As spread offenses continue to roll, area coaches are increasingly opting for nontraditional strategies to gain an edge, whether it’s an onside kick to start a game or a fake punt with a lead.
“We’re in a fast-break style of football,” Mansfield Lake Ridge coach Kirk Thor said. “There’s a lot of calculated risks. I think the way a lot of offenses are geared now, sometimes the extra 30 yards [of field position] is worth the risk.”
Translation: If you go to a game, don’t be surprised to see a special teams quirk.
• Lake Ridge beat Mansfield Legacy 59-32 last week and spent the entire first half employing either onside or squib kicks.
• Arlington Martin beat Arlington Lamar 67-20 on Sept. 26 and led the whole game, but also recovered several onside kicks and converted a fake punt.
• Keller Central trailed Hurst L.D. Bell by two touchdowns on Aug. 29, but took a lead after recovering a pooch kick in the third quarter.
“Every play basically comes down to three things: numbers, angles and personnel,” Martin coach Bob Wager said. “We don’t think about kicking onside kicks, because the situation dictates it. We do it because it’s there.”
Last week, Fort Worth Arlington Heights started its game against Fort Worth South Hills with an onside kick. It was a counterintuitive move at the time, given that South Hills entered as the highest scoring team in the state. And it backfired.
The ball sailed straight out of bounds, and South Hills scored three minutes later after starting on the Yellow Jackets’ 49.
But Heights coach Phil Young tried to trick the Scorpions twice more and succeeded both times, scoring touchdowns after two onside recoveries. The Yellow Jackets eventually won 66-48.
Young said he knew his team would need any possession they could sneak away from South Hills. On Friday, his kickoff team was an extension of his defense.
“It’s kind of like arena ball,” Young said. “If you get a stop or two, you can win the game.”
Conversely, the possibility for more onside kicks has changed the makeup of return units.
A decade ago, Arlington Sam Houston coach Anthony Criss might have put three players who could handle ball on his normal return team. Now he has eight.
The strategy has changed dramatically, Wager said.
“If you look at our front line on kickoff return, what used to be 50 and 60 and 70 numbers, are now 2, 7 and 10 — they’re all skill guys,” Wager said. “When you think about it, kickoff return used to be let’s all hunker down and build a wedge.”
The extreme end of the risk-reward spectrum can be found in Little Rock, Ark. Pulaski Academy, which played Highland Park this year, never punts and attempts onside kicks nearly every time.
While Martin and other area teams are far from doing that, Wager said Pulaski’s strategy isn’t just a gimmick.
“I think it’s a component of the constantly evolving game of football,” Wager said. “Fifteen years ago, our goal in three tries was to get a first down. Now our goal in three tries is to get a touchdown. The game has opened up so much.”
Player of the Week awards
With nearly 13,000 votes cast among 10 nominees, Arlington Sam Houston wide receiver Darrion Flowers is the dfwVarsity Player of the Week for Oct. 23-24. Flowers received 5,190 votes, followed closely by the 5,045 garnered by Mansfield Lake Ridge running back Duke Carter.
Coaches, send nominations to firstname.lastname@example.org. Check the website Monday for Week 10 picks.
At Kennedale, running back Juwan Washington is scheduled Friday to receive a Built Ford Tough Texas player of the week award for his 304-yard, six touchdown performance Sept. 26 against Dallas Carter.