More and more coaches are realizing that switching to the college game's hot offense, the spread, is the way to go
COMING OFF a 2004 season in which his team went 2--8 and his offensive players weren't fully committed to the triple option, coach Alex Jacobson of Jordan High (Sandy, Utah) decided to switch to a spread passing attack. "You've got to be willing to take risks and trust that the kids are going to catch the ball," he says. Jacobson visited an old high school buddy, Mike Leach, who had found success as the creator of Texas Tech's record-breaking, pass-happy spread, and he met with Urban Meyer, then the Utah coach, whose more balanced pass-run spread would soon bring him a new job and a hefty raise at Florida. Leach suggested drills to hone the passing game; Meyer stressed a playbook that took advantage of the best skill players on the team.
Jordan's offense began to take on the signature characteristics of the spread: no huddles, four or five wide receivers, and liberal use of the shotgun. Beginning with a 7--4 season in 2005, the Beetdiggers have had Utah's best passing offense. After a 48--7 win over Hillcrest last week, Jordan (5--1) was the top-ranked team in Class 5A, and it had the state's leading passer, senior Chaun Cook (1,520 yards and 17 touchdowns), and top receiver, senior Cody Raymond (61 catches for 833 yards and 10 TDs).
High schools throughout the country are following the lead of colleges in opting to spread the field on offense instead of relying on a power running game. Using multiple receivers prevents linebackers from keying on the run and opens passing lanes, particularly on short routes designed to spring receivers after the catch. The no-huddle offense makes it difficult for defenses to substitute, and mismatches are created when versatile skill-position players line up in the backfield on one play and in the slot the next.
The spread is as varied as it is popular. Byrnes High (Duncan, S.C.), which won the Class AAAA Division II title from 2002 through '05 and is ranked No. 1 in the state with a 5--0 record, passes on about 90% of its plays. "We feel just as good about throwing the ball one yard as we do about running the ball one yard," says offensive coordinator Rick Scott. Quarterbacks Chas Dodd and Trent Bailey have thrown for 1,380 yards and 14 TDs, and four Rebels have at least 17 catches.
Texas's reigning Class 5A Division II champ, Cedar Hill (3--0), one of seven schools in its eight-team district using the spread, runs 70% of the time and uses senior quarterback James Hamilton as its primary ballcarrier (532 rushing yards). "The spread allows you to get defenders out of the box.... It creates running lanes," says coach Joey McGuire.
Progressive coaches stocked with blue-chip athletes aren't the only ones capitalizing on the spread. Kurt Thompson, the newly hired coach at Republic (Mo.), spent the last 17 years "pounding the ball at people" before deciding to give the spread a shot. The Tigers, who were 3--7 last season, have started 4--0, including a 42--28 win over Branson on Sept. 14; in that game Republic scored TDs on its first six possessions. "I used to be the old traditionalist," Thompson says with a laugh. "If I'd have bet somebody that a team I was coaching would be running a no-back set, I'd have made a lot of money."
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