Sunday, December 20, 2009

A-11 Story...Chapter 5

Chapter 5

“Homecoming vs. Oakland High - October 5th, 2007”

AFTER WINNING two games in a row in the A-11, first at Trinity, and then playing crisply in our league opener vs. St. Mary’s 21 – 14 at Witter Field in Piedmont; suddenly we found ourselves at home with a respectable record of 2 – 2, and heading into a non-league game vs. Oakland for our Homecoming.

It’s important to note our defense had continued to play exceptionally well under the guidance of our young, bright and dedicated Defensive Coordinator, Kevin Anderson. Our defense was well taught by Coach Anderson, and our experienced Secondary Coach, Anthony Freeman, and our ‘D’ collectively understood they had to carry the additional burden of needing to play well at all times until our new offense stabilized and matured. The A-11 was not yet ready to rack up big numbers and points, and everybody within our program understood that fact. Coupled with the outstanding strength and speed program implemented by Strength Coach, Robert Darden, and each week we continued to hope our team had enough mental and physical toughness to persevere.

If the great feelings and emotions generated by “Winning Games” could somehow be bottled up and sold to the public, that magical elixir would cure cancer and other nasty ailments wreaking havoc on human beings worldwide. Within our football program at Piedmont, the back-to-back A-11 victories did an amazing job of stemming a rebellious flow from within our ranks, a surging that had been slamming at the door with alarming ferocity.

The hate mail from fans, blistering emails and numerous ‘anonymous’ phone calls from football lovers decrying the A-11 had slowed a bit, and for the first time ever we had more coaches, fans and a few members of the media reach out to us in order to learn about our, “crazy offense,” and “radical offense,” or “innovative offense.”

Things were beginning to change, but to lose our Homecoming game vs. a winless and gritty opponent like Oakland High, would be devastating for the players and the program at such a sensitive moment. A loss would instantly drop us several steps down the ladder of credibility and any type of realistic playoff aspirations would vaporize.

As our home stadium filled up with excited fans on that cool October night prior to the kickoff vs. Oakland, I reviewed the basics during my pre-game chat with the football Officials on the field. Because it was a non-league game, I asked the head Official about the tie-breaking system - if our teams happened to be knotted up at the end of regulation.

The Referee shook his white-capped head at me and flatly replied, “Nope. No overtime. It’s a non-league contest, and if your game ends in a tie, then it’s going to stay that way forever…period.”

“OK.” I replied, and I made a mental note of it. A tie would be nearly as bad as a loss.

The possibility of playing Overtime had been eliminated and I continued my business with the Officials and pre-game routine with the team. I wasn’t too concerned with the remote possibility of the game ending in a tie, the only time that had happened in my head coaching tenure, had been in 1995, when my Piedmont team travelled down to the central coast of California and battled Pacific Grove. That night in the balmy seaside hamlet near Carmel, inexplicably, our very good Place-Kicker clearly drilled the game-winning PAT to clinch the win for us on the road in the final seconds of a tough game. But somehow the ‘home-cooking’ Referees standing beneath the uprights signaled that the Extra Point had been missed, and the game ended in a tie! Even though on the game video any observer can easily see our entire JV team standing on the track directly behind the Goal Posts, and they go crazy with delight as our Kicker’s PAT sails through yellow poles for the win! I hate tie games…

After our Homecoming game vs. Oakland got underway, it was blunt from the start that Oakland wanted to show people they could play good football, even though they were winless. The Oakland defense played with urgency and heart, and their Middle Linebacker (#99) was big, fast and unafraid of our two small Quarterbacks pulling double duty in the A-11. The Oakland defense, in their bright blue helmets, white and blue-trimmed uniforms came to win at all costs.

We took the opening kickoff to near midfield and then our first play of the game, “Base Out Stagger 194 Slant” was executed to perfection, our Primary QB George found Menke on the Slant route inside the right hash for a 15-yard gain. Things looked good.

But, one good play does not make a great game, and on our 2nd play, we called a sprint pass right, and QB George was buried for a 10-yard loss – one of the few times he was actually sacked all season. Oakland had quickly captured the game’s momentum and their players on the field and sideline came to life, full of vigor and pride.

I turned to my left and mumbled gruffly to Coach Humphries, “Sheez. This is gonna be a dog fight all night long!”

“Yep.” He smacked.

From that moment on, every person in our football program it was going to be like a Heavyweight Championship fight. Blow after blow would be traded, only to have the outcome decided by the team able to withstand the most amount of punishment; and when all seemed lost, somehow find the willpower to deliver one devastating punch to knock out the opponent.

We were forced to punt the ball after stalling on the opening drive. Oakland got the football inside their own 10-yard line, and proceeded to make their game plan abundantly clear. Run, run, run the ball and then throw it a couple of times to keep our defense honest. Their ground game started to work, coupled with short passes and they methodically drove inside our 20-yard line. But, a crucial scramble and fumble by their shifty QB proved costly, and we recovered the football inside our 15-yard line. Luck makes every coaching staff look good once in awhile.

Our team battled Oakland fiercely but with a few penalties, a dropped pass and an interception by Oakland, we never found our rhythm on offense. Fitful play, bumps and bounces along the way but not the smooth pace we had developed during our last two games in victory. Again, our defense played well, led by some bone-crushing tackles from Linebacker, Keith Reid and Defensive End, Bryce Chu.

We were in the game midway through the 2nd quarter, even though our offense was sputtering. It was the hardest hitting game of that year to date, Oakland was laying thunderous hits on our players, and they were big, quick and fearless. Our team, especially our offense was facing another new test halfway through the season.

Tied at Zero, our offense got the ball near the 50-yard line. We called, “43 Two Right Y Dink Screen.” Secondary QB, Lipkin quickly went in motion to the right and as we had hoped, two Oakland defenders adjusted accordingly. QB George took a quick drop after catching the shotgun snap, and found our rangy Tight End, Bryce Chu for a 16-yard gain down the middle. We had picked up a sliver of momentum and needed to score a touchdown.

On the next play we called for, “Base Out Stagger 18 Rattle.” QB George sprinted out to his right and launched a beautiful 40-yard bomb. WR Joey Andrada sped to the Post, caught the ball and stepped into the end zone for the touchdown.

As they had done throughout the game, Oakland High responded with hard hitting, great athletic moves and some electric plays resulting in scores.

Our hometown crowd had swelled to beyond the stadium capacity of 2,500 after the King and Queen were announced during halftime, while our staff and players made adjustments upstairs above the stadium in the locker room.

We took to the field for the 2nd half, and true to the nature of that night’s game, Piedmont and Oakland continued to trade “Haymakers”, in a wicked, hard-hitting match. Seemingly, time elapsed in the blink of an eye, and with under two-minutes remaining in the game, it was tied 14-14, and Oakland had the football on our side of the 50-yard line. Our defense was tired but determined to win, Oakland’s offense could smell the upset big time, and the snappy retort from the Referee before the game was ringing in my brain, “Nope. No overtime…if your game ends in a tie, then it’s going to stay that way forever. Period.”

During times of stress, great players make amazing plays, sometimes more than once in a short amount of time. Devin Brown, a junior CB and Slot Back was a great player for us; and he came up huge that night for Piedmont.

Oakland High continued to advance the football, and with less than a minute to go, their quarterback fired a bullet to his left. The pass ricocheted into the air and sailed inside our 20-yard line. Devin Brown made a diving interception near our sideline, and gave our team a ray of hope.

With 38-seconds remaining in the game (overtime was not an option), we had the ball on our own 18-yard line, with the score tied at 14, and we had two timeouts left. Our crazed and delirious crowd was going nuts, and for a split-second it was hard for me to catch my breath and think clearly.

As a play-caller, sometimes you get into the ‘zone’, similar to that of the players on the field, when virtually every play you call during crunch time comes up like sweet smelling roses. Being a successful play-caller has to more to do with preparation, experience, working with quality assistant coaches, and having good players more than anything else. But, once in a while it’s beneficial to reach into the Grab Bag and pull out a new or unique play from your offensive cookie jar. I was determined to do just that.

Our sturdy left-footed Place Kicker, Jordan Remer began warming up his leg by kicking some footballs into the practice net on our sideline.

I called the play, “43 Off 151 Rub A-Q” to begin our last drive of the game from our own 18-yard line. The 43 Off formation looks similar to our regular 43 set, but our Slot receivers on the left remain off the line of scrimmage, enabling our team to get into a Quad set to the left. Primary caught the snap and QB George did a quarter-role to his left. He went through his progression of reads: Quick slant (not open), Deeper Slant (not open), Rub Route up the left sideline (not open), and finally to the Delay Flat underneath (not open).

The crowd roared and shrieked with insane anticipation as George scrambled to his left searching desperately for an answer. He pulled up quickly and heaved the football deep and high down the center of the field. Devin Brown made another great play by leaping into the air to make the catch at midfield! Incredibly, we had picked up 32-yards on a single play. I called one of our two timeouts, gathered the offense near our sideline and called, “Base Out 18 Comeback.”

Our offense executed well and Devin Brown made a gigantic play, this time from the Anchor position. He peeled back on a devastating Hunt Block as QB George rolled to the right. Devin timed it perfectly and unleashed the best Hunt Block I’ve seen in my three years of coaching the A-11. The speeding DE for Oakland had our QB directly in his crosshairs and was zeroing in for the kill. But, out of nowhere Devin unloaded a crunching crack back hit that sent the stunned Oakland defender flying and cart wheeling into the air - totally blindsided from the expertly delivered block. Calmly, George moved outside to the right and tossed a dart to Andrada for a beautiful 15-yard gain down to the Oakland 34-yard line.

Andrada displayed poise by stepping out of bounds on our sideline, enabling us to save our final timeout.

Civilized insanity had taken over the crowd and overcome most of the people on our sideline. I did my best to stay calm and called a certain play in hopes of catching Oakland off-guard, “133 Stagger QB Draw Left.” The Oakland defense was spread wide expecting a pass. George fielded the shotgun snap, decoyed the pass action perfectly and our OL opened up a massive hole down the left-center of the field. George took off like a bolt of lightning near the left hash and sprinted to the Oakland 15-yard line before diving forward! Our players had executed the play to perfection and put us into field goal position.

I raced down the sideline and frantically called for our last timeout with 6 seconds to go.

During the time out, Defensive Coordinator, Kevin Anderson spent his time isolated with our Place Kicker, Remer, quietly helping the young man to stay focused and confident.

Regardless of the outcome our kids had fought hard, never given up and had put our team in a position to win the game. I was proud of their effort, resolve and desire to compete.

As both teams returned back to the field, our hometown crowd reached a deafening level of ear-splitting noise. The incredible roar emanating from our fans that moment is the type of wonderful memory I will recall long after my coaching days are over. It’s etched into my psyche.

Our Field Goal unit took their place on each side of our long snapper and our place-kick Holder, Lipkin settled in as well. Oakland High’s defensive front all got down in their three-point stances, ready to spring into action at the snap - hoping to block the kick to preserve the tie.

Remer aligned and steadied himself. He gave a quick nod of his head at Lipkin, signaling that he was ready to go for it.

Our long snapper, Leif Simonson had been outstanding to date, but a touch of the nerves got him a bit rattled and the snap was low, skipping right before Lipkin’s hands in front of the Field Goal Platform. Cool as ice, Lipkin scooped up the football, placed it on the Block and rotated the laces away from the oncoming Remer.

I tensed up like petrified wood, unable to breath, blink or think…nothing to do but watch, hope and pray.

Oakland’s defensive unit gave a mighty push, but our Field Goal platoon held the Fort and did their jobs without error.

With time running out, Remer stepped into his left-footed attempt and kicked the football as if he were trying to launch it into outer space. He absolutely crushed the ball and it blazed through the air, lower than usual but high enough to rise above the outstretched arms of the Oakland High team.

The football screamed through the dark October air, whisked through the Goal Posts and the Officials beneath the Crossbar gave the only signal that everybody rooting for Piedmont was hoping to see – It’s Good!

Piedmont 17 and Oakland 14.

Our players and fans stormed the field like never before.

As the bedlam ensued, the players, coaches and fans celebrated in the beauty of a thrilling victory. Suddenly, we found ourselves at a record of 3 – 2, on a three-game winning streak and feeling good.

Based on the first two weeks of the season, losing the opening games, having our OL coach quit, holding steady to avoid a team mutiny and the searing ire of angry parents, the kids and assistant coaches had managed to triumph on the field three times in a row.

Bounding up the stadium steps through the happy crowd on my way into the locker room to celebrate with the team, a single thought looped through my mind.

“Can we do it again and win next week?”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

ANCHORS are the NEW Position in Football

The ANCHORS have Become a NEW Position in Football

AT the Dawn of Football history more than 130-years ago, today’s zany plays, super-spread formations and hyper-fast athletes were unimaginable to most of our pigskin-loving ancestors respectable mode of thinking.

After Two complete football seasons operating in the new dimensions of the A-11 Offense at Piedmont, as other teams have done nationwide and in Germany and Japan – a Brand New Position in Football has been Created, and it’s called the ANCHOR.

In our own experience for two years, and in receiving communication from many A-11 coaches & players around the world, the one constant message is how the A-11 teams have permanently CHANGED THE JOB DESCRIPTION of the Traditional Offensive Tackle position, now they have replaced them with Anchors.

Respectfully, and by design in the bedrock of its offensive principles, the A-11 replaces BOTH of the Traditional Offensive Tackles with much faster and more athletic ‘Game Breaker’ type players and spreads them out wide beyond the hash marks quite often – those new players are called the ANCHORS.

At Piedmont, and with many other football teams heading into the 2009 season, our Coaching Staff now has a permanent new Coach assigned to teaching, watching & instructing this new position – and he is called the “Anchors Coach.”

An overview of the Anchors job description, and it’s only a matter of time before the Antiquated "jersey-numbering requirement rule" is abolished, now that many A-11 teams, players, coaches and Referees have proven beyond a doubt that A-11 football games can be properly officiated, etc.


1. Anchors are Not eligible to catch a Forward Pass when they are aligned on the LOS and covered by outside receivers on the LOS

2. Anchors are NOT traditional Offensive Lineman. Anchors are a caliber of a much faster, more nimble and athletic ‘Game Breaker’ type of football player. Anchors must be able to block well, but they the have the ability to score a touchdown from anywhere on the field, once the football is in their hands. Anchors are a threat to advance the ball and score, and therefore the defense must respect the Anchors as an offensive weapon

3. Anchors Can catch a forward pass beyond the LOS when they are Aligned as the last man on the LOS, or if they are Off the LOS when the football is snapped. Anchors can also do the Following with the Football:

a) Receive a backward pass or pitch behind the LOS – the pass (like a Bubble Screen or Negative Hitch) or the pitch (Option or Reverse) only has to be less than one-inch backwards to be legal, etc.

b) Take a handoff behind the LOS

c) Throw a forward pass from behind the LOS once the football is in their hands legally

d) Receive a Pitch down field beyond the LOS once the football has crossed the Neutral Zone, as a pitch back during an Option play or the Hook and Ladder, for example

4. Often by formation, the Anchors are spread out wide beyond the Hash Marks, and they have excellent pre-snap Leverage outside of the Defensive Ends or Outside Linebackers. This enables the Anchors to execute the HUNT Block in a variety of ways working from the outside – in. The Hunt block can be a bone-crushing “Blind Side” type of block when the Defender does not see the Anchor coming – such as during a Sprint Out pass play or sweep action. Or, the Hunt block can be a slower more methodical block, where the Anchor will simply be patient and execute his assignment, looking for work and picking out a defender to screen off from the ball carrier.

5. Anchors can legally go down field beyond the LOS during all running plays and Screen passes completed to other backs behind the LOS

These are some of the job descriptions of the new Anchor position in American tackle football.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A-11 Story....Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Winning Streak Begins in the Trinity Alps – September 22, 2007

IF SOMEBODY had told me that Piedmont would begin a seven-game winning streak in Week Three, on a wet field during a drizzly night in the mountains vs. Trinity High, and it would serve as a launching pad to desperately boost our team’s morale whilst becoming the first victorious step towards Piedmont making the playoffs – well…it would have been difficult to believe them prior to that wonderful night in the hinterlands of northern California.

The game before Trinity, we held our home opener after the Campo debacle, and battled against Truckee High School – a powerhouse Wing-T team, that had won the Nevada state championship twice of the previous three seasons. Due to the incredibly hard work by our players and assistant coaches leading into that Truckee contest, radical X & O adjustments were made by the staff, tons of game video was reviewed, and mutinous actions were thwarted by the outstanding senior leadership of our team captains.

We only lost to Truckee by a final score of a very close 15 – 7. Our defense again played valiant, and we had a chance to tie the game with a few minutes left. Importantly, our Piedmont offense managed to score its first touchdown ever in the A-11, in the 3rd quarter vs. Truckee. Piedmont QB, Jeremy George connected on a nice throw along the right sideline to WR, Joey Andrada. Our fleet WR hauled in the TD pass, and we all felt a massive sense of relief at finally scoring in the A-11.

Before our second game that year, I had the unfortunate experience of losing my offensive line coach – he quit after the Campo game. I respected his decision, and to this day we remain friends, and we root for all things Piedmont related. He is a good man but could not handle his frustration anymore. A-11 co-creator, Steve Humphries had been working with him closely, and Coach Humphries assumed the role of O-Line coach that day.

Several of the players were distraught at losing their O-Line coach, but we handled it above board as best we could before the team capsized. We then closed ranks while trying to move ahead on very shaky ground. The horrible phone calls, emails, and anticipated open questioning in local media kept steamrolling.

One of the most memorable voice mail messages I received was from a gravelly voiced and very pissed off man, who screamed, “A-11! A-11 my a--! A-11 stands for all eleven coaches potentially fired!” Then he slammed down the phone. There’s a joke around town, and to this day I sometimes wonder if that caller was my dad?

Having great administrative support is one of the key factors for any coach to survive the ire of angry, boiling-over parents and players. Unbeknownst to me at the time, our excellent Principal at Piedmont, Randall Booker had been swamped with a plethora of well-intended but firm parents. Folks who were sure the A-11 was the worst football offense ever invented. Two losses in a row to open the season had been enough, and some individuals took the liberty of sitting down with Mr. Booker to show him their “own” offensive systems, proven X’s & O’s that would serve the kids better than the A-11 ever would.

During Week Three sitting at a record of 0 – 2, and prepping for a long road trip game at Trinity, I received a letter from one of the concerned parents. “The Data Letter” from a top notch Scientist in the community, was extremely well written documenting valuable points, and coming to the professional conclusion that more than enough A-11 Data had been collected after only two games – to immediately justify the torching of the A-11 Offense for good, and switching back to a “normal” offense. I disagreed with the Data provided, but respected his right to present his case in a factual and civil manner.

The night before our game vs. Trinity in the stunningly beautiful mountainous retreat of Weaverville, CA, some of my staff and I met the Trinity Coach, Mike Flint for a cold one at the local saloon. Coach Flint is a sturdy, humble man, good humored and had already won a state championship as a coach. He represents everything good in the game of football. He considered planning for his team to play against the A-11 a great challenge, nothing more or less.

In addition to the incredible beauty, the Trinity Alps are known for fantastic Steelhead Trout fishing in the currents of the Trinity River, a robust Logging industry, and terrific Black Bear hunting. In fact, some of the Trinity High football players were set to go Bear Hunting the next morning before our game that night – if my memory serves correct.

Saturday night, standing on the soft, wet, thick grass field at Trinity High, I watched our players warm up in the drizzly cool night air, and I felt unsure about our chances of victory. Trinity was a big, physical Wing-T team, designed to power the football down the field at will. The moist field and wet air had me nervous, we had not yet won a football game in dry conditions, and so winning this game so far from home and in the bad elements had me uptight.

Over the past couple of days leading up to the game, I had sensed a tangible, fierce bite of urgency emanating from the players. They were determined to make the five-hour drive worthwhile, in overall team experience, and especially by winning the game on the field.Even with the slick field and moistened footballs during warm ups, our Two starting quarterbacks were zinging the pigskin around as if they were playing on dry blacktop.

In the swirl of uneasiness leading up to kickoff, the QB’s pre-game efficiency notched confidence into my heart. “Maybe, we are going to get our first win tonight,” I remember thinking at the kickoff.

We returned the opening kickoff with an electric jolt up the middle by shifty Devin Brown all the way to the Trinity 35-yard line. Trinity’s red and gray clad defense came out jumpy and strong, playing a 3-2 front against our A-11, and often blitzing the Weak or Strong outside Linebackers - sometimes both.

But, from our first play on offense, it was clear to each member of our staff, the Piedmont players had taken big steps in mastering the A-11, and had grown exponentially after only two weeks removed from the Campo fizzle. The offensive line looked confident, both of our starting QB’s were crisp, and the WR’s were really busting to get open on pass routes. We were becoming a different team; and appeared to be capable and ready to win against a very physical opponent.

On the opening drive, Primary QB Jeremy George fired a few short passes out wide on quick screens, while our tandem QB, Ryan Lipkin helped secure the pass protection with the OL. For the first time, the offense was beginning to dictate the tempo and pressure of the game, and for the first time that season, our opponent was somewhat not quite sure of themselves on defense. The number one axiom of the A-11 was beginning to cement itself permanently, “The ball moves faster than the man,” was proving to be the keystone principle of the system.On 4th down, secondary QB Lipkin connected on a searing Slant Route to our Left Anchor, Rory Bonnin on, “133 Stagger 293 Slant Corner.” Bonnin hauled in the bullet and rumbled to the Trinity 10-yard line. We misfired on the next two plays and Trinity held tough, but we kicked the chip shot field goal, and had achieved another milestone in the A-11, we had scored some points on the opening drive of a game and were up 3 – 0.

Trinity pounded the ball on offense in their stout Wing-T, and kept our defense off balance a bit. We got the ball back eventually, and proceeded to move it again. Our wise Wide Receivers Coach, Mario Thornton was beginning to notice that we could probably take advantage of a deep Fade or Go route down the right sideline to our then sophomore fleet Receiver, Joey Andrada. We took a few shots down the wet field, and on 3rd down called, “331 Creep 18 Two Screen Left.” Primary QB George sprinted right, decoyed the defense his way, while our other QB Lipkin engaged in a dummy block, then slipped left unfettered and caught the lofty screen pass from George. Lipkin scampered down the left sideline for 15-yards and we tacked on another field goal.Trinity continued to pound and slam the ball on offense and we missed a few golden opportunities to put additional points on the board with the A-11.

After halftime, we found ourselves down 6 – 14, but our defense stiffened and forced Trinity to punt the football. Their Punter skied a beauty in the drizzly air and Rory Bonnin fielded the kick at our own 33-yard line.

If a person coaches football long enough and takes part in many games, there comes a time at a few points during their careers when they are fortunate enough to witness a “Turning Point” in a season – not only a ‘Game Changing’ play, but a sparkling and magnificent event that transforms an entire season. Bonnin’s incredible, gutty punt return saved the game for us that night, and instantly became the pivot point that turned our season from - a losing struggle into a hot winning streak.

Bonnin (a star Rugby player) secured the football in his right arm and dashed up field. On soggy turf – he turned into a Mudder and never looked back. He weaved to his right, sprinted down the right sideline in front of our entire team jumping up and down for joy, and then somehow cut back left and bolted down the center of the field for a 67-yard touchdown! QB George added a nice toss to Captain Alexander Menke in the left corner of the end zone for a two-point play, and suddenly the game was tied 14 – 14…we had hope!

The next 12-minutes of football were classic gridiron moments. Trinity would drive a portion of the field but our defense stood the test, and vice-versa. But as we arrived at the midway point of the 4th Quarter, our quarterbacks coach Pete Schneider concurred with Coach Thornton’s insistence on throwing the Bomb one more time.With six minutes to go in the game and the score tied at 14, we called, “Base Out Stagger 194 Slant.”

Trinity’s defense had been rolling the dice and blitzing 6 or 7 players every so often, and this time we caught them in it. Our two inside slot receivers ran Slant Routes, and the Strong Safety to our QB’s right side had to step down and cover the Slant. George read the Cover Zero perfectly and found the speedy Andrada in single coverage way down the right sideline. Due to the slickness of the ball and the heavy defensive pressure, the deep pass was slightly underthrown, Andrada’s panicked defender overran the play.

Joey adjusted and came back under the pass, caught it and sprinted into the end zone alone for the winning score, 20 – 14!

God Almighty could not have ripped that first victory from the determined hands of our Piedmont players from that moment onward. Our very stingy defense played the last few minutes of the game like a bunch of crazed maniacs and nailed down the first win of the season for our team, and the first win ever for the A-11 Offense.

As the last few seconds of the clock wound down, I turned to my right and peered at the brigade of gleeful parents sitting in the tiny bleachers. I listened to our small band of parents that had made the five-hour trek into the mountains. They were jumping for joy while giving the homegrown signal of our offense that the staff used to communicate on the sidelines with the players. The parents were touching the points of their fingers and forming the letter ‘A.’ All of them were shouting, “A-11, A-11!”

When the game ended, the players leaped with delirious pride and relief, and they doused me in a shower of Gatorade on that frigid night in the Trinity Alps. But, I never felt more warmth and happiness envelope me after a football game, as that icy fluid soaked me from head to toe. With watery eyes triggered by elation for our Piedmont players and everybody attached to our program, I gave Steve Humphries a bear hug and congratulated him, and did the same thing to the assistant coaches and players.

Inside the visitor’s locker room at Trinity, the boyish joyfulness spilling out from the players and coaches was remarkable to behold. Soon thereafter, we were all on the team bus and headed back the hotel for a post-game pizza party, and to watch the DVD replay of the great game we had just experienced.

With a hoarse voice, raspy from delight, I auto-dialed the number of Piedmont Principal Randall Booker, and hoped that he would answer the phone that late on a Saturday night.

It rang, and then I heard his voice ask, “What happened?”

“Listen to this,” I replied, and then I held up my cell phone towards the back of the bus.

Without missing a beat, the entire team shouted with all of their might, and clearly sent Mr. Booker the only answer he really wanted to hear, “We won! We won!”

The teams’ synchronized cheer echoed throughout the bus.

I closed my eyes and tried to soak up every moment of the excellent night.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

A-11 Story...Chapter 3

Chapter 3

“A-11 Makes its Debut on September 7, 2007 - The Nightmare in Moraga vs. Campolindo!”

IMAGINE the worst outcome that could overwhelm your greatest effort to try and ensure a reasonable or respectable modicum of success for a radical new venture…and then quadruple it.

On the team bus early that evening weaving through the beautiful rolling hills and trees of the Moraga Canyon towards Campolindo High School, every player and coach onboard was understandably excited, but brutally nervous, more than all of us anticipated. Truthfully, we were collectively worried about running the A-11 for the first time, but more importantly, we fully realized Campolindo was a big, fast and powerful football team, and very well coached. It was a daunting task at hand.

Looking back in review of our 2007 football training camp prior to Campolindo, we’d made a good decision to bring in the key football Referees from our region to educate them about the A-11, and to get their vital feedback regarding shifting, motions and a few nuances. It was important for us to get the Referees on the same page, in terms of prepping their crews to properly officiate the A-11 come game time.

However, in retrospect I made a significant mistake asking our players, coaches and parents to try and keep the A-11 a ‘secret’ until the Campo game. It was my hope the element of surprise would offer some advantage for our team…I was dead wrong. In fact, it made things a bit worse by putting additional pressure on our players and assistant coaches, and accidentally ratcheting up the drama within our Piedmont community. Campolindo and Piedmont are lovely towns, only separated by a casual 20-minute drive through the Tunnel, and they share affinities.
I should have officially let the word out that Piedmont would be trying a new offense like the A-11; it would have reduced the pain of the stinging loss to Campo for the kids, assistant coaches and parents. Instead, it was a humiliating blow that I should have seen coming, regardless of my hopes. Campo knew what we were doing well enough – word had traveled.

In the locker room after our pre-game warm up, the tension in the air was making things almost unbearable. It was muggy enough, and I had already asked the players to do an incredible amount giving on behalf of the program by switching to the A-11. Seeds of doubt from certain players and an assistant coach had become emerging stalks of serious misgivings.

At sunset, soon after the opening kickoff our Piedmont A-11 Offense took the field, and that’s when the surreal terror on offense began. (Our defense played well that night and Campolindo called off the dogs midway through the 3rd quarter or it could have been worse).
Respectfully to the players and assistant coaches, we had done a lot of work creating, tweaking and practicing the virgin A-11 system throughout the spring and summer, that most of us believed we were ready to unveil the A-11 and have some success.

Disaster! And, all of it was my fault – 100%.

Our offensive players were so spread out across the field of play, naked-like in their ultra wide A-11 formations – it was a major shock to see them actually competing live vs. an opponent under the lights. Just the simple act of looking at them on the field like that was difficult to soak in, especially after having spent the past twenty-one years being a traditional football coach.

Campo was going full-speed ahead, comfortable and confident in their system, and kicking our butts on the artificial turf. Their navy blue, red and white uniforms seemed like a tidal wave of colors overwhelming our white and purple uniformed players. Again, our Piedmont players were giving it their all to succeed, and their shortcomings were zero fault of their own. The errant timing and poor relationship of the plays (too east and west), the offbeat spacing and shoddy performance was totally my fault. I had miscalculated the scope of the project. I had not adjusted our methods of practicing differently quite enough, to fully compensate for the awkward foreign football geometry in the blood and guts operating system of the A-11 in a game situation.

Assistant coach (A-11 Co-creator) Steve Humphries, and the other coaches on our sideline were fully engaged in the game, while doing their best to plug the internal team wounds of dissention, and halt the ebbing of our total chemistry.

But, the debacle unfolded without respite. At halftime, I had one of the JV assistant coaches lead the team into the locker room so they could rest and begin regrouping, while I held a quick meeting with the Varsity coaches at the southern end of the field.

I looked around the tree-lined stadium venue and saw hordes of people having a great time over by the snack shack. I watched with chills crawling up my spine, as our football program’s greatest benefactor actually marched through the crowd and stormed out of the stadium shaking his head with disgust – obviously he had seen enough for now.

“F---!” Steve Humphries said, “We’ve gotta lot of work to do.”

All of the coaches agreed, except for one, our Offensive Line Coach. He was not a supporter of the A-11. However, regardless of his opinion about our offense, he was a great guy then, and is a great guy now. Sometimes, terrible situations simply get the best of people.
Our OL coach was cursing up a tornado in our gathering and was beyond reach at that moment. He made it clear that he did not know if he could make it through the entire game without losing it.

“Damage control, we must help the kids get through the game with some pride.” I said.

Back inside the locker room the players were scattered about, listless, sad, a few crying, and at least two pods of players shooting looks of anger at anybody looking their way. Who could blame them? Not me, it wasn’t their ill doing. They had done what I had asked, and I had failed them.
We only had a couple of minutes remaining before we had to return to the field for the 2nd half.
The staff and I focused our attention on helping the players stay tuned on “getting better” and “not giving up.”
Regardless, it was self-evident; tonight was not going to be a fun event.

Several of the players pounded their fists against the visiting team’s lockers and screamed at the top of their lungs, trying to release their frustration and anger without hurting anyone else.
Before going back to the field, I took a quick walk outside and around the corner from the locker room. Hoping not to be seen, I proceeded to spew vomit into a barrel trashcan nearby. I was sweating profusely and deserved every ounce of ill feelings and mocking sent my way.
Jogging back to the stadium through the Campolindo campus, our players and coaches came out fighting for our collective pride that had been shredded but was hanging by a thread. Watching our players continually battle throughout the 2nd half and never giving up was a testimony to their maturity, camaraderie and dedicated work.

We had begun the game hoping to achieve a stunning upset of powerful Campolindo. We ended the game scrapping, clawing and using every ounce of strength and vigor – simply to just get a few meager 1st downs in the A-11.

Our dreams of success had been reduced to desperate prayers of football salvation.

Final Score: Campolindo - 31 and Piedmont - 2.

After the game in the darkened parking lot. I leaned against the team bus, sick to my stomach, with a splitting migraine and wanting to wake up from the nightmare in Moraga. I was grateful to have such a great group of players, and equally thankful for the wonderful army of assistant coaches helping our team get through this catastrophe.
I waited quietly by our bus, as each player filed onto the idling diesel that would take us home.

One of my longtime friends and her husband had flown in from Hawaii to visit her family and also see our game. “It will get better, it’s just the first game.” She said, before they had to go.
I nodded and thanked them both for coming. “It must,” I replied, and I got on the bus.

Monday, June 29, 2009

A-11 Story....Chapter 2

Chapter 2

“Football players like to be comfortable in their team's system. The A-11 shattered that.”

EVERY coach on the staff knew it was going to be very rough sledding, in terms of helping the football players (V & JV) somehow understand that switching to this “crazy”, “radical” and new offensive system was good for them and the program.

Helping to manage the players’ passionate commitment to the familiar football ways they had been playing under, but also to tear them away from the grip of traditional gridiron methods, plays and terminologies, ones that all of them had grown up watching on television was brutal. It was far more difficult and emotionally searing, and gut wrenching than any of the staff members had anticipated, and we had projected a significant amount of angst and apprehension from the players – once they had soaked in the news of our impending change.

In the Varsity locker room one week before the official start of the 2007 spring football practice at Piedmont, nervously and with a sweaty brow I stood before the V & JV squads. Behind me on the white board were a dozen categorized and neatly divided A-11 formations, and a bullet-point list of key rules and points.

The assistant coaches were scattered around the locker room, intermixed with the players and providing unspoken measures of support with their presence. I would soon learn that all of the assistant coaches were 100% committed to the A-11, but one coach was not. The one dissenting coach had made his voice and mature opinion known in our staff meetings. But, it would not be until during our first real game, three-and-a-half months later vs. Campolindo, that the true level of his displeasure would be revealed.

Unrehearsed, I spoke, “Gentlemen, we’re making a very big change to the offense.”It was now official. I had made the commitment to the A-11. There would be no going back, no running, no hiding and no changing of the path before us, regardless of the A-11’s initial success on the field. The coaches, administration and now even the players had made the pact complete. However, for the players - the wonderful and hardworking Oarsmen responsible for rowing the ship of our football program –respectfully they had been “shown” the futuristic way of our program, but not asked to participate in the choice affecting them.

It’s always one of the toughest decisions a head coach must make, and major decisions like these need to be well thought out, swift, consistent and sincere. Any type of public wavering by yours truly would be disastrous, ruinous for the players, the program, for me, and the staff. No bones about it.

“To that?” One of the players uttered, pointing at the white board behind me in disbelief.

I nodded slowly, acknowledging the player and scanning the youthful, quizzical and surprised faces of the others. “It’s called the A-11, and it stands for, all eleven players potentially eligible.”I waited for more questions, but silence ensued, and so I took the players through the basics of the A-11.

Steve Humphries chimed in a few times and explained various aspects of the offense, including some new ideas he was excited about, as the assistant offensive line coach. Some of the other assistants offered words of wisdom and encouragement.

After a few more rounds of normal Q & A, finally, thee question I had been waiting for arose from the concerned heart, mind and mouth from one of our very well respected team captains.

“What about the linemen?” He asked warily.

Tremendous and fiery debate had transpired in our coaching staff meetings over this very issue. But, with the truthful understanding that the Piedmont football program normally does not have enough ‘traditional linemen’ in its ranks – implementing the A-11 made sense, and doubled with the fact that most of the time Piedmont has an abundance of skill players, it really made sense.

More speed and less bulk = the A-11 Offense.

I answered the question. “Our linemen will play in the A-11, but not as many of them will play in the A-11, because we’re going to put more speed on the field at the same time. We are going to spread the field wide and force the defense to spread out with us. We’ll still keep our traditional “Highlander” offense, and all of the linemen will of course play in that too. Plus, whatever linemen that don’t start in the A-11 or in Highlander; we’re going to switch those players to the defensive line, so everybody gets to play.”

Some of the players were visibly unhappy, and that’s understandable. It was a shock to their football psyche and to their system. Other players were fired up and excited about the change. And to be sure, a segment of the players were cautious, cool and non-committal.As a coaching staff, we had more than four months to chew on and get used to the brazen idea of the A-11.

It would have been unfair of me and/or the staff to expect the players to welcome the A-11 with gleeful shouts of joy and open arms. Most of the players were scared, they knew it, and we knew it. The senior players did not want to waste their final season.

Heck, the coaching staff was terrified of failing. We wanted to succeed for the players – especially the seniors, and for the program, and for us. As a staff, we had already made the decision - failure was not allowed to enter into the equation, or it would surely consume everything in its path with its insatiable appetite for destruction.

Spring football would happen, a new offense would be installed & very uncomfortable change was now upon all of us.

Making football history? That was not even in our minds…

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...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lots of Good Coaches Pushing the Game Forward

The A-11 will be seen on the Gridiron again for the 2009 season and beyond, with some modifications.

Even though a small faction of disgruntled football traditionalists at the NFHS spearheaded a change in the rules in their attempt to ban the A-11 Offense, the numerous proponents of the A-11 across the nation will always be pushing the game forward with A-11 concepts and strategies. A growing fraternity of innovative coaches has sprung up across the country, those who believe in super spread out offensive football as one of the best ways to help their football team win more games.

Exciting A-11 concepts have proven successful for many teams. Hardworking players and bright coaches nationwide have and will be implementing various applications of the A-11.“What bothers old-school football people, and I know because I used to be one of them,” explains Piedmont head coach, Kurt Bryan, “is that some football programs around the country have developed their new A-11 system, and the A-11 has established itself as a successful style of offensive football – without using traditional Offensive Tackles in the game. Instead of having a traditional Tackle next to each of the Guards, the A-11 puts a sleeker/faster and more athletic ‘Game Breaker’ type at those Anchor positions and spreads them out wide, past the hash marks. For two years now, A-11 coaches & players have demonstrated that having more players on the field that can score from anywhere is better for their team. The game of football has changed forever, and it will never go back. Today’s amazing athletes and the wild skills they bring onto the field of play demand it. The A-11 is simply another way to play offensive football.”

For now, teams using the A-11 will have to put those 'Anchor' players in jerseys numbered (# 50-79). The Anchors will not be eligible to catch a Forward Pass beyond the line of scrimmage. However, the Anchors will be allowed to catch a backward pass behind the line of scrimmage, take a handoff or reverse, or option pitch behind the line of scrimmage, and fully engage in the play to advance the football on a hook-n-ladder, or option pitch beyond the line of scrimmage once the football has crossed the neutral zone.

Explains Steve Humphries, "The Genie was let out of the bottle two years ago. Now, even college and pro coaches are looking at A-11 strategies to help their teams win, and it has been an excellent off-season because we have had the chance to meet with collegiate coaching staffs in various parts of the country to share what we have learned, and also listen to their ideas. A few Pro coaches have inquired about some A-11 concepts, and now coaches at all levels are helping the game advance. The (NFHS) had a great chance to be true to the history of football and help the game push forward by embracing a study of teams using A-11 at the high school level. At the same time, the (NFHS) could have helped smaller schools across the country. But, a few key people at the (NFHS), most of whom had never seen or participated in an A-11 game live, were the 'chicken-little-sky-is-falling' ring leaders behind the (NFHS) panicked move. They blew it. However, more teams will be using super-spread out A-11 systems, not only at the high school level and the Youth levels, but also at the collegiate and pro levels too. The game of football is becoming more spread out each year. Soon, A-11 style football will become the norm and not the exception. Imagine a few years from now, having a bunch of superstar, world-class athletes operating in the A-11 Offense? It will be one of the most amazing and breathtaking offenses to watch in full-speed live action. It's already happening...and it's inevitable.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

ESPN the Magazine Cover Story on the Innovative A-11 Offense and the Future


December 29, 2008

A-11 Offense Cover Story


Wowed by the Wildcat, Spread HD and A-11? You ain’t seen nothing yet. An offensive revolution is coming to the NFL. Can anyone stop it?

by David Fleming

At first glance, Steve Humphries' apartment, near the Presidio of San Francisco, hardly seems like the place to launch a football revolution. There's the wine collection and the Pates Baroni print. There's the radio tuned to NPR. There's the cat, Armani, who likes to hurl himself across the dining-room table, which is covered by enough Mac equipment to start a graphic design boutique.

Searching for a corkscrew, Humphries digs under the debris that surrounds his computer: black-and-white photos of football players in wool jerseys and leather helmets mixed with futuristic-looking playbook pages full of crisp graphics. He promises with a laugh to straighten up the place before the historical society starts giving tours to fans.

It was only last Jan. 5 that Humphries, a 42-year-old mortgage broker who doubles as a prep assistant coach, realized just how badly the NFL could use a little of his messy inspiration. That day he watched the Steelers all but concede defeat while clinging to a 29-28 lead over the Jaguars in the AFC wild-card game. On a third- and-six at its own 26, Pittsburgh didn't throw, didn't even hand off. Instead, coach Mike Tomlin had gimpy Ben Roethlisberger run a timid bootleg. It fooled no one. Jacksonville, predictably, got the ball back and marched down the field for the winning score.

After the loss, Tomlin, one of the game's brightest young minds, said he'd call the same bootleg again if given another chance. "They got to him, too," Humphries thought, shaking his head in disgust. In his mind, the Steelers had exposed the risk-averse paradigm that's choking off offensive innovation at football's highest levels.

Anyone with a fantasy team can tell you scoring remains strong in the NFL. But what passes for bold and fresh these days—Miami's direct-snap Wildcat scheme—is a prehistoric relic invented by Pop Warner himself. Bill Walsh's West Coast, launched in the early 1970s, is the last offense invented by a pro team. How's that for progress? "We are in the most boring, stagnant era ever," Humphries says, uncorking a bottle of red wine. "And you start to think, how much more conservative can we actually get before we ruin football altogether?"

Seven months before that Steelers game, Humphries stood in front of a dry-erase board hanging in his cat-scented apartment. In a fit of imagination, he and his buddy Kurt Bryan, an insurance salesman who triples as a novelist and football coach, invented what may be the antidote for the NFL's offensive ills. It's called the A-11: an ├╝berspread offense with virtually no offensive line, 11 potential receivers and backfield choreography that resembles Princeton basketball's motion offense.

The two would-be Lombardis dreamed up the scheme for a small, Oakland-area school called Piedmont High, where Humphries serves under Bryan. In less than two years their mad creation has kicked off a genuine football uprising, transforming an obscure Northern California team, and hundreds more just like it across the country, from pushover to powerhouse. The A-11 isn't close to legal in the NFL, and probably never will be. But the ideas behind it—two QBs are better than one, what occurs before the snap is just as important as what occurs after it, physical limitations can be shattered by ingenuity —look increasingly to be football's future. Maybe its savior. "The A-11 isn't just new and cool," says Humphries. "It's needed."

More than any other sport, the NFL is mutant, connected to its forebears as humans are to amphibians.In the late 19th century, American football evolved out of the European sport of rugby, where the original ball was a Danish soldier's head. It didn't take long for our game to become equally barbaric. During the 1905 college football season, 150 players were seriously injured and another 18 were killed on the field. Spurred by President Theodore Roosevelt, rules changes were introduced to open up the game and reduce the carnage. Among them: A neutral zone was established at the line of scrimmage, and lethal mass formations like the flying wedge were outlawed.

Fast-forward to the 1930s, when the game was a low-scoring and sadistic sport that critics called "paid punting" and "a bloody, brutal, disgraceful affair." Facing fierce competition for entertainment dollars during the Depression, the fledgling NFL shrank the ball's circumference from its original 27 inches to a more QB-friendly 21, made passing legal from anywhere behind the line of scrimmage, established hash marks to keep the ball in the middle of the field, and enacted the first roughing-the-passer rule.

Now flash to 1977. Two years removed from a recession, pro football was being squeezed, as zone schemes, new pass-rush techniques and increased athleticism had reduced scoring to its lowest point in 35 years. Right on cue, the league made it illegal for defenders to contact receivers more than five yards off the line, offensive linemen were allowed to open their hands and extend their arms while pass-blocking (read: hold), a seventh official was added to monitor pass interference downfield, and referees were instructed to stop play when a QB was in the grasp. Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, an assistant coach named Bill Walsh had been developing something called the West Coast offense for almost a decade. Behind this quick-strike system, which perfectly exploited the new rules changes, Walsh would go on to win three Super Bowls in the 1980s for the 49ers. And at the time of his death, in 2007, his West Coast philosophy was close to ubiquitous in the NFL.

Which brings us to today. Last season the Patriots set the NFL scoring record with 589 points. But it's a marketing marvel set atop a house of football cards, since nearly a third of the league didn't score half that amount. Unlike Bill Belichick, most coaches—bound by paychecks, fan pressure and parity—have little room for offensive error, let alone innovation. That's why their playbooks are barely distinguishable from the ones Paul Brown first handed out in the 1940s.

"When it comes to new ideas, I wouldn't say the NFL is risk averse," says former Ravens coach Brian Billick. "I'd say it's downright paranoid. You want something new? Sure, go ahead and try something. Make one mistake, and your ass is out on the street."

With offenses standing still, it's only a matter of time before defenses close the gap; witness how the Cover 2 has largely neutralized Walsh's creation. As scoring plummets, you can bet the league, once again facing scary economic conditions, will react as it always has—with more offensive-minded rules changes, followed by new schemes designed to take advantage of them. "The game will always evolve," says Falcons president Rich McKay, co-chair of the NFL's Competition Committee. "The only question is, What's next, and when is it going to happen?"

It may be sooner than you think. In June 2007, Humphries and Bryan set out to create an offense that evened the playing field for Piedmont—which, at half the size of the other schools in its athletic division, hadn't won a title in 32 years. Inspiration didn't come easy. The two men were boxed in by field dimensions that hadn't changed in 94 years, even though players keep getting bigger and faster. Offensive pioneers like Sid Gillman and Don Coryell had stretched the game vertically as far as it could go. Walsh had pulled it to its horizontal breaking point.

"It felt like a thick, hardened crust had formed over the game," says the perpetually scruffy-faced and scratchy-throated Bryan, 44. Ready to quit, Bryan was reading the fine print of his California high school federation rule book when he landed on the "scrimmage kick formation rule." "Oh, my god," he said to Humphries. "Look at this."

Normally used for punts, the rule stated that as long as the player receiving the snap was seven yards behind center, any teammate wearing the jersey of an eligible receiver (between Nos. 1 and 49 or 80 and 89) was permitted to go downfield.

Bryan and Humphries had already been noodling with a 3-3-3 superspread base formation that had two sets of three receivers flushed out wide in "pods" close to the numbers, with a center inside flanked by two tight ends, in addition to two QBs in the backfield. Now the scrimmage kick formation rule was saying they could potentially send any of those 11 players out for passes. "There was this lava flow underneath the modern version of the game," says Bryan. "All it needed was a little pinprick to erupt."

Insert the A-11. With two easy presnap shifts as the play clock winds down, the Highlanders can go from a superspread vertical pass look to a tight power-run formation to an unbalanced heavy look with five receivers grouped 10 yards to the right of the hash marks. And with two QBs and several players in motion, things get really tricky once the ball is snapped. According to Scientific American, the typical offensive formation has 36 postsnap scenarios of who can take the ball from under center and where it can go.

Bryan and Humphries discovered a way to increase the permutations to an eye-popping 16,632.

It's driving defenses crazy. One opposing coach said he had no idea where the ball was going 70% of the time. It's also producing results. Using the A-11, Piedmont dropped its first two games in 2007, then won 15 of 20 while qualifying for both the 2007 and 2008 state playoffs. During a five-game winning streak this fall, the Highlanders averaged 43 points per game. They did it with just two players over 225 pounds and a quarterback who barely measures 5'10" and 150 pounds.
Bryan estimates that in the past year several hundred high schools across the country have adopted his offense. And, more interestingly, this high school scheme's success is drawing the attention of the pro game's top-paid minds. "Who knows?" says Chiefs offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. "Maybe we'll all end up spread out all over the place in this A-11."

At the moment, NFL rules stand in the way. There's no scrimmage kick exception on the books. And as a result of arcane regulations, any lineman reporting as an eligible receiver has to sit out the next play—unless there's a break in the action, like a team time-out—before coming back in as an ineligible blocker.

It's called the No Fun League for a reason. Still, Tennessee's coaching staff has considered at least one modified application of Piedmont's creation, for third-and-short at the goal line. Here's how it would work: The Titans have two backup tackles take the field, report to the ref as eligible receivers, then position themselves at either end of the line. As long as the Titans have seven players on the line of scrimmage, those tackles are free to receive the ball downfield. And if the offense doesn't score, the backups simply leave the field, as required, while the starters return for a field goal attempt or another shot at the end zone.

Curiously, Titans coach Jeff Fisher, the other co-chair of the NFL's Competition Committee, says he has no interest in modifying the rules to allow for a full-blown A-11, because it would alter the game too radically.

No matter. Bryan and Humphries have twisted and bent the fundamentals, philosophy and geometry of football. Once you do that, there's no turning back. Says Gailey: "I may be old and set in my ways, but I know this: The game will always change in a way that makes it more exciting."

It's not hard to see where this evolution is headed. During the past half century, NFL players have been slowly spreading out from center, with the tight end morphing from a sixth blocker to a hybrid wide receiver. As a result, the tackle now often finds himself alone on the line's edge. And the farther that tackle continues to spread out from the ball, the more likely he'll morph himself from a sedentary blocker into a hybrid, giant tight end.

His pass protection won't be missed one bit, either. Imagine a world in which an NFL team, inspired by the A-11, uses two quarterbacks at the same time. Set up seven yards behind the line of scrimmage, they could both take snaps, act as decoys and shuffle the ball back and forth, so long as there is no more than one forward pass. Even the quickest unblocked defensive lineman can't move 25 feet to cover multiple throwing targets in less than two and a half seconds. Good-bye Shawne Merriman, hope you do well in MMA.

And we're just warming up. If scoring begins to decline, McKay says the Competition Committee will move swiftly to add even more protection for QBs, the lifeblood of the NFL's multibillion-dollar business. The league might start by widening the neutral zone at the line of scrimmage to slow the pass rush, or increasing the field dimensions to create more space for receivers. And since it's already illegal to hit a passer above the shoulders, below the knees, into the ground, while he's in the grasp or after he releases the ball, it's only a small leap for the NFL to make them off-limits altogether, like the punter. Seems ridiculous, but so did the forward pass for 30 years of the game's history and so did five-receiver sets for 75.

The proliferation of the spread-style scheme in high school and college means there are fewer classic pocket passers in the pipeline. When the well finally runs dry, NFL QBs will naturally evolve into smaller, more durable runners who can handle the physical pounding of the game and throw when they have to. Assuming the NFL creates special roster exemptions, teams might sign four of these new prototypes (think: Tim Tebow), platoon them two at a time like tailbacks or hold one out for safe-keeping until November.

Instead of banking everything on one $12 million star, teams will pay four passers $3 million each. And with tougher QBs and less economic risk, they'll be free to run wide-open schemes, like the run 'n shoot, that expose passers to more hits.
Even if the NFL never makes all 11 offensive players eligible, the league might very well reduce the number of players required on the line of scrimmage from seven to six, allowing an extra player to go downfield.

As a countermeasure, defenses will develop the first full man-on-man schemes. Both developments will immediately tilt the game toward smart, fast and smaller players.

And that will be the real game changer, because average-size teenagers will once again dream in earnest of going pro, like they did 30 years ago. Pee Wee and high school roster sizes will explode. Scouts will have to camp out in the smaller college divisions they typically ignore. And, most significantly, the NFL will move at a pace commensurate with the players inheriting it: the current generation of fast-thinking thrill-seekers, kids weaned on the Internet, iPods and Madden, kids who run the same belly-read option shotgun offense in Pop Warner that was once thought to be too complicated for college players. "There's a loud minority in football that says the A-11 is the devil," says Bryan. "But that's what they said about the forward pass. Old-timers can grumble all they want. In five years, they're going to look like the flat-earth society."

Until then, for a glimpse into the future there are always the pioneers at Piedmont. On Oct. 18, the Highlanders traveled to Albany High for a must-win game in the North Coast Section playoff race. Albany's field features an elevated monorail track running down the length of the visitors' sideline. Every 18 minutes or so, games are greeted by a train from Bay Area Rapid Transit screeching by in a metallic whir.

Clinging to a 38-30 lead, and facing fourth and five at midfield with four minutes to play, Bryan didn't think about punting or, worse, that Steelers bootleg. Instead, he opened his A-11 playbook and called for Base Stagger 193 Slant. Wideout Joey Andrada, who got a free release at the line thanks to the all the typical presnap theatrics, caught a quick hitch, shook his single coverage and raced up the sideline for a 50-yard score to ice the game. It was the start of a five-game winning streak for Piedmont that would end in late November in the first round of the state playoffs.

As the team mobbed Andrada in the back corner of the end zone, the monorail started to hum a few feet away. Moments later, the BART train shot past in a blur of silver and electricity.

The entire stadium seemed to stand still and watch as it raced, unimpeded, into the future.