News From Terre Haute, Indiana

September 5, 2012

Sycamores, Lee unleash 'special forces'

ISU special teams coach trying to make things happen

Todd Golden
The Tribune-Star

INDIANAPOLIS — There was never a memo sent, but Indiana State football fans should take note that special teams don’t exist on the Indiana State football team anymore.

The proper nomenclature at Memorial Stadium in 2012 is to call those units special forces.

That’s the edict put forth by ISU special teams coach Ronnie Lee. Or should I say special forces coach?

Lee is trying to create a new identity for the Sycamores’ kick, punt and return games. He wants the players on those units to have complete buy-in as to their roles in an important aspect of the game that often gets overlooked.

Lee — in his first season at ISU — demonstrated just how much devotion he’s already generated when asked how the special forces moniker correlates with its military connotation.

“Let me show you this,” said Lee, who summoned kickers Tanner Fritschle and Eric Heidorn.

“Special forces!” Lee said to ISU’s kickers.

Both raised their right hand into a fist and exclaimed, “make it happen!”

“Every time that [right] hand comes up … they know,” said Lee, who also coaches ISU’s running backs. “I could be anywhere on the field. If I put that hand up, always the right hand, never the left, I say, ‘special forces’. They say, ‘make it happen.’ I want it in every phase. If you have to block … block. If you have to tackle … tackle. If you have to catch … catch.”

The military overtone with the name “special forces” goes hand-in-hand with the message Lee is trying to get across. After all, “special teams” doesn’t have much of a zip. Special teams are often perceived as an afterthought, even a punishment for some players who take part in it.

But “special forces”? That sounds like something a player would want to be a part of.

“People talk about offense and defense and the third phase. That’s special forces. We want to be a force, we don’t want to be an afterthought,” said Lee, who was previously the co-defensive coordinator at Minnesota from 2008-10.

“We know during the course of the game that the pendulum swings and special forces play a big part in that. When we punt, we want to pin them down so our defense can breathe. When we’re returning, we want it across the 50 so the offense can be more imaginative in their plays,” Lee added.

It’s no joke for Lee and the Sycamores. Players are not allowed to refer to special teams anymore, but to use the term special forces. Even head coach Trent Miles has bought in as he has begun to refer to ISU’s “special forces”.

Lee’s enthusiasm is infectious and his reboot of ISU’s special, er, forces have had the desired effect.

“We want to emphasize that special forces are just as important as offense and defense. We want to own it and really take pride in it,” said ISU kick returner Taje High. “Coach Lee is a spirited guy. He’s really upbeat and brings a lot of energy to the table. He really helps us with special forces.”

It didn’t take long for ISU’s players to begin the buy-in process.

“Everybody was kind of like, ‘OK. It makes sense.’ We all bought into it really easily,” said Adam Masters, who is one of three off-line blockers for punter Lucas Hileman in ISU’s spread punt formation.

Miles appreciates the experience that Lee brings to the table. Before he was at Minnesota, Lee had stops at Michigan, Wisconsin and Colorado State among other schools. Lee was a defensive back at Washington State from 1985-88.

“This guy’s been to the top level. He motivates the kids, but he’s knowledgeable. It’s the first time we’ve had somebody on special teams that was knowledgeable in all aspects, from schemes to techniques. It really helps us,” Miles said.

Lee has established “special forces” among the Sycamores … but why raise the right hand?

“I’m right-handed,” Lee deadpanned.

• Practicing halftime — Few details are left to chance at ISU practices. So when the Sycamores came out of the locker room a bit flat for Miles’ tastes during last Saturday’s 24-17 loss at Indiana, practicing halftime was added to the weekly to-do list.

Sure enough, ISU’s abruptly exited the field during Wednesday’s practice to get their halftime routine down.

“We didn’t start very fast at Indiana. We came out and made adjustments, but they didn’t happen on the field the way we wanted them to. We were sluggish before we got going,” Miles said. “You have to turn your motor off for a period of time and then turn it on again and go full-speed. Sometimes that’s why you start slow. We always want to practice game situations, so we threw it in there.”

• What if? — ISU had a chance to tie or win the game in the final seconds at Indiana last Saturday, but Mike Perish’s Hail Mary pass was batted down in the end zone.

But what would have happened had it been caught?

If you thought ISU would play for overtime, banish the thought. Miles said he already had two play-calls ready to attempt what would have been a game-winning two-point conversion against the Hoosiers.

“There’s no question. Anytime you play a BCS conference team and you’re on the road and you have a chance to win? You go for it,” Miles said. “That goes for next year. That goes for when we play Minnesota [in 2016] and Tennessee [in 2017]. We’re not going in there to try and tie and go into overtime. We’re going to try and win the football game.”