Spreading the field
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Leave it to a former quarterback to embrace an offense centered around, well, a quarterback.
Those familiar with Glenwood Springs football are well acquainted with shotgun sets and receivers spread all across the line of scrimmage. It’s the foundation of the spread option offense head coach Rocky Whitworth, who played quarterback in high school and college, has been fine-tuning ever since he assumed control of the Demon football program in 2004.
“I’ve been involved in this offense for probably about 10 years,” said Whitworth, who coached at Grandview High School on the Front Range and had already amassed a quarter-century of coaching experience before coming west. “You know, it just came about when you have quarterbacks that are athletic ” that can run and throw.”
The Demons have that kind of quarterback.
Senior Dakota Stonehouse has leveled his fair share of damage both with his arm and feet during his three years as a varsity starter. Whitworth and Stonehouse also have all the complementary pieces at their disposal ” sure-handed receivers, a shifty, hard-nosed running back and a quick offensive line.
Those pieces have meshed to form an incredibly potent Glenwood offense, one that reacts to what the defense gives and wreaks havoc both by air and by ground.
It’s a multi-layered offense that torments defenses in every way imaginable.
And it’s an offense that’s perfectly tailored to the players in the Demons’ offensive cabinet, one which houses a veritable perfect storm of talent that’s propelled the Demons to the 3A state semifinals.
In their two playoff wins, the Demons powerful offense has scored 52 and 50 points.
Taking what’s given
When Whitworth began toying with the spread, few teams in Colorado were running it.
“I kind of learned it through clinics,” he said. “I traveled to some college campuses, you know, just learned it through osmosis. Then it evolved.”
Though you still don’t see many teams employing a spread attack on the Western Slope, it has since caught on elsewhere ” particularly in college football, where coaches like Rich Rodriguez (West Virginia and Michigan) and Urban Meyer (Utah and Florida) have thrust the offense into the limelight.
“Once teams got into the shotgun and started to run the ball and not just throw it, the offense took off,” Whitworth said. “People realized that you could have a running game and be in the shotgun, instead of just running.”
That’s a caveat the Demons have mastered. Look no further than running back Mike Hudson to see the offense’s benefits in the ground game.
“It’s awesome,” said the senior back, who’s churned out 1,432 yards on the ground in 12 games this season. “They throw the ball and the defenses play the pass and the running lane just slices right open and they’re not ready for it.”
Those numbers go nicely with the 2,307 passing yards and 718 rushing yards posted by Stonehouse, melding to fuel an offensive attack that’s averaging more than 43 points a game this season.
It’s all about taking what the defense gives, which is something Whitworth talks about all the time.
“We definitely don’t just force our will on people,” the coach said. “We don’t just line up and say we’re running off tackle. We have to very often just take what we can.”
That means much of the onus falls on the quarterback. Although plays are called from the sideline via signals, Stonehouse has the liberty to audible based on what he sees from the gun.
“If we get up to the line and I see something different or strange, I can attack them in a different spot or something,” Stonehouse noted.
“He audibles all the time,” Hudson said. “If he sees the defense is going to shut down the play we’re going to do, he audibles to something that gets us a touchdown.”
And all this is done without a huddle. After each play, the offense returns to the line and looks to the sideline for the signals. Then Stonehouse takes care of the rest.
“I get the signals,” Stonehouse said, “and every play has a word. I say the word to the offensive line. Sometimes we change the language so the other teams don’t pick up on it.”
It takes the right personnel to run such a precision-based attack, and Whitworth has complete trust in the manager of his offense.
“(Dakota) manages the offense and he’s done a great job,” he said. “He not only makes decisions, but he’ll get us in and out of plays that have a better chance with some audibles.”
Just as his coach trusts him, Stonehouse has trust in his teammates.
“Receivers make a good quarterback,” the quarterback said. “You have all those talented receivers and backs we can get the ball to. It’s important to have all those guys.”
Guys like Kevin Screen, who leads the team in receptions (40) and receiving yards (720) or Connor Riley (33 and 699). And, of course, there’s Hudson, who provides the offense with the balance that makes it so lethal.
It’s a group that’s played together since elementary school, a group that’s done its best to absorb Whitworth’s offense like a sponge from the moment its members stepped onto the practice field as varsity players.
Picking up the spread offense is no easy task. The playbook is as thick as a big-city phonebook and there are variations on every play and variations triggered by whatever the defense shows.
“Some plays can get really confusing,” Stonehouse admitted. “We have pass routes where, if they’re playing zone, the receivers have to change their routes to something else.”
While there’s a lot for the Demon players to take in, there in turn is a lot that can be thrown at opposing defenses.
“We just have so many routes, so many plays,” Screen said. “We can just mix it up and keep them guessing. The defense never really knows what we’re doing.”
To get to this point, the Demons have put the time in on the practice field. Repetition is the only way to perfect the offense.
“We’re just always doing it,” Screen said. “We’re always practicing. It’s a pretty big playbook, I would say. We have a lot of different stuff.”
But it’s stuff Whitworth’s team is more than capable of handling.
“It’s not what the coaches know, it’s what the players know,” the veteran coach joked. “We only go as far as what they can execute.”
Lucky for Whitworth and his 12-0 Demons, that’s pretty far. Time will only tell just how far.
It the Demons win two more games, they will bring home a state title.
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