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HS football: Area's top quarterbacks thrive in spread offenses
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Tyler Dominy likes the pressure that comes with having an offense at his fingertips.

He can read the defense, change a play at the line, or scramble if a play breaks down.

"It’s a lot more fun, I think," said the Dawson County senior and Tigers starting quarterback, who was in a triple option offense as a freshman. "You want to have a lot of responsibility to make plays."

Dawson County runs mainly out of the pistol offense, which enables teams to spread out five wide receivers or run with power.

Last season, Dominy’s ability to spread out the defense worked well, as he racked up 1,890 yards passing and 18 touchdowns, while also creating holes for the running backs to break through.

This season the Tigers, who finished 5-5 and 4-1 in Region 8-AA North last season after years of losing records, are a team many think are slated for the playoffs out of the new Region 7-AAA.

"Its good to have a little bit of buzz," Dominy said. "We know if we can play up to our potential, we’re a pretty good team."

It’s yet another success story of a team that installed offense meant to spread out the defense and found a quarterback able to take advantage.

The Tigers are not alone. Gainesville coach Bruce Miller’s only regret in regards to the spread offense is that he didn’t do it earlier.

"I wish my 2002 team would have been in this offense," he said. "If we had, I think we would have won the state championship."

His current team does run the spread offense that he first installed in 2007, and under star junior quarterback Deshaun Watson (3,251 yards passing, 41 touchdowns; 1,073 rushing yards, 16 scores in 2011) Gainesville is certainly in the mix for a state title even as the Red Elephants, state semifinalists last season, rise two classes to AAAAA.

Of course, a spread offense is only as good as its quarterback, and the right quarterback has the ability to take an offense to the next level.

Gainesville has had its share of talented signal callers since going to the spread, from Justin Fordham (over 3,000 yards passing), to Blake Sims (now at the University of Alabama), and now Watson, who’s already verbally committed to Clemson University.

"I’ve been lucky over the years to have good quarterbacks," Miller said. "Those types of kids tend to show up when the quarterback position is such a prominent position in the offense."

Hall County and now Region 8-AAAAA rival Flowery Branch has had a similar recent history since adopting the former coach Lee Shaw’s spread option offense. First it was Jaybo Shaw (started at Georgia Southern), then Connor Shaw (a state finals appearance, now the starting quarterback at South Carolina), then Austin Brown (now at University of Alabama-Birmingham), and last year, Kanler Coker (now at the University of North Carolina).

Former Flowery Branch offensive coordinator and now Jackson County head coach Benji Harrison worked with the last three Falcons quarterbacks during his four years at the school.

"When you run the spread, the quarterback, a lot’s riding on him," said Harrison, who is running a very similar offense at Jackson County with senior quarterback Kyle Daniel. "I think most quarterbacks like that. All three of those guys did."

Now yet another Falcons signal caller will get that chance. Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin said junior Jackson McDonald, the backup last season, will be a key to how well the team does this season.

"He’s the key player in our offense," the first-year coach said.

That in essence, is the spread offense — it puts the quarterback squarely at the center of each play and each decision.

"He has a lot on his plate," Harrison said. "First and foremost is protection, then he’s got to know what everybody’s doing. So it is a lot on the quarterback; that’s why he’s got to put in so much extra time."

Jefferson senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs has been putting in the time during summer 7-on-7 camps and in the offseason to try and lead the Dragons, under coach T. McFerrin, back to the postseason. Like Dominy, McDonald and Watson, Shirreffs (1,873 yards, 19 touchdowns passing; 401 yards, nine scores rushing in 2011) runs primarily out of a spread offense, to much success.

It’s why McFerrin, with more than 300 coaching wins under his belt, adapted to the spread.

"It’s a different concept, more wide open, getting the ball to great players in space," said McFerrin, who played in the single-wing offense in high school and has coached many different styles. "Those spread teams have been so successful, and that’s an exciting thing to watch."

He added that the new trend toward spreading out on offense, something brought down from the college game, can still take many different forms, like the University of Florida did running essentially a power running game out of the spread with Tim Tebow.

Still, the passing numbers that the spread offense has enabled quarterbacks to throw for is much different than the football of the 60s and 70s.

"High school football has really changed over the last 47 years," McFerrin said. "Some of the spread teams, the quarterback throws for 3,000 yards. That was unheard of. Back in the old days a quarterback threw for 1,000 yards and that was amazing."

Even at South Gwinnett High in the 1990s, when McFerrin took over a team sporting a young David Greene — soon to be a four-year starter at Georgia — the passing numbers didn’t compare to today’s, although McFerrin did open up the offense to take advantage of Greene’s passing skills.

"It’s certainly changed things," McFerrin said. "I think the quarterback’s role is much more important to a spread offense. You’re asking a whole lot more of the quarterback."

And that’s just what Dominy and his fellow gunslingers like. Whether they’re dropping back to pass to one of a number of receivers, handing off to a running back or scrambling themselves, the spread gives them options.

Harrison has become well acquainted with the moment when everything clicks for a new spread quarterback.

"There’s just that day and that time that it kind of clicks with him; the game slows down and he becomes that coach on the field for us," Harrison said.

"Once they know what we’re thinking, they get very good."

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