Being Different Pays When Coaching Youth Football
While youth football and college football are worlds apart in many ways, there certainly are some similarities. How many of you are following what Paul Johnson is doing at Georgia Tech this year? Many “experts" said Johnson's Flexbone option attack would never work at the big DI level. Never mind that Johnson was hugely successful with this attack at Georgia Southern, winning two Division IAA National Championships and going 62-10 in six seasons there. Never mind that Johnson then went to Navy and using the very same offense, guided Navy to its first winning season in 14 years. His teams went 45-29 at Navy, which is a miracle turnaround compared to the 72-148 record compiled by his 4 predecessors. Mind you Navy has some serious personnel constraints due to their Military Academy status and the fact the kids have to meet very high academic and character standards as well as serve 4 years in the Service once their college playing days are over, Oh yeah, by the way, we are at war.
Georgia Tech and Paul Johnson
In Johnson's first season at Georgia Tech, his team is on the cusp of winning an ACC Title and is at 9-3. He is doing it with the exact same offense he ran at Southern and Navy, the option. He is doing this in his very first season with a team that was recruited to play a completely different offense. His quarterback is not an option quarterback, his linemen aren't option linemen. Heck his starting left offensive tackle started the season as a slot back and has never played the line at any level of football, even in his Pee Wee days. Georgia Tech also has very high admission standards that other schools aren't constrained with. Did any of you see Tech just blow out Miami and all the top talent the Hurricanes had amassed on defense, or how about the 45 points they put on SEC power Georgia last week? What Johnson has done is nothing short of amazing.
What Does This Mean for the Youth Football Coach?
But the question is why is he so successful and how can I use that information to my advantage when I'm coaching youth football? One huge reason his teams are so successful no matter where he goes is; Johnson runs a system no one else runs anymore. Teams just aren't used to defending the option. Miami and Georgia, both teams loaded with High School All-Americans and Rivals top 10 Recruiting classes, looked completely lost against Johnson's offense. These college defenses are used to seeing the spread offense or versions of it nearly every week. The defensive schemes and techniques they use to shut down the spread teams are much different than what you use to effectively play a well executing option team.
In fact some of the read and react concepts a 3 technique defensive tackle uses to defend the option are 100% contrary to what this player has learned and practiced for in the last 9 months. So you get one week to retrain that defensive tackle to “forget" what he has learned the previous 9 months and to react perfectly to his option reads in split second real time. Oh yeah lets not forget that you also have to retrain your force and alley defenders as well and remember Tech does throw a descent play action pass when you least expect it as well. That is why you see Georgia Tech going on drives where they get plays of 2 yards, 5, 8, -1, 8, 3,2,2,7, 2, 50. The defense just has a heck of a time staying perfect with their reads being done in split seconds, using techniques and schemes they use for just 1 week per year. Just one wrong read and boom it's a huge gain or 6 points.
Another thing Johnson's teams do is execute. Against Miami, Tech ran the midline option at least 22 times, in one drive sequence they ran the same midline option play 3 times in row. In the Tech and Miami games about 90% of Techs offense was the true triple option, midline and a little bit of rocket to keep the edges honest. Yes, just 3 football plays but the execution was flawless, the downfield and perimeter blocking was incredible.
Player Talent Available
Johnson also is a realist. At Navy and Georgia Tech, is he really going to be able to recruit the best passing Quarterbacks in the country? You know the 5 star kid being recruited by USC or Texas ? Is he really going to get a kid like that to go to Navy or Tech? How about that 5 star 300 lb Offensive Lineman? Is he going to get that kid over LSU or
Oklahoma? Heck at Navy they wouldn't even admit a 300 lb kid. So Johnson chose a system that allowed him to be successful with the grouping of kids he was realistically going to get.
Here in Nebraska the Huskers are set to play on January 1 in the Gator Bowl. Who does this team NOT want to play? I guarantee you it is the Georgia Tech Yellowjackets. Even with a month of preparation time, NU would much rather face another spread attack, We love the option here in Nebraska and we love to watch Johnson's offense, but we definitely do NOT want to see it being run against us.
Applying This to Your Youth Football Team
What does this mean to the local youth football coach? Should you shuck your current offense and sell out to an option attack? I'm not sure. I coached Nebraska style “I" option football for 7 years at the youth level. We did fairly well for 4 of those 7 seasons, winning 2 League Titles. But when I didn't have a smart and athletic Quarterback and a difference maker at Tailback, we struggled ( really need to have 2 good Quarterbacks in that offense). I just couldn't count on having that type of talent every year when I coached non-select teams. I also didn't want to practice 5 nights a week anymore, we wanted to go to a 3 nights a week format.
What Johnson's offense means to you is you should consider running something that you have the talent and time for as well as something that is different than what everyone else in your league is running. It means you should perfect a handful or complementary series based football plays that put the defense in conflict. It means you don't run 40-60 plays in some disjointed playbook. These are some of the main reasons we run the Single Wing offense with our youth football teams. Less than 3% of youth football teams are running this offense. Your opponents just are not used to defending this attack and some of the unique series or blocking schemes we use like the full spin, half spin, wedge, jet, traps etc Most youth football teams have lots of “I", Pro, Spread, “Multiple" and even Wishbone or Double Wing teams, but how many Single Wing teams do you see? Very very few. It's a series based offense based on putting a defense in conflict and execution, it isn't an offense that relies on great talent making huge plays.
So all the “experts" and naysayers have been proven wrong so far about Paul Johnson. That “%$3&’ won't work in big time DI football, they said. You don't see the pros run it they said. Same goes for the Single Wing, we are seeing it with more and more High School teams as well as of course Florida and Mississippi in the SEC and of course now in the NFL with the Dolphins and Ravens. Hopefully the Single Wing won't get too popular, because how effective can you really be running what everyone else is running unless you have the very best players? How much fun would that be? It would all be about recruiting or drafting players and very little to do with coaching.
Dave is a Nike “Coach of the Year" Designate and speaks nationwide at Coaches Clinics. His book “Winning Youth Football a Step by Step Plan" was endorsed by Tom Osborne and Dave Rimington. His personal teams using this system to date have won 90% of their games in 5 Different Leagues.
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