2013 Northern Division I Season Preview, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Spread Offense
by Joey Crandall, firstname.lastname@example.org
As high school football teams around Northern Nevada open training camp for the fall season today, here are a couple of points to ponder:
- Last year’s regional champion, Reed, was dealt it’s only in-region loss by Carson, who finished last place in the Sierra League.
- North Valleys, which finished last in the High Desert League, won its only game of the season in a stunner over Manogue, which took second in the Sierra League.
- Damonte Ranch did not post a win over a team that finished the season with a winning record, until the playoffs, when it stunned Reno and McQueen to advance to the regional title game.
- Carson defeated the top two teams in the High Desert League, Reed and Reno, but did not win a game in Sierra League play.
- Sixteen games last season were decided by a touchdown or less in the Northern Division I region. Twelve were decided by a field goal or less. Two were decided by one point.
- Perennial powerhouse McQueen started out the season 1-5 before rebounding to advance to the regional semifinals.
- The 11 teams in the league combined averaged 30 points per game.
What does it all mean? Well, very simply, the Northern Division I region has become a wild and fun league to watch. While Reed has won three of the last four regional titles, and no one outside of Reed or McQueen has won a regional title since 2006 (Galena), coaches in the area really mean it when they say anyone can beat anyone on any given night.
Last season went a long way toward proving that.
“You have to focus on this week’s opponent,” said Galena coach Steve Struzyk, who saw his Grizzlies claim the Sierra League title last season. “You don’t do that, and you don’t have a shot in this league.
“You have to prepare for 11 different teams. You can’t take anyone for granted. League wins are important and they are equally hard to come by. The teams that have great seasons any more are the ones that have the best focus week-to-week.”
Parity has become the key word among the Northern Division I coaches.
“Honestly, you are going to see a lot of the same thing this upcoming season,” said Reed coach Ernie Howren. “There are just a lot of really good teams out there. You have to earn it every week.”
Douglas coach Ernie Monfiletto echoed those sentiments.
“On paper, Reed is probably the front runner with as many guys as they have coming back, but it’s a situation where everyone truly is in the race,” Monfiletto said. “There’s no one you can count out and no one you can take for granted. It’s a good football league.”
Many coaches point to the evolution of the spread offense over the past decade or so (the majority of Northern Division I teams ran some form of the spread last season) for opening up the competitive floodgates in the area.
“I see a really strong offensive league again this year,” Howren said. “We throw the term spread out there, but everyone has their take on it. Douglas gives you a different look than Spanish Springs will, or than we will. You can stretch defenses out vertically and horizontally and really open up the entire field.
“Every defensive coordinator in the area has his hands full every week. Every school has their own personal touch, their own wrinkles they use within the spread. We throw that blanket term out there, but this league has gotten this competitive because of the vastly different looks you see out there.”
Struzyk’s Galena squad has largely remained in traditional two-back-and-a tight-end sets through the spread influx and has continued to see success, though.
“That’s something as far as what we do, we just wanted to stay with the philosophy of being balanced, and huddling up after every play,” Struzyk said. “We have a full back out there, two tight ends every once in a while.
“Everyone is so up-tempo now, we wanted to focus on slowing the game down and give teams a real contrast. No-huddle offense is fun until you start turning in a couple of three-and-outs in a row. Most teams around here don’t have the personnel to have kids on just one side of the ball. I know we don’t. With as many kids playing on both sides as we have, we made a decision to stick with a slower tempo. It’s worked out for the most part.”
Galena has also traditonally been one of the stronger defensive teams in the area, which Struzyk credits to an ever-growing defensive staff of coaches. Already on the Grizzlies’ sidelines are former Galena head coach Greg Sakelaris (defensive coordinator), longtime assistant Tony Edwards, former Buffalo Bills running back Roland Hooks and former Damonte Ranch head coach Tony Amantia, a defensive guru in his own right.
“You have to hire good coaches,” Struzyk said. “I haven’t had much to do with the defensive side of the ball. I put a lot of trust in those guys. We were never going to have a lot of kids in the program, or the biggest or strongest. But I knew if we had good coaches, the kids would put the work in to do what it took. I think has been our advantage in adjusting to the spread.”
Galena, which returns 75 percent of last season’s starters including quarterback Brock Raggio, inside linebacker Blake Whitlock, wide receiver-defensive back Chad Clark and standout lineman Eric Anderson, plans to combat the spread this year with a flexible 4-3 set up.
“We have to open things up more defensively,” Struzyk said. “The more no huddle we see, the more we have to get guys out of the box to stop a lot of the pass-catch stuff. It’s always interesting.”
Monfiletto, who ran a no-huddle spread almost exclusively last season, said he expects defenses around the league to start catching up.
“Everyone out there has had the offseason to really address what they do defensively,” Monfiletto said. “I know we spent a lot of time addressing it ourselves. I just think offenses have been ahead of the defenses in all of football the last couple of years, maybe for the first time in the history of football.
“You’re not dealing with defending the pro-set I-formation and the wing-T any more. It used to be more predictable, more physical. Today there is just more going on, more for the kids to see and more for the coaches to prepare for.
“With as good as the coaching is around this league, it’s only a matter of time before defenses start to catch back up.”
Douglas is primed to do just that, returning starters all over the defensive side of the ball, with the majority of those in the front seven.
This year, though, the bulk of the returning talent league-wide is on the offensive side of the ball.
“I kind of expect a lot of high-scoring games again this year,” said Howren. “People are doing their jobs defensively, limiting as much as they can, but you look at the quality of the offenses out there. It’s just a tough league to defend.”
Most Northern Division I teams opened fall camp Monday. Official practice starts Thursday and the first games are scheduled for Aug. 30.
MY PICKS FOR 2013
Best team on paper: Spanish Springs
Team most likely to win the region: Reed
Dark horses: Galena, Douglas, Reno.
Team that should surprise everyone: Hug.