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Sports Talk: Football has changed with the times

Now that things have shaken out from this past weekend's state semi-finals at the Georgia Dome, a final tidbit from Thomson High's football season should not be ignored. Both schools that the Bulldogs lost to this season will be playing for state championships. Washington-Wilkes will play Lincoln County for the Class A crown and Dougherty will play host to Peach County in AAA. That speaks well of the kind of season Thomson had. They lost only to the best.

The Dome games that I watched on television made me start thinking about my philosophy of football, not that my philosophy means anything to anyone. I've always believed in the age old axiom that to be a championship caliber team, you have to run the ball and play great defense. I also strongly adhere to the KISS theory: keep it simple stupid.

From what I observed, this type of approach is going by the wayside. I think the old "three yards and a cloud of dust" philosophy has bitten the dust at many schools. Simplicity in offensive formations and play design has gone the way of maskless helmets and white socks.

In the 10 semi-final games a total of 419 points were scored. The average score of each game was 27.9 to 14. While these numbers may not sound astronomical, they don't exactly support the idea of strong defenses winning championships. Remember, these were the final four teams in each classification. There were only two shutouts and nine of the games saw at least one team score in double digits.

The games I saw showed me every offensive formation known. Even with the traditional I and Wing-T sets, teams were breaking from that base and spreading receivers all over the field. The skill position players were unbelievable. Many of the receivers looked and ran like college seniors. Quarterbacks had rocketlike and mostly accurate arms.

Other than Peach County, Greene County and Charlton County amazed me the most with their arsenal of backs and receivers. Their quarterbacks were exceptionally talented, if not fundamentally perfect, in their throwing mechanics. These kids could run, jump, throw and catch. Charlton County prevailed over Greene County 34-33. Their defenses were exhausted in the fourth quarter from chasing the other's jackrabbits.

What causes these schools to turn up with so many good athletes? Charlton and Greene counties aren't big cities where luck may present a gene pool of speed and sticky hands just from the sheer number of people. These are rural outposts that many people are trying to get away from, unless you're in the rich crowd on Lake Oconee.

Coffee County, Ga., used to produce athletes with such natural strength that some were called "pulpwood." Today kids might be called speedy and roadrunner. It's no wonder the coaches at these schools are throwing caution to the wind. Why waste such talent by running the ball up the middle?

Being small, one high school systems also made me think of another possibility. I wonder if they are employing assistant football coaches as elementary PE teachers. Their lesson plans could be as simple as taking the boys outside and giving them a football to throw and catch until their tongues hang out.

College coaches are saying that developing a running game is becoming more and more difficult. The athletes on defense are so fast that they simply run you down before you can get started. High school coaches may be learning that if you want to move the ball and score points you better spread the field and let the kids catch and run through space like they were on a playground.

Another aspect to this approach is that it interests kids. They may be more willing to participate when the fun parts of the game are stressed over running into each other. It's something about the big pileup in the middle of the field that many kids try to avoid.

I'll always believe in strong defensive football. But just because I do, doesn't mean that today's teenage boys do. Perhaps coaches are motivating them by throwing those rabbits a carrot called "fastbreak football." It looks like it is here to stay.



Web posted on Thursday, December 1, 2005











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