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Football 101: Wide receivers benefit when offenses go to spread formation

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 6, 2014 4:26 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 10, 2014 11:40 a.m. CDT
Brett Moist / For the Northwest Herald Crystal Lake Central's Jack Ortner runs for a big gain during the third quarter against Hyde Park on Saturday. Crystal Lake Central defeated Hyde Park 49-7, advancing to the second round of the playoffs. Hyde Park's Malik Gardner was defending

Narratively speaking, there wasn’t anything special about perhaps the most impressive offensive display in McHenry County last football season.

Crystal Lake Central’s Jack Ortner didn’t have some indescribable pregame feeling that something special was about to happen, nor was there a specific game plan put in place for him. But that didn’t take away from when, over the course of one game, Ortner reeled in 19 catches, 15 of them in the first half.

The performance was one catch shy of setting a state record. And in many ways, it was foreign to the McHenry County area, an area – footballwise – that is often a display of the “old-school” ground and pound run game.

“It just kind of came with the game,” Ortner said about last season’s Week 4 matchup with Huntley. “We kept taking what they were giving us, and a lot of them were just short underneath routes.”

Within McHenry County, there is a disparity in the role of the receiver. For some teams, such as Crystal Lake Central, the receiver is a valuable offensive threat, someone who can change the game with one play. For other schools, they’re another cog in the run game.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Ortner said about being on a pass-happy team. “You get a lot balls on average each game, and it’s just fun to be on a team that throws the ball a lot.”

The role of receiver, like most positions on a football field, can be a position defined by the small details. One misstep can be the difference between a game-changing play, or jogging back to the huddle empty-handed, literally and figuratively.

“Everyone has to hustle, make every play count, because every play could be either their last play of the game or a game-deciding play,” said Marian Central’s Matt Ricchiuto, who is listed at tight end but will split out wide on occasion.

Falling on the other side of the spectrum, in terms of the split between running and passing, is Cary-Grove.

As a team last season, C-G ran the ball for 2,611 yards. One of the reasons the Trojans ran so effectively is because they could depend on their wide receivers to make perimeter blocks when they need to.

“You have to have perimeter blocking, especially in the option because when they pitch the ball, we’re the guys blocking for them,” said C-G’s Jimmy Freskos, who will line up at wide receiver and some tight end this year. “[The coaches] talk to us all the time about how important our position is.”

Because of receivers’ varying roles around the area, many of their practice schedules can look drastically different depending on the name on the front of their jerseys. At Marian Central and Crystal Lake Central, wide receivers spend most of their time running routes and catching the ball, whereas at C-G, the wide receivers, or any pass-catcher, can bide most of their time with blocking drills.

And while receivers on teams like C-G may not get thrown to often, their pass-catching abilities are certainly not downplayed or made less important.

“We only get the ball thrown to us a certain amount of times in a game, so we have to make the most of our opportunities,” Freskos said.

Amid all these differences, there does seem to be one similarity among most receivers in the area, and all position players for that matter. And that’s the anticipation of the new season.

“I’m ready for the actual season to start,” Ortner said. “I’m excited for this year.”

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