The HS Coach Who Never Punts Has Come Up With A New Scheme To Confound Opponents
I love creative innovation in football, if for no other reason than to poke a sharp stick into the sides of entrenched, hard-line fundamentalists who believe that there's only one way the game should be played. Kevin Kelley is such an innovator, and his system is working.
Kelley, whose been the head coach at Arkansas private high school Pulaski Academy since 2006, has two unusual edits: his team almost never punts, and almost always onside kicks. In 12 seasons at the school, Kelley's teams have gone 77-17 with two state championships. He's only punted for times in the past four seasons.
The power of the onside kick? In one game in 2012, Pulaski led 29-0 in the first four minutes of the first quarter, and the other team had never touched the ball on offense.
And now the coach is ready to throw a new innovation into the playbook this season -- his team is gonna play some rugby. On pass plays, instead of blocking downfield, his receivers are going to run to the ball and become potential options for laterals. Washington Post:
One day, watching television, Kelley stumbled across a rugby game. That was it. Rugby teams built designed plays despite constant movement, an intricate series of laterals. Teammates didn’t block for the ball carrier; they rushed to the right spot to receive a pitch.
And so Kelley instituted a new system. When he calls out “Rugby!” before an offensive series, his wide receivers change their assignment. Rather than blocking downfield, they rush toward the receiver who catches the ball. If they’re open, they yell the receiver’s name and which side they’re on. He tells his players only to pitch the ball when they’re sure it’s safe.
Essentially, Kelley’s offense will run the option – after a completed pass down the field.
“Let’s say we could successfully complete a pitch three times a game,” Kelley said. “The guy with the ball is going to be in more one-on-one situations down the field. Even if it’s not working as well, I do think opposing coaches are going to have to change the way they defend the field.”
Kelley has been contacted by several college coaches, and even some NFL coaches, to explain his strategies. So far no other team has fully adopted what he's doing -- football coaching is pretty much a hidebound society, like I said. But look how defenses were forced to adjust when Jim Harbaugh used Colin Kaepernick on unique run-option plays in 2013 and last season.
And look at head coach Kurt Bryan of Piedmont High, near Oakland, CA. When he introduced the A-11 offense in 2007 -- in which his team ran all of its plays out of a spread punt formation to disguise its eligible receivers -- they went on a five-game winning streak and made the playoffs. Other high schools soon began to adopt the offense, but after two season and several complaints by frightened, conservative coaching opponents, the A-11 was banned by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
I've long been an advocate of taking the foot out of football as much as possible -- I think that punting should be banned from the game entirely, except for field goals. And placekicking is right out.
There was a time when the forward pass was considered a blasphemy, and look at us now -- throwing the ball all over the yard, occasionally deflating it and ending up in court. Long live the innovators.
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