Football has many unique actions, and the ball snap is just one of them. The verbal cue for the center to snap the ball to the quarterback using the word ‘hike’ or ‘hut’ is common, but does the quarterback have to say the word ‘hike?
The quarterback does not have to say the word hike but can use any other word to indicate the imminent snap of the ball to his offense. This verbal term is the end of the cadence, a sequence of words to denote which play will be used on the snap.
Let’s get on the line of scrimmage and look at the dynamics behind the verbals, the cadence, and how the offense can use the verbals to confuse the defense and get a false start or offside penalties against them.
What Does ‘Hike’ Mean In Football – The Physical Action?
The word hike has two meanings in football, one is an action, and the other is the verbal cue to start the offensive play.
The term hike denotes the action of the center snapping the ball to the quarterback and indicates the start of the offensive play. This refers to the pass the center makes as he ‘throws’ or ‘snaps’ the ball from between his legs to the waiting quarterback.
Where the quarterback is positioned directly behind the center, the snap is merely the ‘handing’ of the ball to the quarterback. When the QB is in the shotgun position, he is standing about 5 yards behind the center, so the snap is more of a pass than a handover.
The Hike In Football – The Audible
Once the offensive play has been called, the quarterback will use an audible verbal cue like ‘hike.’
Or ‘hut’ to signal the center to snap the ball and start the play.
‘Hut’ is essentially a derivative of ‘hike,’ and both indicate the start of the offensive play by the snap of the ball to the quarterback by the center.
What Is The Cadence In Football?
The cadence usually precedes the ‘hike,’ a series of numbers and terms that only the offense understands, and is a set of numbers, letters, or words that correspond to a play called by either the coach or quarterback.
The cadence will also indicate on which ‘hike’ the ball will be snapped, and again, the goal here is twofold.
How Does The Offense Use ‘Hike’ To Try And Get Penalties?
The offense may use the cadence to try and get the defense to jump offside by using the term ‘hike’ or ‘hut’ more than once.
For example, if the play is due to start on the second call of ‘hike,’ the QB may call the first ‘hike’ loudly and see if the defense jumps offside in anticipation of the snap when the actual play is only due to being snapped on the second ‘hike.’
This can lead to a ‘false start’ or ‘offside’ penalty and a gain in yardage for the offense.
Remember that all the players must be still at the time of the snap, so the ‘hike’ audible can also be used to get ‘illegal motion’ penalties.
Does A Quarterback Have to Use The Word Hike?
While the word ‘hike’ is the most common audible used, the quarterback does not have to use the actual word when initiating the play.
Conceivably, he could use any word, but this would have to be known and agreed to by the offense, or confusion will reign, and the offense could concede false start, offside or illegal motion penalties.
As a random example, the offense could agree to use the word ‘fish’ to indicate the actual snap while using ‘hike’ in the cadence to try and confuse the defense. So the cadence could be,” Red 26; Red 26; Hike, Hike, FISH!”
The center and the rest of the offensive line would know that the ball is ONLY to be snapped once the QB says ‘fish’ and not before.
While this is most unlikely, it is an example of how the offense could deviate from using the word ‘fish’ as the cue to launch the play while using ‘hike’ in the cadence to confuse the defense.
What Other Words Could A Quarterback Use?
Sometimes, the center may listen for a specific phrase before snapping the ball. For example, the cadence could have three codes, each with similar sounding terms, but only one will initiate the snap from the center.
A quarterback could use the word ‘set’ as the ‘hike’ word, and the center would only snap the ball on hearing the word ‘set’ and not the word ‘hike.’
So, if the cadence was “Omaha Green 38 Hike”, but the actual snap was only due on ‘Omaha Green 38 Set”, then the offense would know that the cue to snap is only on ‘set’ and not on ‘hike.’
This way, the quarterback wouldn’t have to say ‘hike’ to initiate the play; the key to success with this type of cadence is to ensure that the offensive line knows that the ball is only going to be snapped on the word ‘set.’
Who Developed The ‘Hike’ To Start The Play?
Before 1890, quarterbacks would signal the snap of the ball by scratching the center’s leg.
Still, in the 1890-1891 season, John Heisman (he of the Heisman Trophy) developed the cadence after his center was tricked into an early snap when a defensive player scratched his center’s leg. Using a short sharp verbal, Heisman used the word ‘hike’ as it meant ‘to lift.’
In modern language, you can ‘hike’ up your sleeves before working, which means lifting them up so as not to get them dirty, hence the use of it by Heisman to initiate the play.
Where Did The Term ‘Hut’ Come From?
The term ‘hut’ was first seen in the 1950s, and it’s believed it comes from the military term ‘ atten-hut,’ which was a colloquialism for ‘ATTENTION’ used to call soldiers into position is another short sharp audible cue for the snap in football.
The quarterback does not have to say hike to start the play and can use any other agreed-upon word as a cue for the snap. In modern football, it is the most commonly used term, along with ‘hut,’ to indicate the start of the offensive play after the cadence.