By Roger Brown
New Hampshire Football Report
May 30, 2008 6:00 AM
Football purists look at the A-11 offense with disdain, and would like to see a rules revision make it extinct. Others feel the A-11 is the best thing that's happened to the sport since the facemask was introduced.
The A-11 is innovative, exciting and definitely controversial. The offense got its name because any of the 11 players can be eligible pass receivers. How is that legal? Here's how:
The A-11's base formation features a center, two tight ends, two quarterbacks and six split ends — three on each side of the center. All players wear numbers that make them eligible pass receivers (1-49 and 80-99) as long as they're positioned at the end of the line or in the backfield.
What makes the offense legal is putting at least one of the quarterbacks 7 yards or more behind the line of scrimmage. As long as no one is in position to receive a hand-to-hand snap from the center, the alignment qualifies as a scrimmage-kick formation and normal numbering rules (a minimum of five players wearing numbers 50 through 79 on the line of scrimmage) don't apply.
"It's more than a shotgun formation," explained Steve Hall, a longtime high school official who is New Hampshire's representative on the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules committee. "Nashua South runs a shotgun, but the Nashua South quarterback isn't 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He's 4 or 5 yards back.
"There is no numbering requirement in a scrimmage-kick formation because a team may have a specialized snapper who is a running back, and also because teams like to put faster players on the line to get downfield and cover kicks.
"There are those who think the A-11 is not in the spirit of the scrimmage-kick formation, but right now there's nothing on the drawing board (to make it illegal). At our (NFHS) meeting this year no one talked about it. As of right now teams are free to run it.
"In the NCAA this offense would not be legal because there is added language in the (formation) rule that says 'it must be obvious that a kick may be attempted.'"
Kurt Bryan doesn't coach in the NCAA, though. He's the head coach at Piedmont (Calif.) High School, which is where the A-11 was born. Bryan and Piedmont assistant coach Steve Humphries began working on the A-11 in February of 2006 and used it for the first time last season. Piedmont was held to nine points in its first two games last year — both losses — but then strung together seven consecutive victories and finished with a 7-4 record.
"We're a smaller school, in terms of enrollment, than most of the teams we play," Bryan said. "The A-11 gives the thousands of smaller schools around the country a chance to compete against larger schools or teams that play at a higher level. It makes the game safer because teams aren't forced to pound (the football) play after play.
"We researched the rule book for an entire year and we found a legitimate, fair and innovative way to run our offense. It's kind of like submitting something for patent review.
"It puts some creativity in football," Humphries added. "It's hard to tell one offense from another in the NFL. I remember asking Kurt, 'What if we had an entire offense of trick plays?'"
Humphries stressed that the A-11 is not just a passing offense.
"We're very balanced run/pass," he said. "(The running game) can be devastating with the space we create."
According to Bryan, there are at least two other misconceptions about the A-11.
"People think your quarterback is going to get killed," he said. "It's just the opposite. And it's simple to install. It'll take two games until the team feels really comfortable."
It appeared local high school football fans would have an opportunity to get an up-close look at the A-11 when Marshwood scrimmaged Westbrook during the 2008 preseason. There was talk that Westbrook would use the A-11 this season, but that was before Westbrook head coach Daryle Weiss resigned to take a coaching position at Bates College.
Bryan said he's not worried about any possible rule changes that would make the A-11 illegal.
"The only reason the (NFHS) would try and outlaw the A-11 ...; there's no reason to," he said. "It does nothing but help the game and help the kids. It benefits everybody.
There's no downside to it.
"This is where the game of football is headed."
Roger Brown is a Herald staff writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more about the A-11 offense, visit www.a11offense.com.