BILLINGS — Tristan Smith and his younger brother Tucker have an interesting way of playing catch.
The Deer Lodge siblings are both centers and so they spend time together at home honing their craft.
But instead of one brother snapping while other serves as a quarterback, both maintain their center stances, trying to snap the ball through one pair of legs through the other. It’s that kind of consistency and accuracy Tristan Smith, as well as all the other centers in Saturday’s Class B Big Sky All-Star Football Game, hope to put on display.
The game is scheduled for a 1 p.m. kickoff at Herb Klindt Field on the campus of Rocky Mountain College.
Coaches and players from both teams say they’ll be using a shotgun or pistol formation almost exclusively. While that lessens some of the chemistry needed between center and quarterback, the short amount of practice time the teams get in the days before all-star games like this means special attention has to be paid to the relationship.
For Smith, learning the voices of new quarterbacks, like Fairfield’s Ryder Meyer, is one of the challenges.
“Everything is different with different quarterbacks, so I just have to find his voice among all the defense when they’re yelling at you,” Smith said. “So just working on that and getting the chemistry down.
“I hear his voice — I still have to get used to it and everything — but it’s definitely easier than if we came in right after the (regular) season.”
Easier since Smith has had an entire off-season to unlearn the patterns and sound of his regular-season quarterback.
Townsend’s Jace Reddick, one of the centers for the South, said another challenge for centers in all-star games is getting used to each quarterback’s cadence.
“I’m used to a quick cadence,” said Reddick, who was standing next to one of the South’s quarterbacks, Colter Miller of Three Forks, “but he kind of likes to mix it up.”
The quarterbacks, too, have their own adjustments to make. Fairfield’s Meyer, for example, is used to receiving a spiral shotgun snap. Smith prefers the en vogue dead snap style, where the center holds the tip of the ball and uses the swing of his arm to get the ball to the quarterback.
“It’s kind of easier to catch a dead snap,” Meyer said. “You can almost go through your reads and progressions as the snap’s coming. Spiral is there kind of quick. A lot of times it was in my chest and you had to catch it. Dead snaps I think have a lot of advantages to them.”
Miller, the South quarterback, said it didn’t matter to him. Just get him the ball.
“As long as he gets it back … he does his job, I’ll do mine,” Miller said. “That’s the biggest thing. (Reddick) has a great ball. It’s fast, but it’s a slow rotating ball so it gets back in your hands just perfect.”
Even high school centers and quarterbacks are good enough to keep obvious botched snaps to a minimum. Very few hit the ground these days. But bad snaps don’t have to hit the ground. If they aren’t done at the proper speed and rhythm, a too slow snap or a too quick snap can disrupt any play.
The intricacies of football demand consistency, and it all starts from the snap, North coach Pat Duchien said.
“One of the biggest things is finding your timing and your mesh points within that backfield,” said Duchien, of Florence, in between practices on Thursday. “It’s going to be a little easier changing a step from a running back’s standpoint of view on a give, then it would be to try and move the QB up or back away from where the center is comfortable snapping it to.
“Are the snaps as quick as we’d like right now? No. But, in a day and a half of work, we’re far above of where you’d assume you’d be. And I assume the South is the same way.”
Both South head coach J.V. Moody of Big Timber and Duchien are making their first coaching appearances at the all-star game.
Both mentioned the difference in talent that they are used to coaching.
“It definitely becomes big boy football from what us Class B coaches are used to,” Duchien said. “You’ve got a group of kids who are all seniors. They’re all 18 year old kids. Most of us are going to play a freshman or two and a handful of sophomores in our programs, so we’re sitting here looking at these kids and you only have to tell them once and they’ve got it. It’s an amazing group of kids.”
Moody, too, said there’s no need to go over and over ideas, which is a good thing, since practice time is short.
“One of the things that stands out to me is you have the cream of the crop of kids here for Class B, they pick up stuff so quick,” Moody said. “We do a scholarship thing here and going over the applications you can see why. They’re all very good students.”
The South won last year’s game 25-12 to even the series at 15 victories apiece.
Moody and Duchien were asked Thursday if they had any predictions. Both took the bait, but in a good-natured way.
“Oh, I think the South will rise again,” Moody said with a big chuckle. “The South will rise again.”
Told of Moody’s look into the future, Duchien came up with this, smiling all the while: “You know, depends on what area he thinks the sun sets in. So, if the sun is setting in the east, the South might rise again.”