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April 25, 2008
The Evolution Of Arkansas High School Football
Over the years, Arkansas High School Football has evolved. In the past, running teams dominated, but over the past 10 years or so, we have seen more pass oriented teams start peaking as the power house teams in the state.
With the classifications renewing, and smaller schools moving up into larger classifications, the coaches are seeing that they must "open it up" more. I've seen teams who dominated with the running attack in 2A ball, have to switch to a more balanced/passing attack in 3A ball, simply in order to be able to keep up with the competition as well as to be able to have any chance to win games.
Teams are also having to work on defense as well for the same reasons. In lower classifications, there were not a whole lot of passing teams. I equate that with Shiloh Christian's early success under offensive master mind Gus Malzahn. In 2A ball, most of the teams ran the ball, so they also ran defenses which defended against the run.
People like Malzahn exposed that, and had a lot of success off of it because people in 2A rarely had to defend the pass unless they played Shiloh. All of the other 2A power house team (Barton, Rison, Junction City, etc) all had running attacks, and that is what defenses prepared for.
This is what helped the evolution begin. Coaches like Malzahn knew that the defenses prepared for running teams more than passing teams, because quite frankly, in the lower classifications, there were not many passing teams. This was where Malzahn was able to expose a weakness in the late 90's at Shiloh Christian High School.
Shiloh was a 2A school. In the 90's, teams like Barton, Bauxite, Carlisle, and Rison were winning multiple State Championships, and were known as the 2A power house teams. They also featured running attacks that everyone else in 2A feared, and prepared for. With that being a key factor, Malzahn was able to use the No Huddle, Spread Offense to his advantage. Once he got his team conditioned to run the offense, there were no defenses in 2A ball who could defend against it for the entire length of a game. Running the No Huddle wore the defenses down, and allowed Malzahn's team to come out victorious against many good teams.
Because of this, other coaches in 2A knew they had to start preparing their defenses to defend the high powered spread attack that Malzahn and Shiloh Christian brought to the table.
December 9, 2000 was the first time that Shiloh Christian was faced with a 2A defense that was actually able to match their speed of the game, as well as defend against their passing attack. On that night at War Memorial Stadium, Gus Malzahn and his Shiloh Christian Saints were playing for a Third Straight Class 2A State Championship. Across the field was Clay Totty and his Rison Wildcat football team.
Going into the season from the first day of two-a-day practices, Totty and his staff knew if they were to win State, that they would have to defeat Malzahn and his Shiloh Christian Saints somewhere down the line in the playoffs. Because of that, Totty and his staff put in the "Shiloh Defense" on day one if practice, and his team practiced that defense for at least 30 minutes of every practice throughout the 2000 season.
Where Totty's Wildcat's typically ran a 4-3 base defense, this "Shiloh" defense was a 3-3-5 zone defense built to defend a high powered passing attack. It was decided early that no one would rush the quarter back, and everyone with the exception of the linemen would drop into pass coverage.
Practice paid off as Rison was able to defeat Shiloh Christian 30-29 in over time. Until that game, Shiloh Christian enjoyed a 44 game unbeaten streak with this high powered no huddle spread offense. This, however, would not be the last of Malzahn or his high octane offense. It was only the beginning.
Fast forward to the year 2005, and lets go to Springdale High School. There, again, Gus Malzahn had employed his high powered no huddle spread offense, but this time, in the highest classification in the state, and with some of the most talented skill players to ever come out of the state.
Springdale High featured Parade All American Quarter Back Mitch Mustain, Wide Receiver Damian Williams, and a host of other D1 prospects. Springdale was ranked Nationally, and went on to win the 2005 Class 7A State Championship, while being undefeated.
Now, this story is not about just Gus Malzahn, Shiloh Christian, Rison, or Springdale. This is about the evolution of Arkansas High School Football from power running teams, to power passing teams.
Malzahn set the footwork for what would help put Arkansas High School Football back on the map. Around the State of Arkansas, you now have teams like Warren, Glen Rose, Camden Fairview., Central Arkansas Christian, Springdale, Shiloh Christian, and countless others who have had great success running the spread offense.
All the while, we have also witnessed power house teams from smaller classifications move up into higher classifications and struggle, while having to revamp their offenses and defenses in order to compete with the teams at their new level.
The 2008 recruiting class out of Arkansas showed that the spread offense is helping to send quality athletes to college to play football. Kids like Joe Adams, Jim Youngblood, DeAnthony Curtis, Chris Gragg, Jarius Wright, Greg Childs, Cruz Williams, and a host of others signed on to play for the Arkansas Razorbacks under new head coach Bobby Petrino, due to the fact that he will run a high powered spread offense much like they ran in high school.
There are still several Arkansas High School Football teams having success on the ground with the running attack, and there will always be teams who do. There will be colleges that want kids from high schools like that, as they have success with the ground attack. The spread offense is not for every body, but it is obvious that it has had a tremendous impact on how football is now being played in our state, and how it is effecting recruiting in our state, as well as helping coaches move from the high school stadium to the collegiate stadium. In my opinion, Coach Gus Malzahn was the first coach to leave Arkansas High School football to go on and have success at the college level with this type of offense, but he will not be the last.
Now, this brings us back to defensive play. With the evolution of the spread passing game, defenses, and defensive players have had to evolve as well. Coaches are seeing that they can not just prepare for one offensive strike anymore, they must have their teams prepared to face a passing attack, a running attack, or even a balanced attack on any given Friday night. Some coaches have had to revamp defenses that they have ran for years because of the various offensive attacks that are being ran throughout the state.
With the evolution on both sides of the ball, it is helping to produce quality athletes at various positions, as well as helping those athletes obtain college educations because of their hard work both on and off of the football field.
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