Wagner High School’s Commitment to Half-Line, Guest Blog, Jason Starin OC/OL at Wagner High School, San Antonio, TX
It has been said, “We all drink from wells that we didn’t dig ...” (Deut. 6-11). This can be applicable in all areas of our lives, but most especially in coaching. At Wagner HS, we run the double slot veer, or Flexbone, as some would call it. Paul Johnson, recently retired head football coach at Georgia Tech, is commonly credited as the originator of the “Spread Option”. His innovation has influenced the game of football as much as any other coaching legend you could name. His successes include scoring records and National Championships at the NCAA DIv1-AA level, various bowl appearances, record-setting wins, ACC and National Coach of the Year honors and much more. His coaching tree includes the likes of Ken Niumatalolo, Jeff Monken and Brian Bohannon, who themselves are breaking records at their respective institutions. More locally, there is a name some of us might recognize, Kenny Wheaton. Coach Wheaton is currently an offensive consultant at Harding University and to some of us he is considered as the Godfather of High School Flexbone in Texas. All this to say… We did not come up with any of this!
This past football season was easily the most successful season ever experienced at Wagner HS. At season’s end, the staff looked back as part of our normal reflection process. We all agreed that consistency and commitment are what really contributed to our success offensively. I can honestly say as the season progressed, although tempted, we did NOT add any new plays. I think too many times coaches try to get “their” play on the call sheet during weekend game-plan meetings in the middle of the season. I have been guilty of this myself many times. I want to encourage all of you. Instead of trying to find the next vogue play, figure out what you do best and work to perfect that craft!
If you find yourself researching how to install and practice the triple-option, no matter the source or author, you will come across a few “constants”. What we will focus on in this article is how committing to Half-Line greatly increased our ability to build knowledge among the kids and coaches, improve the efficiency of our main plays and ultimately increased our ability to execute the offense.
Overall, we ran the ball 86% of the time in 2018. That percentage is indicative of how we distributed practice time. Specifically, Half-Line is on the practice schedule a minimum of two times (most often three times) per week for 15 -20 minutes. Although not the focus of this article, every day we also have at least one 15-minute Team Run segment. On Wednesdays, we have two Team Run segments. Pods, and its varieties, is also on the schedule 2-3 times per week in 20-minute segments. If you think that doesn’t sound like much, consider the fact for the last 6 weeks of the season we only had 60 minute practices.
When running the triple, game planning is not as much about your opponent, as it is about your kids being able to identify defenses, reading the stack, blocking the perimeter, etc. It is not a cliche around here; we truly focus on improving ourselves as opposed to what defense we are facing. On the other hand, scheduling and scripting practices must be very calculated.
We establish scripts by the Base defensive front our opponent has shown including their second front; and they always have a second front. The Base fronts we concern ourselves with are the 4-3, 4-2, 3-4 and 3-3 Stack. We treat base fronts similar to parent functions in algebra.
Examples of what we will show kids during the weeks we play against a 3-4 are:
Or a 4-3:
In all of the above fronts, we expect the players to be able to identify the base defense, and as the defenders change alignments, our athletes are responsible for knowing if the dive/pitch keys have changed or stayed the same. In addition, the skill players need to know if the coverage has changed to anticipate switch blocks, other perimeter blocking adjustments or voided passing zones. Furthermore, in both groupings of defenses, we will have shown the QB some kind of stacked #1/#2 as well as a version of #1/#2 on the Line of Scrimmage. The offensive line will always see a “middle stack”, a NG, a MLB and they will see both Guards covered with two ISLBs. Finally, when defenses use the same personnel to change structure we make sure to show them which defenders moved where to make that particular front. Notice in the 4-2 (Under) front that we made the same front out of a 3-4 and 4-3, but used different defenders.
We will set up two half-line drills with 8 offensive players (PSWR, 2 Slots, FB, QB, Center, PSG, PST) and 7 defenders (#1, #2, #3, D.D., A.K., MLB and Backside Safety). First-team center, first QB and varsity skill players start on the left and run through a 12-play script. At the same time, our second-team Center/QB and JV Skill players start on the right. First and second team guards and tackles rotate every 3 plays on both sides. Most of the defenders are JV offensive linemen with a few skill kids mixed in there. Whichever side the first team Center and QB are on is where our QB coach plays #1 and I play #2. We made that change a couple of weeks into the season to give the QB better reads. It was easier for the QB coach to give our QB the read we wanted him to see rather than have a JV offensive lineman do it. Since we don’t worry about backside blocking in this drill, we save time because there are fewer offensive kids and scout team players who need to get lined back up after each rep. Something to note is, in order to not be constrained into a sideline we, stagger the two groups. Ex. one group works from the 5-yard line going out and the other is ten yards up at the 15-yard line.
Examples of how we might group half-line scripts are as follows:
You might notice in these scripts that 4 out of 12 plays were play action passes. Although we only threw the ball 14% of the time, we made sure to rep our play action concepts a lot and it showed in our results. This year we had 68% pass completion and averaged 18.6 yards per completion.
Outside of half-line, we use Pods to, systematically, work on zone dive, belly, rocket and midline. Just like in half-line, we work against a variety of fronts without backside blocking in a rapid-fire fashion. Our team run period is time used for the QB to work checking plays, our misdirection runs, draws and any other compliments.
In summation, half-line was very important to us. So important, that on every game day we ran a half-line drill for 20 minutes before we loaded the bus to leave for games. Although monotonous at times, the kids sort of enjoyed the grind. Eventually, we became very efficient running the stunts we needed to see, because the J.V. o-line memorized the code words instead of having to look at blitz cards. During half-line is when the WRs and Slots came up with their own code word to communicate the corner blitz. After each game, before we unloaded the bus, I’d ask the kids what we were going to do on Monday when we showed back up to school. Their automated response, in unison, was “Half-Line!” The every-day stuff started becoming very important to them and that contributed to the development of a very selfless, blue-collar culture. When game time arrived, nothing ever surprised us. Defenses showed up in the Bear, solid fronts and tried all kinds of gimmicks, but our systematic approach to constructing half-line scripts and consistently scheduling that drill is what prepared us to handle whatever they threw at us. For example, in the tenth game of the season, we finally saw a double-eagle with stacked ISLBs, but we had already been working on that since week 2. Finally, during an interview after our Regional Semi-Final game our starting QB and one of our starting slots were being interviewed. The last question in that interview was something to the effect of, “So, now that you’ve made it to the Regional Championship, what’s next. How do you get ready for next week?” Our QB paused for a moment, looked to the side with a grin and said, “Half-Line.” As he nodded yes his teammate repeated, “Yeah, Half-Line.”
I would like to thank Matt McLeod and www.flexbonenation.com for the opportunity to share my thoughts. I am always excited to talk some option football. There are plenty of places to find out more information about triple option, but one of my favorite resources is the annual Dallas Option Clinic at Prince of Peace HS in Carrollton, TX. It is usually during the first weekend of spring break. Larry Thexton has run this clinic for years and always has top-notch speakers and info.
Best of Luck on the Upcoming Season!!