Picking up the pace: 5A teams in Treasure Valley finding success with no-huddle offenses

rroberts@idahostatesman.comOctober 11, 2013 

Timberline head coach Kirk Copeland, front left, and assistant coach Ron Hindberg give differing hand signals during a drive against Meridian on Thursday night at Dona Larsen Park. The Wolves use hand signals to relay plays for their no-huddle offense. Copeland typically has several “dummy” signal callers and one “live” caller each game to keep opponents from learning the team’s signals.

OTTO KITSINGER — For the Idaho Statesman

Offenses in the NFL and college football are playing faster and scoring more points with every season.

High school teams are doing their best to keep pace.

Six of the 10 teams in the 5A Southern Idaho Conference are using a no-huddle offense on most of their snaps. Five of those teams — Capital, Eagle, Mountain View, Rocky Mountain and Capital — occupy the top half of the league standings.

“It’s really tough on defenses. The days of the 17-14 games and the 14-10 games are kind of out the window at all levels,’’ Mountain View coach Judd Benedick said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the NFL, or college or high school,”

Here is how the six 5A SIC teams make their no-huddle offenses work:

BOISE

Coach Bob Clark knows his team doesn’t often have a size advantage over opponents. To counter that, he takes advantage of what he does have — a smart quarterback and dynamic skill players.

Senior QB Tyler Cox carries a 4.0-plus grade-point average, and Clark uses his smarts to improve the Braves’ chances against opponents.

Employing their own unique language comprised of numbers, colors and signals, Clark relays plays to his quarterback, who can run that play or call an audible.

By running a no-huddle, the Braves don’t give defenses as much of a chance to dictate play by changing formations or personnel.

“We try to find an advantage by just moving more and getting more opportunities for our skill kids,” Clark said.

The Braves have run as many as 94 plays in one game this season, but the fast pace can be a double-edged sword.

“It doesn’t always equate into success, but it gives you more opportunities,” Clark said. “Certainly some draw backs are three-and-out. ... That doesn’t necessarily bode well for you because your defense is right back out there.”

CAPITAL

Capital’s no-huddle offense took shape on a February afternoon in 2009 in a hotel room in Seattle.

While attending a coaches clinic, Todd Simis and several of his assistants decided to create signals for every formation and play in their playbook.

Since 2009, the Eagles have used those signals — and special code words for their linemen — to amass a 42-8 overall record.

“It was just one of those leaps of faith,” Simis said. “I was always nervous about (a no-huddle offense) because I was worried about communication problems, but I really think we have fewer communication problems this way than having somebody run from the sideline in and try to repeat what you said word for word.”

Junior starter Conner Poulson and his backup quarterbacks are the only players on the roster who have to know the play signals and the code words for the O-line formations.

“The way we do things, the quarterback is really important,” Simis said. “... It is a very demanding position and it takes a guy that is mentally capable of doing it.”

EAGLE

Coach Paul Peterson has an enthusiasm for creating an organized system of verbal and non-verbal cues for his no-huddle offense.

The process of reducing a complex idea into a form of communication even a “first grader can understand” has resulted in five straight appearances in the state playoffs for the Mustangs.

Peterson said the move toward a fast-paced offense is reflective of society, where the young athletes he coaches have grown up with the immediacy of cell phones, televisions, websites and social networks.

“In today’s world, with kids and technology and attention spans, they’d rather be going, going, going,” Peterson said.

Unlike the other five teams in the conference that use a no-huddle offense, Peterson added a wrinkle to his system this year by rotating between two quarterbacks.

The process of communicating with his team, however, is similar to the rest of the league.

“Some of it is decoy, some of it is coded words. Some of it is non-verbal communication, and some of it is real and some of it is not,” Peterson said.

MOUNTAIN VIEW

The evolution of Mountain View’s no-huddle offense has taken years, and in that time, coach Judd Benedick and his staff have developed a system that brings out the best in their athletes.

Four-year starting quarterback Kai Turner has helped the Mavericks master a fast-paced read option that challenges defenses to keep up with their speed.

Plays are delivered through varying forms using a combination of wristbands, hand signals, verbal cues and sign boards.

Mountain View set a school record this season, rushing for 581 yards in one game, including 327 yards from senior running back Josh Buss.

As the defensive coordinator, Benedick understands the advantage his team can gain by putting constant pressure on opponents through the use of a no-huddle.

“Playing defense against a no-huddle spread, for somebody like me who is a defensive coordinator, is a nightmare,” Benedick said. “Not only are they going fast, but they spread you out and you don’t have much time to make adjustments, and what happens is you end up staying more vanilla than you would like to.”

ROCKY MOUNTAIN

Scott Criner was one of the first coaches to consistently employ the no-huddle offense in the 5A SIC.

Criner used the system for five years as Eagle’s offensive coordinator — using quarterbacks such as Taylor Kelly (Arizona State) and Tanner Mangum (BYU) — before taking over at Rocky Mountain this season.

Given the experienced personnel that Criner inherited at Rocky Mountain, it made sense to continue to use a no-huddle offense.

Every game, Criner has four coaches giving hand signals on the sideline, but some are decoys. Linemen are given their own set of signals to indicate their blocking scheme, but they do not know the entire play call like the skill players do.

Behind senior quarterback Riley Bradshaw, the Grizzlies have run as many as 96 plays in a game and are averaging a league-best in points (49.7) and yards (545) per game.

“I think it’s all about the tempo, the pace. That’s the main reason people do it,’’ Criner said. “If I’m in a no-huddle offense, the thought is I get more reps. If I have more reps, then I get more opportunities to score touchdowns.”

TIMBERLINE

Timberline’s use of the no-huddle offense is situational, coach Kirk Copeland said.

The Wolves may use it against a certain opponent, or at a particular time in the game when they feel they can seize the momentum by picking up the pace.

When Copeland started at Timberline four years ago, he had players wear wristbands and used signals to indicate plays. The Wolves strictly use hand signals this season.

Like Rocky Mountain, Timberline has several “dummy” signal callers and a predetermined “live” caller.

The Wolves typically run between 60 and 70 plays per game, switching between a huddle and no-huddle offense.

“Sometimes you make mistakes because your kids are more concerned about doing the no-huddle and hurrying than executing the play properly,” Copeland said. “At the same time, you can take advantage of the momentum in a game when a defense is on its heels and they don’t feel confident they can stop you anyway.”

Rachel Roberts: 377-6422,Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX

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