How do you like me now?
Warren and Slippery Rock are each 5-0 as the teams prepare for their Region 5 game at 7 p.m. Friday at Slippery Rock High School.
Through the first five games of the 2012 season, Warren has scored 267 points, an average of 53.4 points a game, including three offensive touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a 60-36 region win over Oil City on Friday at War Memorial Field.
Times Observer file photo by Allen Seybert
Warren head football coach Brad Wright, at right, talks with lineman Jacob Sutliff during a scrimmage prior to the 2012 high school football season.
No disrespect to defense, it might be a good time to examine the Shotgun Spread Offense instituted a few years ago by now head coach Brad Wright - the offensive coordinator of previous head coach Brandon Falk all the way back to 2006.
The Shotgun Spread Offense is flourishing, but it took a while to "catch on," so to speak, at Warren Area High School.
"My biggest obstacles in implementing this offense five years ago was getting the team to buy into the system," said Wright. "As I had learned earlier in my coaching career at Washington and Lee, you do not have to live in a big city with lots of D-1 athletes to make this system work. I think the kids initially were excited that we were going to pass the ball a lot more, they just had to learn to trust it against teams who are usually perceived as being more athletic, talented and faster. The reality is that the spread offense can be a great equalizing scheme when another school seems to be faster and more talented.
"In addition to this, I did encounter some naysayers from time to time around the community," he said. "Most of these people were people who were only comfortable with what they knew from their previous football experience, which was power football under center. I was fine with them having a difference of opinion. You cannot always please everyone in this line of work."
Teaching them while they're young
Senior starting quarterback Austin Jerman was pleased all the way back to the seventh grade.
"We started down in Beaty... I thought it was awesome - you get to spread the ball around and throw it," he said this week. "It was most of the same stuff (although) the pass patterns were a little less complex - the same formations and stuff like that.
"I'm sure it was starting that early (to get) everyone on the same page," said Jerman. "It was definitely a good building block. It helps that the group of guys on the field have been playing together for so long. We have it down pretty well."
So well that Wright has given Jerman the power to change the play based on what defense he sees, according to Jerman.
While there are moments of confusion and second guessing, the numbers have been there.
Jerman has completed 48-of-77 passes (62 percent) for 749 yards - or an average of about 150 a game. He has 13 touchdown passes in five games to three interceptions.
He also has 415 yards rushing for about 10 yards a pop, and four more scores.
Junior Luke Wortman and seniors Matt Falvo and Chris McNeal have all rushed for over 200 yards and six yards a carry.
Seniors Mark Davis and Jordan Willetts and Wortman all have around 200 yards receiving, or an average of over 16 yards per catch.
"The greatest thing about our offense, no matter who gets the ball, we (have the ability to) score on every play," said Jerman.
"As in any offensive system, the earlier it is introduced to the players the better," said Wright. "Our junior high football program currently runs the same 3-4 base run plays we run at the varsity level. These plays would include inside/outside triple option, trap, sweep and QB dart. By the time players reach their senior year, they have been exposed to this system for six years. This is very important in the mastery of our scheme.
"In terms of practice time, the difficulty with learning our game plan on a weekly basis comes down to getting enough repetition of plays on a daily basis," he said. "Considering that our volume of plays is bigger than older systems of football, the dilemma faced is how to practice differently to ensure that we are getting enough repetition. The advent of wrist bands with play cards has greatly helped us in ensuring that our players can quickly reference what to do on any particular play."
Not your father's play-calling
Three yards and a cloud of dust does not this offense make.
"I would guess that (Jerman) probably knows and understands close to 50 plays when you add the run, pass, screen and weekly wrinkles in," said Wright. "A kid like him only comes around once every 10-to-15 years.
"If you compare this offense to a Power I philosophy or a Single-Wing type of offense, it will seem a bit more complicated because your players have to learn both run and pass techniques, plays and principals," said Wright. "Overall, though, I don't think our offense is overly complicated. It has taken five years, but I think I have refined the system enough so that my linemen are only really learning 5-to-6 run-blocking schemes. They also have to learn 3-to-4 pass protections and a few screens. So, altogether, they really only need to know 10-to-15 schemes.
"The offense does become more complicated for they skill players, though," said Wright. "For example, we might have 20-to-30 different pass plays that all employ those 3-to-4 pass protection schemes for the linemen, but they all have different route combinations for the receivers. I would say that offense is the most complicated for the quarterback, though. The QB has to understand the defense he sees, our pass protections, and know all of the run plays and wide receiver route combinations. It truly takes a special combination of athletic ability, intelligence and leadership to be a quarterback in this system."
All the way from Virginia
At 20-26 through 4-1/2 seasons head-coaching Warren, Wright's experience with the offense can be traced back to Virginia high school football.
At North Stafford High School, Stafford County, Va., "I really became comfortable and gained valuable experience under Coach (Rob) Sensenez, having served as his QB coach and J.V. head coach," said Wright. "I truly consider Coach Sensenez, being the outstanding coach and teacher that he is, my mentor and credit him with my learning of the shotgun spread offense and its principals."
Sensenez had previously won two Virginia class 3A state championships at Blue Stone High School before Wright coached with him.
Prior North Stafford, Wright had coached under Malcolm Lewis at Washington & Lee High School, Westmoreland County, Va. Lewis had won a Virginia 2A state championship the year before.
"This offensive philosophy is based on several important principals," said Wright. "First and foremost, we want to spread the defense out, use the whole field and challenge them horizontally and vertically. Next, we want to, in most cases and depending on the strengths and weaknesses of our opponents, set up the run with the pass. A third principal of this offense is creating mismatches with our receivers being covered by linebackers and by using motion. Lastly, we like to take advantage of space. The phrase 'pass to grass' is used a lot in our system, because we look to throw the ball in the 'windows' of the defense or areas that cannot be covered by alignment. Every spread offense has its own variations. We use a lot of 'West Coast' principals in our offense, which focus on quick passes and screens to beat teams who like to blitz. From a run-game perspective, we are about 60 percent triple option scheme and 40 percent 'I' scheme with our Iso's, traps and sweeps. Ultimately, we would like to keep our play calling balanced as to not become predictable."
That's quite the transition from playing fullback under a Wing-T offense at Kittanning Area High School.
"After Brandon Falk resigned as head coach, I initially did not apply for the position during the first round," said Wright. "Being a humble person, I did not feel completely ready to take on the responsibilities as head coach. I guess maybe I felt like I was too young at age 29 or not experienced enough. A few weeks later, when I learned administration still had not hired anyone and the job was posted again, I decided it was time I took the plunge. Over the course of the several-month period that Warren didn't have a head coach, I was still running the off-season strength and conditioning program. Many of the players and parents encouraged me to interview for the position, so I did. I was hired about 20 minutes after interviewing and the rest as they say is history."
Unless it's not.
The rest is not history
"We are currently the highest scoring 3A team in the state," said Wright. "The combination of players we currently have is a very special group. We are very deep, and on any given week someone different is stepping up to shoulder the offensive load. I think that we can always expect competitive football here at Warren. We have a rich football tradition with over 600 hundred wins all-time. Not many programs around the state can lay claim to that, but I just don't think it is fair to expect us to score this many points every year. Each team will be different with varying strengths and weaknesses.
"I am a firm believer that the success of a football team depends on what is done in the off-season," he said. "I think all teams can have varying degrees of success based on how they work from November to August. I think our strong start indicates that we have taken the opportunity to prepare properly for this season. This group really understood the value in working together in the off season and you can see it pay off on the field. What I expect the rest of the way is our players to continue the standard of bringing a business like attitude toward their preparation each week. This is a mature group of young men who have what it takes to continue to improve on a weekly basis. This is what they will need to continue to display for us to have success against the difficult upcoming teams."
Beyond that, "Many (college teams) around the nation and in every division use some type of spread offense, even if it is only in their two-minute offense. The way we do things here at Warren prepares our athletes for the work load of larger more in-depth college schemes. I do think we have a few players who can play at the college level. The level they end up at is yet to be determined, though. We will have to see how the rest of the season turns out."