Spread offense more prevalent in prep football

Two local schools have new coaches at the helm of their football teams who are instilling new offensive schemes at Meadowdale and Snohomish high schools.

The Mavericks and Panthers have decided to spread it out.

The pair are the two newest schools to run the spread offense, which features the wide receivers spread out across the field. The point of the offense is to put good, quick athletes in favorable matchups against a stretched out defense and see if they can make a big play.

Its success in high school programs — and even the college and professional ranks — makes the spread offense a reliable scheme to implement.

“I think what we’re trying to do is put our athletes in the best opportunity to make plays. It gives (players) an opportunity to get out in space and do some things,” said Mike Don, Meadowdale’s first-year coach. “You let athletes make plays. You put athletes out in space and kids enjoy it because it’s what you see on TV.”

The spread offense is hardly new. The formation has been around for years. However, lately coaches are adding new wrinkles and trying to improve upon an already competitive offensive scheme that, when ran successfully, can give defenses fits.

There are different variations to the spread offense. In college, Washington State runs one that involves throwing the ball downfield a majority of the time. A very successful Oregon program has developed its own option variation of the spread offense, which has begun to creep all the way up to the National Football League.

The Lakewood football team views its spread offense as more akin to Oregon’s. Cougars’ head coach Dan Teeter said he played in a spread offense in college and thoroughly enjoyed it. He saw no reason not to bring that style with him to Lakewood.

“We think it’s exciting and high-powered,” Teeter said. “Especially if you have the horses to run it. … I love it. I absolutely love it. Once you have an established system in place, you can add any wrinkle you like. You can get as creative as you want with the backs and receivers. It allows you to be a bit of a mad scientist out there.”

This past season it was evident Lakewood had those horses. With seniors Justin Peterson, Donovan Evans and Brandon Stott, among countless other athletes, the Cougars went 9-2 and made it to the first round of the 2A state tournament.

“For us, we like to spread it around,” Teeter said. “We try to emphasize team football. ‘We over me’ is on the back of the team shirts. It allows all the players to get involved.”

At Snohomish, first-year coach Kai Smalley is implementing his version of the spread offense with the Panthers. Smalley served as an assistant with Glacier Peak head coach Rory Rosenbach, another local proponent of the spread offense, earlier in his career.

“The multiplicity that it has and the diversity it has makes it so attractive to coaches,” Smalley said of the spread offense. “The numbers and its effectiveness, even in the run game, makes it so attractive to offensive coaches.”

The spread offense should bring a fun new energy to the Snohomish-Glacier Peak rivalry, Smalley said. The Panthers have seen plenty of the spread and were eager to try it out themselves.

“I think that they were very excited from the get-go with it,” Smalley said. “They’ve been playing against the spread teams for years now and having seen what they’re doing at Glacier Peak and other teams — even Lake Stevens runs a similar style offense — kids like to be a part of that fast-paced offense where you put the pedal to the metal right away.”

Smalley hopes he can find success with the offensive scheme like his friend Rosenbach did. Rosenbach came to the Grizzlies with the spread offense in mind when he started the football program in 2008. The Grizzlies had a tough go of it at first, almost prompting Rosenbach to shelve the whole idea.

Then things started to click.

“Getting (his players) to believe it worked was the biggest deal,” Rosenbach said of his first season at Glacier Peak. “The first game it didn’t. It was bad. I almost took the tray back. The second game was a little better. The third game against Marysville (Pilchuck), which was and is a really good team, we should have beat them. We just hurt ourselves with a couple turnovers at the goal line … and lost 20-17.

“For us, that was the moment that they all started believing and bought in. From that game we went 5-1 the rest of the season after starting 0-3.”

The offense is good for up-and-coming teams as well, because even if a team doesn’t have strong athletes on the wings, the defense still has to use bodies to cover them.

“You spread it out,” Rosenbach said. “Even if you can’t throw the ball, if I put four guys out there you’ve got to cover them.”

Glacier Peak has continued to improve upon its offense. The Grizzlies use GoPro cameras in players’ helmets so that the coaches and players can analyze the best read in the spread offense after practice. A camera is actually wired into the inside of the helmet, and mounted right near the players’ eyes, so that when they tilt their heads — even a little — the coaches see what they see.

“Sometimes we use a GoPro for like the QB, because I want to see what they’re seeing and where their eyes are going,” Rosenbach said. “I want to know why you’re not throwing to this guy if I think he’s wide open.”

Rosenbach said the film provides an amazing teaching opportunity for the coaches and players. At first, players and coaches weren’t thrilled with the additional work. But once the Grizzlies started seeing results, everybody was on board with the GoPro experiment.

“It’s a pain in the butt for the kids sometimes. They’re like, ‘Hey, I want to go home and hang out with my family.’ But they have to watch video,” Rosenbach said. “The teaching is undeniable though. It’s not like it could work. This works. Seeing the stuff is huge for the kids.”

Cameras aren’t the only tools local coaches use to improve their offensive schemes. Many attend clinics and workshops to keep up to date on the newest modifications to the spread offense. Rosenbach estimates his Glacier Peak coaching staff spends 50 hours in the offseason working on new wrinkles for the offense.

Many teams attend camps, such as Saturday’s Lakewood 7-on-7 camp which is becoming a well-known passing camp in the state of Washington. In its seventh year, the camp has 21 schools signed up to attend including Bothell, Issaquah, Kamiak and King’s.

While camps help offenses find their footing, it can also allow for a defense to experiment with stopping the spread offense.

Rosenbach said the solution to stopping the spread is easy on paper, but much more difficult on the football field.

“You have four really good athletes that play defensive back and you play man coverage. Put seven guys in the box and bring pressure. That’s how you stop it,” Rosenbach said. “But most teams don’t have four guys that can lock it down (against receivers). We’re going to find that mismatch in coverage and say, ‘We’re going to pick on him.’”

Mark Stewart, who recently took the head coaching job at Garfield after spending the past 13 years at Meadowdale, had the unenviable task of trying to stop Glacier Peak’s spread offense the past few years.

Stewart said playing a team like Glacier Peak, which ran the spread offense so well, helped make the Mavericks better at pass defense, not just for the one game, but for the rest of the season as well.

“There are a lot of different ways to get it done. We felt we matched up well. We had good players, which helped, too,” Stewart said. “It’s not much different than any other offense, once you get comfortable. It’s an added thing that you have to teach now that you didn’t have to 10 years ago.”

Stewart isn’t considering instilling the spread offense this season at Garfield, where the Bulldogs went 1-8 last season.

“No. I’m old school. I’m running the rock,” Stewart said. “There’s certainly a lot of different ways of doing it. I think what I did at Meadowdale was sticking with the running concept that kind of made us a little bit different. I’m an older dog. Not an old dog. But old enough for no new tricks.”

Regardless of Stewart’s preferences, the spread offense isn’t going away in the foreseeable future.

“Things seem to be cyclical in football,” Teeter said. “If an offense takes off, the defense tends to change along with it. I think the spread offense is still evolving itself.”

Added Don of Meadowdale: “I think every offense has some part of it stick around. I do think eventually teams will adjust to where (the spread offense is) not as big as it is now. But there’s always going to be bits and pieces of it around. I don’t think it will be as prevalent in, say 10 years, but I think it’ll stick around. It’s been around. Teams have done stuff like this before. It just hasn’t quite been at this level.”

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