By: Butch Harmon
High school football offenses evolving into state of the art systems
By BUTCH HARMON
Back in the 1960s and 70s, high school football in the state of Michigan was a much simpler game. Ground and pound was the style of offense, and the pass was basically used only as a surprise or if a team was in a deep hole.
The I-formation or split backs were the basic sets on offense and running between the tackles and two-tight end formations was commonplace.
So were football games that lasted less than two hours.
Fast forward to today and high school football is a completely different beast. Pass-happy offenses abound across the state. Exotic formations can be found from Monroe to Munising and Adrian to Zeeland. The spread, shotgun, empty backfield, and even the single wing dot the landscape of high school football.
There are many reasons why the new offenses have flourished and why the game of high school football has evolved into what it is today.
One big reason that teams have been using a wider variety of offenses is the influence of college football and how ideas on the collegiate level trickle down to high school.
“A big reason for the new look is the colleges pass on offenses down to the high schools,” said DeWitt coach Rob Zimmerman. “High school coaches learn from the colleges and put in new offenses. Second, it makes it that much harder for opposing defenses to prepare for you.”
DeWitt has been on the cutting edge of new offenses under Zimmerman. The Panthers went to the spread offense back in 2002 and haven’t changed since.
Unlike many other teams, the Panthers spread formation is not exclusively a passing offense. Zimmerman tailors the spread each year to the kids he has on the team and to their strong points.
“Ours is a combination spread, and it really varies from year to year,” Zimmerman said. “Some years we are 60 percent passing and some years we are 30 percent passing. It depends on the players and the defenses we face. We can go wide open with five wides and no backs and can go no huddle exclusively. This year we are running the ball a lot more.”
Many schools, especially size-challenged schools, run the spread to try and even the playing field with bigger and stronger schools.
“I think the spread and passing offenses are the wave of the future in high school ball,” said Charlotte coach Eddie Ostipow. “I compare it to the three-point shot in basketball. It has the chance to be the great equalizer.”
Unlike a power offense that is run-heavy and requires big, strong offensive linemen who can control the line of scrimmage, the spread is a quick-striking, mobile offense that functions best with smaller, quicker linemen that are common in high school football. Teams don’t need 250-pound linemen to block in the spread.
Utilizing the spread also means more receivers on the field, which equates to more smaller, faster athletes who tend to populate high schools.
Ionia is going to the spread this season under first-year head coach Mike Holes, who learned the spread offense while playing college football at Alma College.
“I’m a spread offense guy,” Holes said. “We are going to throw the ball. We are going to be using four- and five-receiver sets and get the 160- and 175-pound athletes to come out for the team. We are going to be spreading the ball around on offense and having fun.”
The spread is also an offense that can easily be used by small Class C and D schools that have a limited number of athletes and that do not have large enough linemen to play ground and pound.
The spread is also an offense that is easily practiced in the off-season. With the rise in popularity of seven-on-seven passing leagues, teams can fine tune their offense during the summer months. A team can easily work on all the intricacies of its offense in shorts and helmets while competing in a seven-on-seven league, something that is not as easily done with a running game, as live contact and scrimmage in full pads is best for developing a ground game.
High school quarterbacks are also better trained in today’s high school football. Quarterback camps abound and the number and quality of quarterback coaches has also increased.
Add it up, and the new offenses and highly-trained quarterbacks and receivers make for a faster, more explosive game of high school football which many high school fans enjoy.