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East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

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Editor's note: This feature
coordinated by Denny O'Brien.


From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

Madden for a day, plus baseball advice

This is a dream come true.  I get to pretend to be a football analyst working for Bonesville for a day.  I have a deep love for football, but have no idea what I am talking about, so I hope Pete Rose does not read this and wage a big bet off my predictions — or anyone else for that matter.

Well, here goes.

Patriots Offense:  The Pats like to play smashmouth football up front to set up a very smart and deceiving passing game.  They have some small receivers who run great routes and are very quick.  Tom Brady is exceptionally accurate and has a great offensive line that gives him time to throw, which will have to be the case Sunday.  The Panthers love to play physical on the corners and knock receivers off their routes.  If they protect Brady Sunday and give his
receivers added time to get off the corners, the Patriots will score a lot of points, especially if they can run and suck up the safeties to play run first.

Key for New England is containing the front four of the Panthers and keeping Brady in the pocket.  In this game, if the O-line does its job and Brady has time, the Pats will win.

Panthers Offense:  This wont take long.  Stephen Davis right.  Stephen Davis left.  And Stephen Davis up the middle.  Oh, and occasionally that other running back. 

The key to their offense is time management and stay out of third-and-long, keeping the Patriots guessing with play-action.  The Panthers want to grind it out and shorten the game with a ball-control running game.  The Patriots love to blitz everyone but the kitchen sink, so this could allow Davis to have a big game.  If Jake Delhomme has to throw more than 20 times, they will be in big trouble and he may be out of the game hurt if that's the case.  Third-and-long spells disaster for the Panthers.

The key is the offensive line and how well they run block.  Brad Hoover, the fullback, plays a huge role in picking up linebackers for Davis to bang out yards.  If Davis runs for over 120 yards, the Panthers win.

Patriots Defense:  Very physical and will knock the snot out of you.  They put pressure on you from all angles.  Bill Belichick is a defensive genius, and with two weeks to prepare, you better watch out.  I suspect the Pats to do a lot of run blitzing to stop the Panthers running game, forcing Delhomme to beat them.  It's imperative that the Panthers are in third-and-short situations to keep the Pats D on their heels.

Panthers Defense:  The best front four in football and will have to play that way again this week.  The corners are very physical and love to bump receivers off their routes.  I expect the Panthers to do a lot of blitzing, forcing Brady out of the pocket.  Again the Panthers are physical and just keep coming at you until you're knocked out.

Two weeks ago, McNabb got beat into submission and the receivers were so afraid to come across the middle they dropped everything in sight.  The key is how physical the officials let the corners play.  Against the Eagles, they kept the flags in their pockets and let them play football.  The same has to be true today.

Kicking Game:  Even.  It is important for the Panthers to have good field position and play on a short field.  Field goals will be a premium in this game and whoever kicks the most may win.

Coaches:  Advantage Belichick.  He is the best coach in the game today and has prepared his team for a Super Bowl before.

Prediction:  My heart wants the Panthers, but I do not see them beating a well-rounded Patriots team.  Sorry Carolina fans, New England wins 23-10.  I hope I am wrong and it was fun being John Madden for a day. 

Preparing for the next level

Dean Gay, Coach LeClair's old high school buddy wants some advice on how to prepare his son for the collegiate or professional level.  Naturally, Condo's got the answer:

That is a very good question that I think a lot of parents often struggle with.  You sometimes can demand too much out of your son and actually be living out your own dream without even being aware of the costly effects it's having on your boy.

I have seen this many times at the Little League level on up to the collegiate game.  There is a fine line in what is too much and not enough in preparing your son for what we call the next level.  My suggestion to any parent that has a son interested in the game and has the skills to either play at the college or professional level would be to give him the resources he is willing to handle.

Too often parents burn their kids out by putting them into camps and showcases in which their sons have no interest.  It's important that your son has a love and passion for the game.  If it becomes more of a chore for him to be out there playing, it's best to back off and let him decide what he wants to do.  I know my son seems to love the game right now and I have never really pushed him towards baseball.  As long as he has this passion for baseball, I will do what I can to help him develop as a player.

Now, as your son gets older and seems to have the desire and tools to succeed at the next level, you can do some things to help him out.  One would be individual instructions with someone who knows what they're talking about.  It's real important for young players to be taught the correct fundamentals at the right age.  I like individual instruction because kids are more attentive and will learn at a more accelerated level.

Some other things you can also do with your son is enroll him into a really good camp.  This not only is a teaching process for him, but also allows him as well to see where his skills match up and areas he needs to improve.  I would also try to put him in the best competition that is available in your area.  Most towns and cities today have traveling teams that play against some of the best competition in the country.  But be careful that you're not burning him out playing everyday from the spring to the fall.  I have seen a lot of kids in my coaching career at the high school level actually go backwards as a player because of playing so much they pick up bad habits and have a hard time breaking them.

Last, I would give my son an option of enrolling in a good strength and condition program.

It seems today kids are not playing multiple sports like we did in high school. Unfortunately, baseball is not a sport where motor skills training is learned like in basketball and football.  Therefore, it is important that young kids participate in some form of conditioning and agility program, whether it be stations set up in your back yard or at a local gym.  Just as long as they are learning to control their bodies and moving their feet.

That's about all I have to offer and I certainly hope it helps in developing your son.  But I will say it one more time: Make sure your son wants to do these things and that you are not you reliving your childhood dreams through your son.

When is it becoming too much?

I wish I could give the perfect answer to this question, but unfortunately I think it's different for every kid.  I would let the kid decide on how much baseball he wants to play and at what level.  I personally believe that traveling teams are much better for kids once they get older and know what they're getting into.

As a parent, once your child makes a commitment to something, it's important that he finishes the objective.  I think it's tough for an eight-to-eleven year-old kid to understand the time and effort all this takes, not only for the child but for the parents as well.

I have seen a lot of youngsters burn themselves out of baseball doing this very thing.  Kids need time to be just that, kids.  I never heard of a traveling team growing up, but that never stopped me or my friends from playing a game of wiffle or stick ball. 

It seems today that we have structured everything into a team or league and have taken the creativity out of the hands of kids.  I broke a few windows around the house in my day that led to a few whippings, but that was part of the fun in playing backyard baseball and taking one deep where you never thought you could hit it.

So my suggestion is let your child decide if playing on a traveling team is something he is interested in doing, but first lay out the commitment it will require and the sacrifices he will have to make. 

Remember... Grip it... rip it... and have fun.

Fire your best pitch at Ol' Condo: Sound off to Coach LeClair...

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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