By DANNY UDERO
Daily Press Sports
Classification among high school teams has always been up for debate. Each state’s ethical attempt to divide teams into classes for equal competition seems to come up short year after year, and in a California town it has brought innovation to the sport of football.
Piedmont High School director of football operations Steve Humphries and head coach Kurt Bryan last spring masterminded a revolutionary offense titled the A-11.
The idea came when the two were brainstorming at Humphries’ home on how to effectively level the playing field for Piedmont High, with an enrollment of less than 1,000, when the Highlanders were facing schools with student bodies nearly twice that.
Humphries came up with the idea of putting two quarterbacks in a shotgun formation, thus making every player on the field a potential receiving threat.
“Statistically all over the country, small schools have the same problem of trying to compete with bigger schools,” Bryan said. “If we didn’t have this situation we would never have been forced to come up with this offense. I feel that if we — as a coaching staff — are not doing our job in being innovative in whatever … if we are not pushing the envelope, we should be fired.”
The base offense of the A-11 is a six-receiver, three-lineman setup. A center and two tight ends surround the football, while three receivers are split left and three are split right, and two quarterbacks stand in the backfield in a shotgun-type formation. One of the quarterbacks has to be at least 7 yards behind the line of scrimmage. This offense meets the criteria for a scrimmage kick formation, which makes any player with numbers 1-49 or 89-99 eligible to catch a pass.
The A-11’s Web site explained that by spreading the potential eligible receivers across the entire field, it forces the defense to account for every possible receiver on each play. Of course, on any given play, only six of those players can go downfield to catch a pass, and the five covered players remain ineligible to catch a downfield pass on that particular play.
Bryan said he and Humphries dissected the rule book, checked with the National Federation of State High School Associations and the California Interscholastic Federation, and spent countless minutes talking to referee organizations to make sure their new offense was legal.
“It wasn’t tough at all,” Bryan said. “We knew we were groundbreaking, but we weren’t sure about it. So we compiled a comprehensive package, which was extremely detailed, and submitted it to the national level in Indianapolis, Ind. They said it looked good, and the package then took several months of review in California. We got the approval, and talked about it as a coaching staff and decided to go with it last year.”
Bryan said he then put on a clinic for the key officials near Piedmont, and that was an important step in helping them utilize the package.
“Yes, we developed an offense on the field,” Bryan said, “but we also developed a system on how to bring it to your area. We showed what it takes to address people, and it’s been heavily reviewed.”
Bryan explained that coaches can go to www.A11Offense.com and get the inside track on how to get this system approved in their state. Of course, as with anything new and groundbreaking, there are people out there who don’t like it.
“There have been a few loud minorities of people in other areas that don’t like it,” Bryan explained. “We don’t have to answer to them. They have to answer to us, when we use it. I predict that there are going to be many more schools that use this offense … far more than can be imagined. I have been shocked on how many schools have contacted us about the A-11.”
How has it worked at Piedmont High in its first year of inception?
Piedmont High hadn’t won a playoff game since 2000, and when the Highlanders decided to use the A-11 last year, Piedmont fell in its first two games. This opened criticism by many fans, but the coaches continued to review videotape of the games lost, and noticed that the game could have been turned around if it wasn’t for a couple of blown assignments.
Once those assignments were cleaned up, Piedmont marched off seven straight victories, using the A-11 about 65 percent of the time. This year, Bryan said, he plans on using this high-octane offense about 85 percent.
“We take great pride in this package because we have learned so much,” Bryan said. “This year, we have installed about 20 new plays, and we feel really excited about it.”
Bryan stated that the A-11 is fun and exciting. It involves a lot of skill players. He said because of this he flipped his traditional linemen to defense, and was able to keep fresh legs in the game at all times.
“Let’s say a small school only has about 25 to 30 players on the team,” Bryan said. “You get your skilled players on offense, which takes 11, and you can use the rest on defense so that you don’t have to get your offense to go both ways. Everyone is playing, which means more snaps per game, and the players are a lot happier.”
Bryan explained that it seems like the safety issue is bad, but he had a 128-pound quarterback who doesn’t have to bang heads with the defense all the time.
“It’s quite the opposite,” he said. “Your small quarterback is going to survive a lot more in this offense. People think that the quarterback is going to get killed, but the ball moves faster than man.”
Bryan explained the situation: “Put yourself in the shoes of a defensive end or linebacker trying to sack the quarterback. First you have to find out whom the ball is going to be snapped to. Then is the play a run or a pass, a screen or a draw? Is the quarterback rolling to the left or right? Is he faking to the left or right? The strain is on the linebackers and the reality is that the quarterback rarely gets touched.”
Bryan has also said that he has received numerous calls from college coaches and one un-named NFL head coach. “I have been meeting with colleges a lot,” Bryan stated. “At the National Collegiate Athletic Association level, they are more restrictive on this kind of play, but there are at least 12 to 15 possibilities throughout a game that a coach could utilize it. College coaches have said this can be the difference between playing in the Rose Bowl or playing in the outhouse.
“I can’t name the NFL team that contacted me, but let’s just say it’s an NFC team and it’s going to be interesting to see how they are going to use it. We are excited to watch teams use this offense.”
Has this crazy new offense hit New Mexico yet? “I have heard that one team in New Mexico was looking at it,” Bryan said.” I know a few coaches as far east as Florida have contacted us about the offense.” The New Mexico Activities Association learned about the A-11 Wednesday during a rules clinic.
“We had an official who was from the California area give our clinic to coaches,” associate director of football for the NMAA, Mario Martinez, said. “He did a short presentation with some slides about it. It looked quite interesting, and you can tell there was a lot of creativity there. I can see how it could create some problems for our officials with the numbering system and who is eligible to catch a pass.”
Martinez did say that he hasn’t been contacted by any coaches on getting it approved in New Mexico. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I got some phone calls about it in the next couple of days,” Martinez said. “I can’t really say much without knowing more about it. If it’s legal, basically, we can’t deny it. If I got coaches wanting to use it, I would probably contact the official again to look more closely at it.”
Western New Mexico University head football coach Bernie Busken said he hadn’t heard about the A-11, but when told about the offensive setup said it sounded like a variation of some different offenses that he has seen at the college level. “It sounds pretty interesting,” he said. “Bring it in and I would love to take a closer look at it.”
Silver High head coach David Carrillo and Cobre High head coach Bryan Miller were unavailable for comment on the system.
“I think this is going to be the new offense of the future,” Bryan said. “It’s going to be the ultimate small school and urban offense.” Bryan did say that he wanted to express that he is a big picture guy, but Humphries was a creator of thinking. “Our whole staff worked together on this,” Bryan said. “Everyone had a part in it.”