Sunday, June 28, 2009

A-11 Story: Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“Take a break from what you already know and learn some new concepts.”

HAVE you ever wished you had taken the time to learn a second language? Some people speak multiple languages, but most folks converse using one dialect, and for their own reasons, it suits their needs just fine. But, as a football coach, what if mastering another “language” offered the possibility of improving your team’s success? Would you do it? Should you do it? And, can you do it, even though a segment of the population judging your every move will quickly side against you?

During the first twenty-one years of my coaching career, I stood against having my Quarterback set in the backfield to have him operate in the Shotgun formation. I was ignorant because I had not taken the time to learn the nuances of the Gun. I assumed bad things would happen, incorrectly, and made the egregious mistake of telling myself that having my quarterback not under the Center “was too risky” and that a Shotgun offense was, “not my cup of tea.”

So, imagine my surprise in December of 2006, when I walked into the living room at the home of Piedmont Football Offensive Coordinator, Steve Humphries, and saw the X’s and O’s diagram in full-color on the white board, perched upon an easel and depicting what is now known as the A-11 Offense ‘BASE’ formation. The ultra-spread offensive design featuring Trips receivers flanked wide to each side of the field, and only three offensive linemen in the middle, had not just one quarterback deep in the Shotgun…but also Two quarterbacks in the Shotgun!

For months during the 2006 football season, Steve had wanted us to set aside some time to meet, so he could “show” me a new football idea. However, having just assumed the role of head coach again at Piedmont prior to the 2006 season, there were too many distractions to review anything until after the season. Fortunately throughout my coaching career, I’ve taken pride in creating successful offensive schemes, and Steve and I finally found the time to do some brainstorming. I had been looking forward to our chalk-talk session but was stunned at least.

Immediately upon review of the Base formation featuring a duo of quarterbacks in the Shotgun, I found myself uttering why it was not a good idea or reasons why it would not work.

“Open your mind and close your mouth, please.” Steve replied after a few of my blips.

I smirked and sat down in a fat comfy chair. Steve handed me a cold bottle of beer, we toasted and for the next hour I kept my mouth shut and my mind agape. Steve proceeded to draw up wild formations and plays, and walk me through an array of radical offensive ideas.

“What if every player on the field was a potential receiving threat?” I asked him.

Curious, Steve raised his eyebrows with interest and kept his mind unfiltered as always, cool with exploring new possibilities. From that moment on, and for several days thereafter, we devoured the NFHS 2006 football rulebook, searching for a legal way to enable our offensive team to have “all eleven players potentially eligible.”

Overall, the hardworking players on our Piedmont football team are usually smaller in size than most of the teams we play, so spreading the defense might help serve our needs. Plus, finding good ways to help prevent injuries would also prove to be important.

Once we found and clarified the numbering exception allowed by the Scrimmage Kick Formation (SKF) rule, it served as the key to unlocking an innovative new style of offense. An offense that could have multiple players instantly become interchangeable by simply stepping onto the Line of Scrimmage (LOS), remaining off of it, or shifting into a new location. We submitted all of our ideas, many rule interpretations, X and O diagrams, and other items to the NFHS, and eventually the CIF governing body. After a pensive two months of review by the powers-that-be, and detailed phone conversations with the CIF state rules interpreter, who carefully reviewed all items with us – our new style of football offense was declared Legal to use by the state rules interpreter of the CIF in February of 2007.

Great! The proverbial Mustang was now running free on the open range. We had the backing of our excellent Piedmont Principal, Randall Booker, and also that of our top-notch Athletic Director, Mike Humphries, both men urged us to go for it.

But now what?

Steve wanted to tag our new system, the “Planet Pluto” offense. We tossed that name onto the scrap heap and soon settled upon the A-11 (all eleven players potentially eligible). It was the simplest name we devised and it sounded respectable.With help from the outstanding assistant coaches on the staff, we spent the next few months developing the terminology of our new system - how to call formations, play numbering & branding of position groups, breaking down the field into Red/White/Blue teaching grids, various motions and the bedrock of our system’s rules.

The wild ideas emblazoned on the white board that day in Steve’s living room had gone through multiple drafts, revisions and edits. Reams of paper and hordes of dry erase ink pens ran dry; and on more than occasion, rapid-fire exchanges of harsh words and stubborn positioning by each member of the coaching staff took shape.
We worked and battled on the commitment together. Many sleepless nights were required to craft and steer the A-11 concept into a beginner’s package worthy of implementing during our upcoming 2007 Spring Football practice, set to commence in late May.

All of these steps and many more were completed - before we ever met with the players...

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