Go behind the scenes with Coach Gant as he takes you through his carefully fine-tuned process for shutting down opposing offenses.

Terrance Gant’s football journey is a roundabout one. 

A former high school and college player, Gant took a hiatus from the game, serving 15 years in the Marine Corps. When a friend approached him after his time in the service about getting into coaching, he felt slightly apprehensive. However, he decided to take the plunge, becoming the defensive coordinator at Arizona’s Tempe High School in his first year. “We took our lumps,” said Gant. “I think we went 1-9 that year.” 

He stuck with it. And things got better. After helping guide his team to a 13-1 season, Gant moved west to continue his coaching career, honing his skills at schools across Southern California. Now, with over 10 years of experience, he serves as the defensive coordinator and associate head coach at Notre Dame High School in Riverside.

Transitioning from the Marines to coaching has been a learning experience. “I had to let go of some of the demands, some of the yelling and become more of a teacher,” Gant said. But his service time has helped him succeed in the coaching world. “When you lead men, you have to figure out what makes them tick. It helps you teach kids because you can tailor your coaching to that individual,” he explained. “Some coaches don’t have any background in leading people and have this cookie cutter approach which doesn’t always work with high school kids.” 

His background and skill set has led him to build a defensive game-planning process that’s both regimented and adaptable to his players, year after year. Let’s take a closer look.

Opponent Data Breakdown 

Like most coaches, his first step is to watch the opponent's film. The first look is continuous, without taking any notes. “I just watch it, trying to get a feel for how the play caller calls the game,” he said. The notepad comes out for his second watch, where he looks for things that stand out. Why did they line up in trips here? Where are they on the field? What point in the game is it? It’s meant to ensure that he and his players aren’t caught by surprise on game day. His third watch is a deep dive into their third-down philosophy. 

From there, Gant dives into Hudl to get a picture of his opponent through data. When he breaks down their games, he looks at personnel, backfield and receiver sets, formation into the boundary, and types of motion. They also tag line movement and offensive play type. “We get really into the weeds,” he said. 

Once he’s worked his way through the Hudl data (usually by about Saturday afternoon), it goes into a custom Excel spreadsheet that he’s worked to perfect over the years. He builds three different sheets: one for third downs, one for the red zone (high, low and goal line), and one for what he calls “normal downs.”

It breaks down the opponent's favorite personnel groupings, and how they tend to line up in different down and distance scenarios. He adds their favorite run and pass concepts and any screens they run. Perhaps the biggest key for Gant is the backfield set. “We get an overall run/pass breakdown, but when you look at the backfield set it really clears up their run/pass tendencies,” he said. 

Developing the Game Plan

Once the data is set, it’s time for Gant to start the game-planning process, which comes together through building several core materials. 

Field Zone Completion Template: 

This breaks the field down by areas and helps them visualize where opponents like to throw the ball. It’s instrumental in helping them decide what coverages they want to play each week, and how they’ll combat what their opponents want to do in the passing game. 

A Simple Scouting Report:

The players get a scouting report to familiarize themselves with the opponent's top offensive players and where they line up. “It’s really basic,” said Gant. “Just something we can put up in the locker room for them.” The back of the scouting report covers their top run and pass concepts, including a deep shot analysis that shows how they throw deep down the field and who was targeted the most. They also analyze negative plays from the opponent, to see where opposing defenses have had success.   

Top Formations Hit Chart:

This is a garden-variety look at how the opposing offense lines up. It shows the run/pass breakdown from each formation, and how often they line up each formation into the boundary. 

Core Report:

The backfield set data that Gant uses to understand run/pass tendencies comes in handy here. He includes that information with the opponent's top four runs and passes, along with any added notes. This helps create a core run report focusing solely on the ground game. Say the opponent ran Power 13 times. It shows the five formations they ran it out of and illustrates how they would block Notre Dame’s defensive scheme. “It’s something we use to give the kids to give them a visual of how we want to fit each run,” said Gant. 

Building the Call Sheet

Throughout the process, Gant takes notes. He’s looking out for tendencies based on down and distance, or field position. What do they like to do on second and medium? What do they do in the high red zone? Do they bring in different personnel at the goal line? 

After processing the reports and his notes, Gant starts documenting the calls he likes for the week ahead, in a sheet aptly titled, “Things I Like.” He starts building out some base calls, early down creepers or sim pressures and their five-man pressure package. 

Gant has his “Call Inventory Bible,” which holds all of the calls they’ve built out from spring ball all the way to the fall. Everything that appears on the call sheet week-to-week comes from it. It’s a fluid document that adapts yearly. “I just gauge it off how well we’re progressing through the spring and summer,” said Gant. “Some years it’s full and some years its pretty bare bones.” 

Hitting the Practice Field

The practice field determines which calls ultimately make it onto the sheet and which are scratched. Every Notre Dame practice starts with a core run period, where his defense faces the opponent's bread-and-butter plays from the core run report, ran by the scout team. Gant has an idea of which plays he wants to call to combat their core run plays—but practice performance either reinforces his strategy or causes him to reevaluate it. 

“We do that drill every day because I want to see our kids grasping the concepts,” said Gant. Monday it might look really good, but then comparing Monday to Tuesday, did we progress or regress?” He decides by Wednesday which calls they keep and which are a no-go. 

To get some looks against the passing game, Gant runs 7 on 7 drills. He likes to incorporate their blitzes into these sessions to see how his secondary holds up. It allows him to see what needs to be fixed when they bring pressure. “We can make the decision that, ‘ok, this isn’t going to work if they come out in trips,’” Gant said. “Maybe we need to rethink this blitz or we might need to come up with a better check if they come out in this formation.” 

Another drill Gant (and his players) like is to run his 5-man pressures against the offense, who gets some work on their pass protection. This lets him get a look at his pressure packages for the week, and decide what makes the call sheet. It also allows him to adjust on the fly. “Do we need to assign a blitz pill technique to somebody or do we need to figure out a different coverage?” said Gant. 

Finally, they’ll go 11 on 11 throughout the week to give the first-team offense and defense looks against each other. “Just so the kids can compete,” said Gant. The focus early in the week is on early downs; later in the week, they’ll work on goal line and red zone situations. 

Ready for Gameday

By the time Friday arrives, Gant is confident his defense is prepared, thanks to this process that he’s built and fine-tuned over the years. Tools like Hudl have played a huge role, allowing his players to better access and understand the information he puts together. It’s also helped Gant do his job better by providing a wealth of data to sift through and determine what’s most impactful for him. “The past two years, the process has been nailed down,” he said. “I know what I need and how to get that information.”  

Want to talk ball with Coach Gant? Contact him at coachtlgant@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter at @terrance_gant