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The spread offense is here to stay, and to baffle opposing defenses
Flowery Branch High demonstrates the spread offense - photo by Tom Reed

Some coaches hate it, some coaches love it.

It’s been called basketball in cleats, and can cause coaches to lose sleep when trying to prepare for it.

Regardless of what it’s called, or how coaches feel about it, this style of offense has swept through the ranks of college football, and as its name insinuates, is spreading through high school football like wildfires.

It’s called the spread — an offspring of the run-and-shoot offense popularized by Mouse Davis in 1975 while he was coaching at Portland State. The father of the most popular version currently in use is former University of West Virginia head coach and current University of Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez, who featured multiple-threat athletes as the focal point of the high-powered offense, that looks like no other.

The quarterback is always in the shotgun and is flanked by a single running back. Four or five wide receivers are used to spread the field and the offense runs without ever huddling. It’s a two-minute drill run for the entire game.

"We’re trying to get 60 or more snaps a game," said Gainesville coach Bruce Miller, who switched from a Wing-T offense to a spread offense in 2007. "Only twice last year, did we not reach that goal."

University of Florida coach Urban Meyer made the offense famous when he coached Utah to a BCS Bowl in 2005. Currently, an estimated 80 percent of high school programs are running some variation of the offense on Friday nights.

Among those are eight schools in the area. Dawson County, East Hall, Jefferson, Riverside Military Academy, West Hall, White County, Flowery Branch, and Gainesville all use some version of the spread offense.

Some teams have had more success than others, but each team has one resounding commonality: They love the spread, and they are sticking to it.

"You can do anything you want out of the spread," said White County coach Gregg Segraves. "You can run, you can pass, but if you want success, you have to keep it simple."

An unavoidable change

After 12 years of running the same offense, Miller realized it was time for a change.

Players were getting faster. Defenses were limiting his team’s success on offense. His Wing-T style of offense wasn’t working like it once did.

Like many of his coaching peers, Miller abandoned his offense and decided to use a version of the spread that focuses on the passing game.

"All this offense is, is basketball in cleats," said Miller. "It’s finding matchups and trying to get the ball into areas where the defense is not.

"I really believe if we did the same thing on offense last year that we did in 2006, we’d score 10 points a game," said Miller, whose team racked up more than 4,500 yards of offense and 54 touchdowns in the first year of using the spread offense. "By changing offenses we averaged 38.9 points per game."

If Rodriguez is the father of the spread, consider current Auburn offensive coordinator Tony Franklin the spread’s greatest teacher, with Miller, and Flowery Branch coach Lee Shaw, firm disciples of his teachings.

"It’s a complete system," said Shaw, who first attended the annual Tony Franklin-led seminar in 2006. "We went, but we tried to keep it a secret."

The secret got out, and for the past two years, Miller and 10 of his coaches have been among 900 of their peers to attend the seminars in Nashville, Tenn. The seminar, which provides high school coaches insight into one of the great minds of the spread offense, lasts three days and costs more than $3,400.

Miller, like all of the other coaches in attendence, knows it’s worth it.

"It is costly, but thank goodness our athletic club saw the need for it and allows us to do it," said Miller, who talks regularly with Franklin, and his consultant, whenever a question about the offense arises.

"It’s the best thing I’ve ever seen out there," he said.

The college game has impacted the use of the spread offense at the high school level. Some coaches like Miller attend seminars taught by college coaches, while other coaches study film of college games to come up with a system that works best for their team.

"We’ve taken a little bit of Urban Meyer when he was at Utah, because we have similar type of athletes," Segraves said, who first learned the spread offense from Bill Banks at Hart County and has been running the system since the mid 1990s. "We’ve used a little bit of Clemson, a little bit of West Virginia, it’s a combination of different things to come up with what we’re doing here at White County."

The combination of offenses allow the schools to reap the rewards of utilizing their best athletes on offense.

"We want to spread ‘em and shred ‘em," Shaw said. "It creates running lanes and passing lanes and allows us to get speed in space."

Added Miller: "All we’re doing is throwing it out wide to maybe a better athlete. He’s going to have a one-on-one situation where if he breaks a tackle, he may be down the sideline."

While most coaches feel that the spread offense allows you to showcase the vast amount of talented athletes on the roster, one coach feels that using this style of offense hides his team’s deficiencies.

"We like to use it because we feel like we don’t have as good of athletes as some schools," said Segraves.

Whether it’s using the offense for a vast amount of athletes or the very few, one thing that every coach agrees on is that this style of offense is tough to defend.

Stopping the spread

Stopping one great athlete is easy to game plan for, but stopping four or five? That’s a completely different story."I don’t know the best way to stop it," Segraves said. "I guess it’s you have to have better athletes than the other team."

One thing that helps Segraves, as well as Miller, Newton and the rest of the teams that run the spread, is that their defenses get to practice against a spread offense every day. Other teams do not have that luxury, and spend countless hours trying to figure out how to limit the spread’s effectiveness.

"You have to play good assignment football," said Johnson coach Paul Friel of how to stop the spread. "You have to recognize what they are trying to do as fast as you can, and disrupt it as fast as you can."

Last season, North Hall had success in stopping the Jaybo Shaw-led spread offense of Flowery Branch, but according to the Trojans head coach, stopping the spread is not easy.

"It’s a little different than stopping a normal offense," said Trojans coach Bob Christmas. "There’s a lot of variations, some run, some pass, but what you have to do is find out what they want to do and take that away.

"You have to force them to beat you with something they don’t want to beat you with."

Coming up with a defensive scheme against the spread has led coaches to begin networking.

"One of the main topics is what was successful against the spread," said Chestatee coach Stan Luttrell, who meets with several coaches across the state who all run the 3-5-3 defense. "There’s a clique of 3-5 guys just like there is a clique of spread coaches."

Year after year that group of spread coaches is getting bigger and bigger, and according to Miller, the number of coaches to join in the craze of the spread offense is endless."It’s here to stay," Miller said of the offense. "It’s fun to practice, and it’s fun to watch. Before people wanted you to win. Now they want you to win, and look good doing it."

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