Every time the Notre Dame football team's offense takes the field, four guys on the sidelines wearing red baseball caps are the conduits of communication between head coach Brian Kelly and the players.
Gyrations. Movements that would make a third base coach jealous. Anything short of smoke signals. Whatever it takes to get the message from the sidelines to the field.
"It's a different language out there," said Matt Mulvey, a 6-foot-2, 191-pound junior walk-on quarterback from San Diego, who is one of the communicators. "Every day we're adding more and more and more. There's only so many spots on our body and so many motions we could do."
Pressure comes with the territory. So does pride.
"The true meaning for our red hats," Brian Castello, a 6-2, 210-pound senior walk-on quarterback from Pittsburgh began, "some people might think it's so (Irish starting quarterback) Dayne (Crist) can see us.
"The true meaning of the red hats, as quarterbacks, we call ourselves 'The Red Army.' It was created (three years ago). It came about as we all wear red jerseys (in practice) as we're all very valuable and breakable; we don't see a lot of contact during practice. It's kinda like a fraternity started by (former Irish QB) Evan Sharpley.
"I think we're the most feared group on the team; and also (most) respected."
Take the tongue out of the cheek. But don't sell these guys short. There's pressure to be correct, and given the nature of Notre Dame's offense, there's pressure to be fast.
They're sending in chapter and verse on every play - from formation to execution. On each play, all four are making different gyrations. Only one is "live." According to Kelly, the live guy switches each quarter to keep the opposing defense from invading that privacy.
How often are they wrong?
"Never," said Mulvey, a finance major. "We're not allowed to be wrong.
"We go so fast, you get so many more reps in practice, once you get into a game it actually slows down - all the TV timeouts; the thought process that goes into each play. It's nice having multiple people do it. If you're hesitant on one of the signs, out of the corner of your eye you can see, 'OK, Brian did that, I'll do that and that.'"
"He's way too smart for me anyway," Kelly said of Castello. "Funny story, we have pass pictures that we give out. It's probably 35 pages of pass pictures, all of the diagrams of every play. He will digest those and find any error in them within 30 seconds.
"So if you need your taxes done, that guy - or maybe you don't want him to do your taxes, but he's pretty good."
"Let's just say this, when a mistake occurs, which it does very, very infrequently, from the signalers to the players out on the field, they'll be the first to hear about it," said Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar. "There's a lot of pressure on them.
"They have to be really perfect in their job because your offense has no chance if they're not. If a signaler would make a mistake, nobody would have confidence in the signals. We can't play football that way. (The players) have to have great confidence that the signal's correct."
"When they get the play call, they have to signal it almost simultaneously. Usually coach Kelly will communicate it. That's pressure for anybody, believe me."
Kelly is not timid around his red hat guys. He expects perfection, just like the players.
"We get yelled at a bunch - probably a lot more than most of the guys on the team - and we never see the field," said Castello, an engineering major.
Like anyone who takes a snap, the red hat guys come into each game prepared. After signaling in anywhere between 400 and 500 plays during the week, they take a test on the plays and signals with all the quarterbacks Friday nights at the team hotel. It's a video game sort of exam that covers every aspect.
"The test is more for Dayne, Tommy (Rees) and Nate (Montana), the guys who actually are going to see the field," Castello said. "As far as preparation goes, it's important that we know the X's and O's of the offense. I hesitate to say, 'I correct coach Kelly,' but if he means to call the formation from the right hash (mark) or left hash, he'll call something and we'll say, 'Didn't you mean this?' Usually, we're right.
"Sometimes we're not and we get yelled at."
Just another hazard of the job.
"My roommates that are not on the team jokingly say they don't trust the offense being in our hands," Castello said with a laugh. "They know me and they know Mulvey. Everything that comes in goes through us."
"There's always nerves, going out in front of 81,000 people and knowing that you have a job to do - whether it's getting the tee after the starting kickoff or signaling into the quarterback," Mulvey said. "It's exciting. Running out of that tunnel is one of the best feelings in the world."
Mulvey and Castello understand and embrace their place. They're fans first, just happy to be along for the ride.
"We love to say we're kind just livin' the dream," Mulvey said. "It's so much fun to be a fan, now to actually be in the huddles. We take victory in the fact that we're suiting up. We have a locker with our names over it. We get to be with all the guys and help when we can."
"As a walk-on, we have a group of walk-ons called WOPU Nation, the Walk-on Players Union," Castello said. "As part of WOPU, we all have roles on the team and we're happy to do it. We know playing time is hard to come by."
Castello and Mulvey both had playing time in the spring game. With a sly smile, Castello said he's being saved for the Southern Cal game. Something about the "Castello Push," this year.
These athletes who know their way around a classroom can be the level heads the players on the field can turn to in the heat of the battle.
"Different players have their styles to tell us they don't know what they're doing," Mulvey said. "Whether it's the classic two hands up, 'What's goin' on? What's goin' on?' Or, the angry ones."
"A lot of them make it our fault, that we don't know what we're doing," Castello said.
"It kinda fits the players' styles when they give it back," Mulvey said. "We know when someone's confused. We try and get them right, but it's kinda funny seeing their reaction. They're in the game, going 100 million miles an hour, the last thing they want is to not remember one of our signals."
"The guys on the field, instead of asking the coach and possibly getting yelled at for not knowing what to do, they'll come and ask us," Castello said. "We're a source to come to."
A source with a dream and a red hat.
Staff writer Al Lesar: email@example.com 574-235-6318