August 21, 2010

Under the pile

On any given play attention is diverted to different areas on the football field: a quarterback could be looking for a receiver while a defensive lineman tries to power through a block and a running back looks for a pass rusher.

But when a fumble hits the ground all eyes turn to one thing: the ball. And that much concentration focused on a single object means the physicality gets turned up a notch.

In the world of the fumble pile it's kill or be killed. One player guards the ball with his life while others try desperately to pry it away.

In the scope of an entire football field, it's concentrated violence.

"If there's a fumble guys are going to do whatever they can to get the ball," senior linebacker Andrew Gachkar said. "For sure I am."

The level of work depends on where a player is in relation to the ball. For the player cradling the pigskin, it's a matter of endurance and concentration.

"When you have the ball in your hands basically you've just got to will it," Jacquies Smith said. "There's going to guys in there scratching, clawing, any type of way to get that ball out. It's just basically all will. If you want to keep that ball in your hands you're going to focus on keeping that ball in your hands no matter what's going on under there."

It's clear those who are claustrophobic need not apply.

"[There's] people grabbing all over you, pinching you and stuff," senior tailback Derrick Washington said. "I say you just try to hop up as fast as you can with the ball in your hand. It's tough because it's a big pile and if you have the ball you have to hold on to it."

The fight for a takeaway is intense, but in a situation where it seems chaos reigns, there are methods to the madness. The mass of flailing arms and jerking legs features strategy at work.

"There's a lot of techniques that go into it," Smith said. "You got your can opener. You pull out, you punch through, rip through. We practice it all the time out here. There's certain types of ways you can stab at the ball to get it out."

There's a fine line between success and failure in the chase for a fumble. Coming out with the prize lands you praise, but, in the case of losing the battle, there is not much time to dwell.

"It's a fight the whole game," Smith said. "It's basically one play: either you get it out or you don't. If you get it out good, the whole team's going to be jumping around. You're going to feel the energy. If you're not, basically you've got to get ready for the next play."

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