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September 11, 2013

The anatomy of the hook and ladder

Big-guy touchdowns are something that many football fans hold near and dear to their heart. There's just something to love about a big man rumbling, bumbling, and stumbling his way to the endzone for a score. Fans aren't the only people that love big-man touchdowns, either. Players are just as impressed when one of their linemen turns in a scoring touchdown.

Last Saturday, Fresno State offensive lineman Austin Wentworth turned in one of the season's most memorable moments when he took a pitch from Bulldog receiver Davante Adams and ran it into the endzone for the score on a hook and ladder play against the Cal Poly Mustangs. A great a play and a great moment, to be sure, but who where did this fabulous idea originate?

"It's a play that we had practiced from last December," said Bulldog head coach Tim DeRuyter. "Every week we have specials in and we like spreading the ball around a little bit and having some fun. We thought it was a play that we could execute. We'd be able to make a play if we were done in the Red Zone. We didn't want Austin to have to run too far so it was a play designed from about the ten or the fifteen yard line. We didn't want to have to have the oxygen out there for the extra point."

While some people might feel that the Bulldogs ran this play because their opponent was FCS, the truth of the matter is that this play was designed for a specific situation.

"It was a situation where we had it in the arsenal going into the game. It happened to play out that we were on the left hash and about that yard line. It just happened to come out that way. We script things out and if we have that situation, it's a go to."

DeRuyter also noted that it wasn't necessarily for the fans, either.

"To be honest with you, it's more, different ball in different guy's hands and letting guys have fun," DeRuyter said. "Football ought to be a fun game. I guess if the fans enjoy it, I guess that's a bonus, but it's really not our forward thought in it. Our foremost thought is it's a play where we can spread the ball around, we think we got a chance to execute."

The Bulldogs were able to keep this play such a hidden gem, Bulldog middle-linebacker Karl Mickelsen didn't even know it existed. He was just as amazed and impressed as everyone else.

"To be honest, they never run it against us, our defense," Mickelsen said. "We never even knew they were doing that type of stuff on the other side of the offense. It was kinda exciting. We got really excited about that. We were surprised, like, 'Austin scored?' Like, 'What?!' We were super surprised. We didn't know our offense had that set up for this week or anything."

Quarterback Derek Carr was probably just as excited as anyone when the call came in. Like most football-loving humans, Carr is also a fan of the big-guy touchdown.

"Oh, it was great," Carr said. "It's always fun to see a big man score. I don't what it is. Especially an O-lineman because they get no credit or anything. It was fun. It was a fun play that the coaches draw up, but there is a method to their madness. We knew the coverages they play. We knew how the team played Davante. It was a good way, and it just happened to work out for Austin that way."

While everybody loved the play, nobody seemed to quite know how the play originated.

"You'd have to ask Coach Schramm," Tim DeRuyter said. "I think that was Coach Schramm's play. Coach Antoine comes up with a bunch of specials. I don't know which one came up with it."

Carr wasn't sure about the origins of the play either, but said that it was still situational more than anything.

"Oh, man. It's hard to say" Carr added. "Because when teams play us like this, and they just want to double 'Te [Davante Adams] and do all those things. We ran a little hitch route, and gave it to 'Te. That means no one is left outside of 'Te. And so, that's just kinda what inspires it. It's not just us wanting to get the ball into someone's hands. Yeah, that's fun. It's fun to draw them up and do that. But the way we play, and the way we do things, it just happened that it was going to be open that way."

FSBulldogs wasn't about to let this play retire into greatness without getting to the bottom of it. Wentworth was kind enough to break down the how and why of the big-guy hook and ladder. Dispelling the rumors that it was ran because their opponent was an FCS team, Wentworth noted that the Bulldogs actually had bigger plans for the play.

"Last fall before bowl prep Coach [Dave] Schramm came up to me and told me he had a surprise," Wentworth said. "I had no idea it would be that awesome of a play. We ran it in practice but I never thought we'd get to call it in a game. It was supposed to be for the bowl game and it didn't work out. In the spring I joked with him about it and he said there was a chance. Then this fall we put it back in and I was lucky for it to be called."

As for the origins of the play? It's a lot nobler than you might think.

"I think just to show the big man some love," Wentworth said. "To throw a wrench in the gears and little bit and trick a defense. Who expects a 300-pound tackle running out there to get the ball? They probably saw me coming and thought I was trying to help Davante get into the endzone, but he sold it and helped me instead.

Like a true connoisseur of the big-guy touchdowns, Wentworth was honored to finally have his name added to that list. But he actually thought he was in trouble when special teams coach, Dave Schramm, first told him how this was going to go down.

"First he told me he had a surprise, I figured he was joking and I was in trouble for something," Wentworth said. "Then we get on the field and he starts walking through with what the left tackles were doing and I looked at him thinking it was joke. I was honored, it was awesome, I've been an O-lineman my whole life and I've never got any love like that. It was fun to play another role like that."

No matter how much of an honor something like this might be, there's always a little bit of nerves when the play is called in for a game situation.

"Derek walked up and called the play," Wentworth said. "I must have given that look like 'are you kidding me?' And he says, 'Yeah, we're running this', then Davante said let's go. All I could think in my stance was I better catch this ball. Because if not, coach Schramm is going to be on me and never call this play again. Luckily I got out there and secured the ball and just walked in."

Wentworth remains optimistic that the play-calling for big-man touchdowns will open up in the future.

"I think they should happen more often," Wentworth said passionately. "I think we need to put in a fumblerooski in there, maybe a flea-flicker, I'm down for anything."

Most of the free world would probably be down for a big-guy flea-flicker, but where does the hook and ladder rank on the all-time list of big-guy touchdowns? Wentworth has a pretty precise answer for you.

"In my book, No. 1," Wentworth said. "I can't remember in recent history any big guys getting love like that so hopefully it inspires some coaches around the area and the country to get some more big man love out there."

Some people call him Austin Wentworth, Bulldog left tackle. But you can call him Austin Wentworth, big-guy touchdown pioneer and trailblazer.

Stay tuned to FSBulldogs.com for more updates on the Fresno State Bulldogs.

Josh Webb is a special contributor to FSBulldogs.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @BulldogsTwist.


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