I always leave this question for the end of most interviews I conduct: “What questions haven’t I asked that you think might be significant?”
Mike Maynard, who signed on as University of Redlands football coach back in 1988, was quick with his answer last Sunday. It came minutes after he discovered his team was officially headed into this year’s NCAA Division III playoffs.
“We’re blessed with a deep bench,” he said.
Redlands, a 9-1 team during season, will need that depth — a rotation of four running backs, rotating both offensive and defensive lines, plus a different set of linebackers — for its game in Texas on Saturday.
Drawing top-ranked Mary Hardin-Baylor (10-0) won’t be easy — on the road, injury decisions made by Tuesday instead of game time, one less day of practice, among other obstacles.
“It’s not like we take five or six trips a year,” said Maynard, whose second-place Bulldogs would’ve likely hosted their first-ever NCAA playoff if they’d have beaten Chapman in October.
“We thought we might have a home game.”
None of those 206 career wins from Maynard’s sideline have come against Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Playoffs seem to be stacked against Redlands and its SCIAC brethren. That grouping of well-intentioned football teams — which recruit against each other, plus handfuls of junior college teams — usually draw the nation’s top-ranked teams on the road in first round matchups.
Which, said Maynard, “is a tall order.”
Those teams don’t face the same kind of recruiting obstacles as SCIAC teams.
SCIAC champion Chapman has Linfield (Ore.) in a home playoff this weekend with a good shot at winning. That’s a matchup Redlands might’ve had if not for losing, 21-18, on Oct. 18.
Second-best outcome is getting into the playoffs.
Winning in Texas, though, will be tough.
They’ll be holed up at the Shiloh Inn, all 58 players (a number of traveling contingent approved by NCAA post-season rules), plus coaches. They know where the restaurants are located.
Think that’s not important? All those little details must add up before full attention can turn to football.
The Bulldogs travel to the Northwest each season. This isn’t a pleasure trip. It’s not a treat to provide players with a nice little airplane ride and a hotel stay.
No, it’s all business. Call it playoff prep, kind of a practice run just to weed out traveling “issues.” Normally, the Bulldogs pack onto a bus headed for Thousand Oaks or Whittier, Claremont, La Verne or Eagle Rock, plus those trips to Orange.
It might be just as important as on-field practice.
They’ve got the pass rush blitz packages into the scheme, plus coverages. The blocking schemes for QB Nathan Martinez’s handoffs to RB corps Kai Thompson, Mason Carvalho and Cole Davis — old hat by now.
Personnel packages for the kicking teams are on polish mode.
Go ahead, pick a receiver. It could be Blake Roy (23 catches, 5 TDs) or Jacob Huff (21), the top two targets. Or it could be Noah McFadden (17), Mitchell Nickovitch (16) or David Molina (17).
Martinez might then pitch it to Kai Kang (10 catches, 4 TDs) or someone else.
Maynard & Co. has studied the playoff picture for years.
How can Redlands win … on the road … matching up with bigger teams … taking on high-level programs?
All of which brings to Maynard’s “significant” thoughts — Redlands’ depth. He called it out.
Maynard’s game plan seems simple: Don’t build a team around a thousand-yard RB, or a pitch-and-catch routine from a QB to a single top target. Nor will he go with a firm five-man offensive blocking scheme. Two or three more will load into a game.
His front seven — defensive linemen and the linebackers — rotate throughout a game. Kept fresh. Doesn’t wear them out by season’s end.
Redlands has guys that can hit — plenty of them.
“What we want,” Maynard says, “is to get the best players that are healthy to play at their best.”
That’s not a cliche. It’s a significant game plan.