The high school game has taken to the air

If you’re a football fan who enjoys seeing the ball in the air and lots of points on the scoreboard, the high school game has grown more to your liking over the past 17 years.

Teams no longer focus as much on the running game. The spread offense has become the formation of choice among Snohomish County teams, and the result is a game that is faster and places significantly more importance on skill-position players.

“From the very beginning of you playing catch with your dad out in the backyard, you’re playing catch,” former Mariner High School player and Monroe assistant coach Nick Wold said. “You’re not down blocking and cross blocking and pulling. Who grew up wanting to play guard? With the advancement of the spread, I think it gets more kids out there in the skill-position areas.”

The spread offense is usually run without a huddle from the shotgun formation. Three-, four- and five-receiver sets are used — often with no running back — with wide gaps between the receivers. The object is for the quarterback to get the ball to one of the wideouts and let the latter put his speed and quickness to use.

One of the first Wesco teams to adopt the spread was Jackson, under head coach Joel Vincent and assistant coach Alex Barashkoff. The Timberwolves began running the spread in 2008 when Barashkoff joined the staff after head-coaching stints at Mountlake Terrace and Ballard.

“We were going to line it up and run it at you, and then Alex came to us and we underwent a transformation or evolution and became a spread program,” Vincent said. “I’d like to think we were a little ahead of the curve, but now (teams are all) doing the same stuff.”

When the spread offense first arrived in Wesco, teams were throwing the ball 10-20 times per game, Vincent said. In recent years, it’s not been uncommon for Jackson and other teams that use the spread to throw the ball 50 times. Even teams that don’t run the spread throw the ball more in 2014 than they did years ago, Vincent said. Run-dominant teams threw the ball maybe three times a game in the late 1990s, he said. Today that number is closer to double digits.

“I look at my schedule this year and I go, ‘OK, wow. I’ve got 10 (opponents) and six or seven of them are spread teams,’” Vincent said. “I think it’s very much changed.”

By not huddling, teams run more plays than before. Vincent said it was normal for teams to combine for around 100 plays when he was an assistant at Jackson in 1997. Now, 150 total plays is not uncommon. Vincent recalled a Jackson game two years ago against another spread team, Glacier Peak, where the two teams combined to run 193 offensive plays. Glacier Peak won, 45-35.

“I think if you talk to anyone who doesn’t like football, they’ll say, ‘I don’t like that they huddle up before every play,’” Vincent said. “There is this dead period before every play. If you go to watch a game with a spread team, especially if it’s two spread teams, it’s like basketball on grass. It’s up-and-down the field. You don’t have time as a fan to take a breath and say, ‘OK, I’ve got 30 seconds to sit here and chat with my friends in the stands until they break the huddle and come out and run the next play.’”

While teams such as Jackson, Lake Stevens and Glacier Peak have found success using variations of the spread offense, others are still waiting for it to pan out.

Former Everett linebacker and fullback Corey Gunnerson, The Herald’s 1997 All-Area Defensive Player of the Year, said running the spread doesn’t come easily for all teams.

“When I go to games, it’s not working for a lot of the teams because they don’t have the athletes to pull it off, necessarily,” he said. “If you don’t have a quarterback that can even throw an out (route) to the sideline, you won’t have much luck running it successfully.”

Aaron Lommers covers prep sports for The Herald. Follow him on Twitter at @aaronlommers and contact him at alommers@heraldnet.com.

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