In youth football, it’s important to think through your constraints before you choose an offensive or defensive scheme. That is the case for small High Schools as well. I recently conversed with a head coach from a very small High School that only had about 30 players in their entire program. He was milling over if he should have his starting Quarterback start on defense as well at Free Safety. He was short good defensive players and just couldn’t decide if he should start the kid on defense as well.
To answer that question you really have to know a number of facts:
What type of offense is the team running?
How durable is the Quarterback?
How much of the offense flows through the Quarterback?
How strong are the second and third team backup Quarterbacks?
What type of defense is the team running?
In that scheme, how much action will the Free Safety see?
How strong are the second and third team Free Safeties?
Do I need to talk to my QB inbetween series to go over adjustments and reads or can I always wait until timeouts or halftime?
You really can’t make a very informed decision until you’ve asked and answered these questions. I like watching the spread and option teams run their offenses, when they have the personnel to run them and are clicking on all cylinders. I’m a former option coach, I’m a huge fan of it, ran it for 7 years. However with many of these teams including mine back in the old days, when the stud Quarterback goes down, there is a HUGE drop off when the backup comes in. So many youth football teams build their entire offensive scheme around the ability of a single player. When that player goes down or is ill, you see the team crumble.
Last year there was a HUGE flue epidemic in the state of Nebraska. The school most of our players attend had a stretch of 30 days where 20-35% of the student population was out with the flu. In my 20 years of coaching, I have rarely had a single player sit out because of illness in an entire season. Last year I was missing players every game, in one game I was missing 4 players including my starting Quarterback.
Thank God I wasn’t running the spread or an option offense, because with just 23 kids, I didn’t have a real stud player to put in his place. Just 2 years ago in the Class A Nebraska State Championship game, the top seed, Millard North was without it’s top Quarterback. He got injured late in the semi final game. Millard North has about 2,600 students and often has 250-300 kids in its program. They consistently have numerous Division I players in the program and are coached well. Eric Crouch played there and in just the last 15 years 5 of their starting Quarterbacks have won Division I scholarships. Millard North didn’t run a single option play in their state title game against Omaha Central. They ran a Power I type offense that they had not run the entire season and ran their Division I Linebacker Sean Fisher about 40 times in the close loss to Central. Even mighty Millard North didn’t have an able enough backup with 250 plus kids to run their option offense.
Before you choose an offensive scheme and settle on play series, think about what would happen if one of your chess pieces comes off the board. In youth football, we don’t have the luxury of a 250 player squad. Most of our “stud” players are going to be starting on offense, defense and even play special teams, much like the 30 player High School team.
Do you really want everything to go through one player on offense in youth football? My preference is to have a system that doesn’t crumble when one player comes off the field. I like flexible offensive systems that have series that allow me to feature a “special” player, but do not have a base that REQUIRES me to have a “special” player to consistently work. My teams are always going to run the “Sainted Six Plus One” that do not require anything special out of anyone, other than sound execution. I then add in series based on the talent grouping of the kids I have and since it is modular, it just builds upon the initial series, making implementation simple. I can utilize plays from these series to “feature” a stud player, but none require it. Flexibility is a requirement in youth football, being able to move your chess pieces in and out of the game without negatively affecting the whole.
Don’t be the guy that sits at home praying your stud Quarterback isn’t going to be injured, sick, make weight or be out because of grades. I used to be like that, if my option Quarterback was a little late before a game, I would start to panic, get on my phone to see where he was all the while hoping the parents wouldn’t answer the phone and were on the way. Never again for me, I don’t want the team to be beholden to any one player. In 2005 when we won our second Select State Title, we won it with our fourth team Quarterback getting the start. Week 5 our first team broke his arm, week 9 our second team kid banged up his knee, the night before the title game, our third team kid pulled his groin at the hotel pool while slipping on some tile. Our fourth team kid had carried the ball a total of maybe 10-11 times prior to this game in mop up duty. We won it going away, in mercy rule in the second quarter. Needless to say, I don’t run the option or spread, but I wouldn’t rule it out if I had a 250 player squad.
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