With up-tempo spread offenses now the norm in college and high school football – the scheme is even creeping into the National Football League – it should surprise no one that District 5-AAA coaches have embraced an offense that can produce staggering statistics and enable strong-armed quarterbacks to become modern-day gunslingers.
At the district’s annual preseason media day on Thursday at the Holiday Day Inn Express in Ooltewah, each of the top four teams in balloting by coaches and media representatives features a high-octane offense with a superlative signal caller pulling the trigger.
East Hamilton has Hunter Moore.
Brody Binder leads the Ooltewah attack.
Austin Herink, a left-hander, directs Cleveland’s offense.
And, at Bradley Central, Brett Standifer controls the reins.
All four quarterbacks are seniors.
The story of Standifer at Bradley Central is the most intriguing.
The 6-foot-2-inch, 220-pound Standifer, threw for 1,283 touchdowns and nine touchdowns in 2012 – at Soddy-Daisy. Through his junior season, Standifer had thrown for 3,100-plus yards.
Before the Trojans’ disappointing 2-8 season had even wrapped up, though, Standifer and his father were researching a possible transfer away from Soddy-Daisy. They checked out school websites, studied team rosters to determine which players would graduate and which would return in 2013, and which team could use a quarterback.
The Standifers focused on Bradley Central.
The Bears were losing veteran starter Bryce Copeland, one of the most prolific offensive weapons in Bradley history. And coach Damon Floyd used basically the same offense Soddy-Daisy utilized during Standifer’s time there.
“It was almost like, I guess, when a high school player is trying to choose which college to attend,” Standifer said. “Bradley had all the right answers for me and it was the best fit.”
Standifer enrolled at Bradley Central in January and went through spring practice with the Bears, along with four other quarterback candidates.
On Thursday, Floyd, who is entering his eighth season at Bradley, declared Standifer the starter. The other four players will contribute at other positions.
“He’s our guy,” Floyd said of Standifer.
“It’s always tough leaving friends, kids you’ve grown up with,” Standifer said in a one-on-one interview with Chattanoogan.com. “Some of my best friends are still at Soddy-Daisy. “I moved to Cleveland and I’ve been accepted with open arms. Guys have been showing me around and I’m feeling at home.”
Standifer expects a heated, but friendly game when Soddy-Daisy, under new coach Justin Barnes, visits Bear Stadium in Cleveland on Oct. 25.
“I’ve know those guys since rec league ball and the game is Week 9 when people are competing hard for the playoffs and they’re going to want to hit me,” Standifer said. “I would expect some hits, but it’s going to be fun.”
Standifer hopes to lead Bradley to its fourth straight postseason appearance in 2013. Soddy-Daisy hasn’t reached the playoffs since 2010.
Bradley was picked to finish fourth this season in District 5-AAA by the coaches and second in the media poll. The Trojans were picked last in both polls.
“I’m really looking forward to the season,” Standifer said.
The 6-foot-1-inch, 210-pound Moore had a solid 2012 season for a run-first, pass-second team that lost to Giles County, 22-16, in the playoff quarterfinals.
Reaching the postseason was set up by East Hamilton’s second straight District 6-AA championship set in motion by a season-opening, 55-14, crushing of Signal Mountain. The Hurricanes lost one regular-season game – that a 31-28 loss to Ooltewah in their second game – and knocked off Marshall County and Page in first- and second-round playoff victories.
Moore was a key player in that impressive season-long run, completing 102-of-175 passes (58 percent) for 1,577 yards and 15 touchdowns with just one interception.
He’s looking for more this season.
“We gained a lot of confidence from our success last year,” Moore said, “and a lot of young players got a chance to play some football. I think the spread offense is pretty important to us because 5-AAA is a pretty physical brand of football. The defenses are going to be tougher and you’ve got to be prepared each week on the offensive side of the ball.”
Hurricanes coach Ted Gatewood likes to line up and run the football and his philosophy is not a secret to anyone.
A year ago, Gatewood had tailback Logan Jackson, who rushed for 1,624 yards and 25 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending knee injury in a 38-0 rout of Marshall County.
Jackson earned Tennessee Sports Writers Association All-State honors and is now a preferred walk-on at UT-Chattanooga.
Back-up running backs Matt Milita and Lemond Greer rushed for a combined 1,277 yards and 17 touchdowns and Milita is back for his senior season.
Moore’s top returning receivers are wideout Tony Francois (18 receptions, 240 yards, 3 TDs), tight end Austin Gatewood (12-188-0), wide receiver Tre Herndon (9-167-1), who has committed to Vanderbilt, and tight end Bailey Lenoir (12-143-3).
“We’re not doing anything different because we’re switching districts,” Moore said. “We’re not making it a big deal, but we do want to show a different district just how we play football. We want to be prepared to play a tough schedule.”
Herink is perhaps the most widely known of the four quarterbacks.
The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder, who was chosen last year’s District 5-AAA Quarterback of the Year, completed 202 of 316 passes for almost 2,300 yards and 20 touchdowns, with just six interceptions.
This summer Herink participated in one of two seven-on-seven competitions with the Blue Raiders and performed at college camps at Duke, Mississippi State, Tennessee, Middle Tennessee, Cincinnati, Furman, Western Kentucky, among others.
“There were a bunch of them,” he said. “It was my fourth time going through the camp circuit and I was more comfortable this time.”
Herink’s hopeful that a second season under Blue Raiders coach Ron Crawford will prove more comfortable with everyone involved at Cleveland High.
“Last year we didn’t know what was going on with the new coaching staff, the new offense and I was a first-year quarterback,” Herink said. “We’re a year older and more mature. We’ve got 18 seniors and that’s a big deal.”
One of those seniors is receiver D.J. Jones, who had 54 catches for 689 yards and 11 touchdowns a year ago. Tyler Davis and Parker Smith combined for 62 receptions for 710 yards and five touchdowns.
“We definitely have enough talent to do some big things,” Herink said.
Ooltewah’s Brody Binder also was new to the role of starting quarterback in 2012.
Binder, a standout baseball player for the Owls, performed admirably in leading Ooltewah to the Class 5A quarterfinals where it lost to Columbia, 31-13, and finished 9-4 in coach Shannon Williams’ final season.
Williams was succeeded by Mac Bryan, who will continue the spread offense but with a more up-tempo pace with the expectation of more passing.
“Last year we ran the ball more than we passed,” said Binder, who threw for 1,326 yards and 15 touchdowns with eight interceptions. Binder’s 42.6 completion percentage on 87-of-204 passes needs to improve this season and he’s ready for that challenge.
“I think there will be more on my shoulders, more pressure, but I love that,” Binder said. “We’re going to be in a no-huddle offense like last year, but we’ll be a lot quicker with it this year.”
“I don’t know about Oregon quick,” Binder said, “but we’ll be as quick as we can. I love slinging the ball around and we have to throw and catch the ball to make the run work.”
A stronger passing game could open up holes for preseason all-state running back Desmond Pittman (by murphyfair.com), who is a 6-foot, 230-pound bruiser. He rushed for 1,476 yards and 16 touchdowns last season, averaging 6.1 yards per carry.
In 2012, the Owls rushed for 2,533 yards and passes for 1,326. The gap between those numbers might not be as wide in 2013.
“I love slinging the ball around,” Binder said. “And we’ve got some guys like Mike Williams, Anthony Turner, Edward Hayes and some others that can really catch the ball.”
Williams was the Owls’ leading receiver in 2012 with 37 catches for 722 yards and nine touchdowns.
The confidence Binder and his teammates gained from last year’s success could play a big role in how the Owls do this season.
“For me, doing well last year built my confidence because I was young and hadn’t played a lot of football,” Binder said. “A lot of guys are like that.”
While two-time defending champion McMinn County was picked to finish fifth in both polls, the Cherokees may not be ready to give up the district throne just yet, no matter what the top four contenders – and their talented quarterbacks – have in mind.
“We were overlooked the past two years when we were picked to finish fifth,” Cherokees strong safety Trevor Crisp said. “People doubted us the last two years and we won. Our confidence this year is as high as ever. We’ll be OK.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at email@example.com)