Cary-Grove coach Brad Seaburg considers his offense a throwback. Relying on an option-style running attack, the Trojans pound the ball behind big burly linemen. Last season, they amassed 2,611 rushing yards and plenty of clouds of dust. Because of their success, they stick with it year after year.
But increasingly, Cary-Grove is an outlier in the Fox Valley Conference and across McHenry County, which has seen a rise in the number of teams trading in the Wing-T for the shotgun. Call the spread in vogue, if you will. Everyone is searching for an edge.
Crystal Lake Central coach Matt Fralick made the switch toward the end of the 2012 season, before fully implementing the spread last season. The impetus, he said, was to better utilize skill position talent like then-quarterback Kyle Lavand and all-area first-team wide receiver Jack Ortner, who ended up catching 79 passes for 1,360 yards in the new-look offense.
“We don’t get enormous linemen like some of the other programs,” Fralick said. “When we play bigger teams, we just can’t run the ball through them, so I figured, well, maybe we can go over ’em.”
For the Tigers, another reason was to avoid the sort of grind-it-out style. By installing no-huddle packages, they can play more up-tempo, and more than anything, get the ball to playmakers like Ortner and running back Ryan Williams, a returning 1,000-yard rusher, in space.
“The skill kids fit the system well,” Fralick added. “That’s why we went to it. Basically, that’s what our strengths were from a talent standpoint.”
Most teams that shy away from the option for either pro-style offenses or the spread seem to view the switch as a way to better utilize their top talent.
“Over there, they’re all going to run the option regardless if they have a great quarterback or a great (running) back,” Jacobs coach Bill Mitz said of Cary-Grove. “They’re not going to change, for whatever reason. But I’ll change to what I think our personnel is.”
Mitz, who spent nearly three decades at Stevenson in Lincolnshire, says he has trotted out different systems over the years and likes to tailor his system toward his team’s personnel. This year, it’s running back Josh Walker, who ran for more than 1,000 yards as a junior last season.
“I’m not going to try to make Walker an option guy,” said Mitz, who enters his fifth season with the Golden Eagles. “I think he can be a jitterbug, where we want to get him the ball in the flat or in the open field to try to create mismatches in space versus just pounding it in there all the time.”
Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp, who hasn’t turned in his playbook, shrugs at the new wave of offenses.
“It’s popular,” he said. “College teams are doing it. It’s what they see on TV. That’s the thing to do.”