s eyes and not his hands. I noticed you kept looking at my hands or my arms. Don’t do it. Not, at least, if you want to get the jump on your opponent. Watch his eyes, son. Another thing is, don’t give yourself away by shifting too soon. You come forward every time with the foot that’s going to take your weight. There are several ways of standing, and it’s best to stand the way that suits you, but I like to keep my feet about even. That doesn’t give me away. Then when I do start it’s too late for the other fellow to do any guessing. See what I mean?”
Leonard nodded, but a little doubtfully. “I think so. But we were taught to put one foot well behind us so we’d have a brace if the opponent – ”
“Sure, that’s all right if you’ve got to let the other fellow get away first. But you don’t need to. You start before he does, Grant. Look.” Billy held his hands out, palms upward, elbows close to his body. “Come up under him like that, both legs under you until you’re moving forward. Then step out, right or left, and get your leverage. Push him straight back or pivot him. You haven’t given yourself away by moving your feet about or shifting your weight beforehand. You try it some time.”
“I will, thanks,” answered Leonard gratefully.
“And there’s one more thing.” There was a wicked glint in Billy’s eyes. “Keep your head down so the other fellow can’t get under your chin. I’ve known fellows to get hurt that way.”
Leonard smiled. “So have I,” he said.
Billy laughed and slapped him on the knee. “You’ll do, General Grant,” he declared. He turned to Jim Newton, and Leonard, considering what he had been told, didn’t note for a moment that Gordon Renneker was speaking across the room to Slim.When he did, Renneker was saying:
“Baseball? No, very little. I’ve got a brother who goes in for it, though.”
“Oh,” replied Slim, “I thought maybe you pitched. You’ve sort of got the build, you know, Renneker. Hasn’t he, Charlie?”
Charlie Edwards agreed that he had, looking the big guard up and down speculatively. Renneker shrugged his broad shoulders and smiled leniently. “Never tried it,” he said in his careful way. “The few times I have played I’ve been at first. But I’m no baseball artist.”
“First, eh?” commented Slim. “By Jove, you know, you ought to make a corking first baseman! Say, Charlie, you’d better get after him in the spring.”
Edwards nodded and answered: “I certainly mean to, Slim.”
Nevertheless it seemed to Leonard that the baseball captain’s tone lacked enthusiasm. Slim, Leonard noted, was smiling complacently, and Leonard thought he knew what was in his chum’s mind. Shortly after that the crowd broke up and on the way over to Haylow Slim asked: “Did you hear what Renneker said when I asked him if he played baseball?”
“Yes,” said Leonard. Slim hadn’t once mentioned the subject of Johnny McGrath’s suspicions since that Sunday afternoon, and Leonard had concluded that the matter was forgotten. Now, however, it seemed that it had remained on Slim’s mind, just as it had on his.
“He said,” mused Slim, “that he didn’t play. At least very little. Then he said that when he did play he played at first base. What do you make of that, General?”
“Very little. Naturally, if he should play baseball he’d go on first, with that height and reach of his. I noticed that Edwards didn’t seem very keen about him for the nine.”
“Yes, I noticed that, too.” Slim relapsed into a puzzled silence. Then, at last, just as they reached the dormitory entrance, he added: “Oh, well, I guess Johnny just sort of imagined it.”
“I suppose so,” Leonard agreed. “Only, if he didn’t – ”
“If he didn’t, what?” demanded Slim.
“Why, wouldn’t it be up to us – or Johnny McGrath – to tell Mr. Cade or some one?”
“And get Renneker fired?” inquired Slim incredulously, as he closed the door of Number 12 behind him.
“Well, but, if he took money for playing baseball, Slim, he hasn’t any right on the football team, has he? Didn’t you say yourself that faculty would fire him if it was so, and they knew it?”
“If they knew it, yes,” agreed Slim. “Now, look here, General, there’s no sense hunting trouble. We don’t know anything against Renneker, and so there’s no reason for starting a rumpus. A fellow is innocent until he’s proven guilty, and it’s not up to us to pussyfoot about and try to get the goods on Renneker. Besides, ding bust it, there’s only Johnny McGrath’s say-so, and every one knows how – er – imaginative the Irish are!”
“All right,” agreed Leonard, smiling. “Just the same, Slim, you aren’t fooling me much. You believe there’s something in Johnny’s story, just as I do.”
“Piffle,” answered Slim. “Johnny’s a Sinn Feiner. The Irish are all alike. They believe in fairies. You just can’t trust the unsupported statement of a chap who believes in fairies!”
“You surely can work hard to fool yourself,” laughed Leonard. “I suppose you’re right, Slim, but it would be sort of rotten if one of the other schools got hold of it and showed Renneker up.”
“Not likely, General. You stop troubling your brain about it. Best thing to do is forget it. That’s what I’m going to do. Besides, I keep telling you there’s nothing in it.”
“I know. And I want to believe it just as much as you do, only – ”
“There isn’t any ‘only!’ Dry up, and put the light out!”
On Saturday Leonard was very glad indeed that, in Slim’s words, there wasn’t any ‘only,’ for without Gordon Renneker the Mt. Millard game might have ended differently. Renneker found himself in that contest. Slim always maintained that the explanation lay in the fact that Renneker’s opponent, one Whiting, was, like Renneker, a big, slow-moving fellow who relied more on strength than speed; and Slim supported this theory by pointing out that in the last quarter, when a quicker and scrappier, though lighter, man had taken Whiting’s place Renneker had relapsed into his customary form. Leonard reminded Slim that by that time Renneker had played a long, hard game and was probably tired out. Slim, however, remained unconvinced. But whatever the reason may have been, the big right guard on the Alton team played nice, steady football that Saturday afternoon. His work on defense was better than his performance when the Gray-and-Gold had the ball, just as it had been all season. He seemed to lack aggression in attack. But Coach Cade found encouragement and assured himself that Renneker could be taught to play a better offensive game by the time the Kenly Hall contest faced them. The big guard had been causing him not a little worry of late.
Mt. Millard brought over a clever, fast team that day. Her line was only a few pounds lighter than Alton’s, but in the backfield the Gray-and-Gold had it all over her in weight, even when Menge was playing. Mt. Millard’s backs were small and light, even her full-back running to length more than weight. Her quarter was a veritable midget, and if Alton had not witnessed his work for two years she might have feared for his safety amongst all those rough players! But Marsh was able to look after himself, as well as the rest of the team, and do it in a highly scientific manner. In spite of his diminutive size he was eighteen years of age and had played two seasons with Mt. Millard already. For that matter, the visitors presented a veteran team, new faces being few and far between.
Alton looked for trouble from the enemy’s passing game and didn’t look in vain. On the third play Mt. Millard worked a double pass that was good for nearly thirty yards and, less than eighty seconds after the whistle, was well into Alton territory. That fright – for it was a fright – put the home team on her mettle, and a subsequent play of a similar style was foiled with a loss of two yards. Mt. Millard was forced to punt from Alton’s thirty-seven. Cricket Menge caught and made a startling run-back over three white lines. Then Alton tried her own attack and had slight difficulty in penetrating Mt. Millard’s lighter line. Greenwood ripped his way through for three and four yards at a time and Reilly twice made it first down on plays off the tackles. It was Red’s fumble near his own forty that halted that advance. Mt. Millard got the ball and started back with it.
From tackle to tackle the Alton line was invulnerable, save for two slight gains at Smedley’s position. Mt. Millard’s only chance, it seemed, was to run the ends, and that she did in good style until the opponent solved her plays and was able to stop them twice out of three times. But the visitor had brought along a whole bagful of tricks, and as the first period – they were playing twelve-minute quarters to-day – neared its end she opened the bag. Alton had plunged her way to the enemy’s thirty-seven, and there Menge, trying to cut outside of left tackle, had become involved with his interference and been thrown for a two-yard loss. It was third down and six to go, and Joe Greenwood dropped back eight yards behind center and spread his hands invitingly. But the ball went to Reilly and Red cut the six yards down to three by a plunge straight at center. Goodwin went back once more, and this time took the pigskin. But, although he swung a long leg, the ball wasn’t kicked. Instead it went sailing through the air to the side of the field where Menge was awaiting it. Unfortunately, though, Cricket was not the only one with a desire for the ball, and a fraction of a second before it was due to fall into his hands a long-legged adversary leaped upward and captured it. Cricket tackled instantly and with all the enthusiasm of an outraged soul and the long-legged one came heavily to earth, but the ball was back in the enemy’s hands and again Alton’s triumph had been checked.
One hopeless smash at the Gray-and-Gold line that netted less than a yard, and Mt. Millard opened her bag of tricks. Speaking broadly, there aren’t any new plays in football and can’t be except when an alteration of the rules opens new possibilities. What are called new plays are usually old plays revived or familiar plays in novel disguise. Mt. Millard, then, showed nothing strictly original that afternoon, but some of the things she sprang during the remainder of that game might almost as well have been fresh from the mint so far as effectiveness was concerned. During the minute or two that remained of the first period she made her way from her own thirty-two yards to Alton’s sixteen in four plays, while the home team supporters looked on aghast. First there was a silly-looking wide-open formation with every one where he shouldn’t have been, to meet which Alton rather distractedly wandered here and there and edged so far back that when, instead of the involved double or perhaps triple-pass expected, a small half-back took the ball from center and ran straight ahead with it, he found almost no opposition until he had crossed the scrimmage line. After that, that he was able to dodge and twirl and throw off tacklers until Billy Wells brought him down from behind just over the fifty-yard line, was owing to his own speed and cunning.
When Mt. Millard again spread wide Alton thought she knew what was coming, and this time her ends dropped back only some five yards and, while displaying customary interest in the opposing ends, kept a sharp watch on the wide holes in the line. What happened was never quite clear to them, for Mt. Millard pulled things off with dazzling speed. The ball shot back from center and well to the left. Some one took it and started to run with it, while the broken line of forwards came together in a moving wall of interference. Alton was not to be held at bay so easily, and she went through. By that time the runner with the ball was well over toward the side-line on his left and when his wall of interference disintegrated he stopped suddenly in his journey, wheeled about and threw the pigskin diagonally across the field to where, lamentably ostracized by Alton, the attenuated full-back was ambling along most unostentatiously. That throw was magnificent both as to distance and accuracy, and it reached the full-back at a moment when the nearest Alton player was a good twenty feet distant. What deserved to be a touchdown, however, resulted in only a seventeen-yard gain, for the full-back, catching close to the side-line, with Slim Staples hard on his heels and Appel coming down on him in front, made the mistake of not edging out into the field while there was still time. The result of this error in tactics was one false step that put a flying foot barely outside the whitewashed streak at the thirty-two yards. I think the referee hated to see that misstep, for if ever a team deserved a touchdown that team was Mt. Millard. Even the Alton stands had to applaud that play.
Mt. Millard went back to regular formation when the ball had been stepped in, and I think Alton breathed easier. The diminutive quarterback used a delayed pass and himself attempted Slim’s end and managed to squirm around for three yards. That took the pigskin to Alton’s twenty-nine, and with three more downs to draw on there seemed no reason why the visitors shouldn’t score a field-goal at least. The Alton stands chanted the “Hold, Alton!” slogan and the visiting contingent shouted loudly and appealingly for a touchdown. The Mt. Millard left half moved back to kicking position and the ball was passed. But, instead of a drop-kick, there was a puzzling double-pass behind the enemy’s line and an end, running behind, shot out at the right with the ball snuggled against his stomach and ran wide behind a clever interference to the sixteen yards. Again it was first down, and the enemy had reeled off just fifty-four yards in four plays! It was one of those things that simply couldn’t be done – and had been done!
Before Marsh could call his signals again the quarter ended.