The A-11 OffenseDECEMBER 27, 2008
- Piedmont High quarterback Jeremy George
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The Piedmont High Football team in California was getting a regular wallop in its division from larger schools and competitors - until its coaches brainstormed a new and brilliant offensive strategy. Taking advantage of some loopholes in high school ball rules, they devised a crazy new offense called the A-11 that takes advantage of the "scrimmage kick" formation. If you have no idea what that is, you're not alone, but the strategy started working. The Piedmont Highlanders began winning and that led reporter Roman Mars to Piedmont, California to witness what some are saying is the future of football.
In the Piedmont Football locker room before the big game with their undefeated conference rivals Encinal, Head Coach Kurt Bryan tries to psych up his team. "Tonight, it's like everything is on the line," he tells them. "Piedmont tradition is built upon upsets. We've got 31 Rudys on the team. Nobody's giving us a chance tonight."
You've seen the movie. It's 4th and 10, in the bottom of the ninth, and Rocky's already been knocked down twice. Or something like that. But in the traditional narrative, the undersized underdog has one ace up his sleeve, a trick play so cunning that it throws everyone for a loop.
Now imagine that the underdog has 16,000 aces up his sleeve and you'll begin to understand the appeal of the A-11 high school football offense. Offensive Coordinator Steve Humphries breaks it down like this: "We are going to have a different shaped formation. We are going to make the defense think about what's happening. It doesn't matter to us whether they think a trick play is coming becauseiiii¿½i¿½ii¿½i¿½iii¿½i¿½ii¿½i¿½ on every play something different is going to be coming at you. We want to make one of those great plays that wins the football game on every play."
Steve Humphries and Kurt Bryan developed the A-11 offense as a way for their small school with generally smaller players to compete against some of the powerhouse teams in their division. From high above in the bleachers, the basic A-11 formation looks something like this: Three receivers are out wide to the right, three receivers are wide to the left. There's a center with two players on either side. Two quarterbacks are in the shotgun formation, seven yards behind the center, who snaps the ball. So there are players spread out the entire width of the field, eliminating the tight offensive line formation often used in football.
All 11 players are potential receivers, hence the name "A-11." The defense doesn't know who is actually a down field threat until the very last moment when the ball is snapped. And since there can be two quarterbacks, the defense doesn't even know who's getting the ball to begin with. It's a fun and confusing strategy to watch - and that's the point. When a Yale professor calculated the increase in the number of A-11 offensive permutations in comparison to the standard football formation he got a result that surprised even Humphries. The amount of possible combinations went from 35 to over 16,600. "What's neat about that is it lends itself to so much different strategy," says Humphries. Bryan adds, "It creates nine, 10 or 11 one-on-one battles, little islands, so it's fun for the players because they never know who's going to touch the football and it's very exciting for the fans to watch."
This year's starting quarterback is Jeremy George, who says it took him a while to get used to the A-11 offense. Once it started to click, though, it was a lot of fun. "Last year we had Brian Lipkin. Both of us played quarterback and he would get the snap sometimes and I would be blocking, or faking to the right, and I'd let him throw that ball and we worked really well together," says George.
Ultimately, Piedmont loses the game against the Encinal Jets. Everyone on both sides agrees that the Jets were simply a stronger team. "It goes to show that no matter how hyped up this offense is, you know it's not perfect," says George. "Encinal was just a better team."
But the team has definitely benefited from their innovative offensive strategy, according to Coach Bryan. It could've been a lot worse, he explains, "if we'd lined up in a conventional offense all night." Against a team like Encinal, "they would just man up on us and it would be brutal."
And that's the general consensus on the new experimental offense: Piedmont doesn't win every time, but whether they lose or win, they're always in the game. The success of the A-11 has not gone unnoticed in small schools around the country, and several have adopted it as a strategy, including two schools in California and one in Alabama. "There were so many coaches in the same boat we were iniiii¿½i¿½ii¿½i¿½iii¿½i¿½ii¿½i¿½ and this simply gives them a better fighting chance," says Bryan. All three teams are doing well this season.
Even after their loss against Encinal, the Piedmont Highlanders have gone on to win their next three games, keeping their playoff hopes alive. And after the season wraps up, the creators of the A-11 offense, Kurt Bryan and Steve Humphries, will hit the road to teach their new method at coaching clinics across the country.