No-huddle gathering steam

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The Bishop Eustace offensive line looks to their wrist for the play. (Bishop Eustace/Staff Photographer)

Camden Catholic football coach Nick Strom says he watches his language around his team.

"We don't use the 'H' word," Strom said.

Every other South Jersey team is allowed to say the word huddle.

But fewer and fewer are doing it.

It's one thing for a young, innovative first-year coach such as Strom or an iconoclast such as Pennsville's Ryan Wood or a mad scientist of an offensive coordinator such as Paul VI's Russ Horton to feature spread, no-huddle systems.

It's something else when old-school veteran coaches such as Paulsboro's Glenn Howard and Williamstown's Frank Fucetola and Shawnee's Tim Gushue - guys who have been in charge of programs for a combined 79 years and have won a combined 604 games - are singing the praises of the fast-paced system.

Gushue, who is 216-101-5 in 32 seasons, can list 11 reasons that his team, which is as fundamentally sound and tradition-bound as any other program in the state, never huddles anymore.

Gushue said the increased tempo makes offensive players more focused, saves the linemen a lot of steps - "Our offensive-line guys love it," the coach said - and gets the whole team in better shape because of the faster pace of practices.

Gushue and other coaches also note that today's players prefer the system because they watch it a lot on television, especially during Eagles games.

Paul VI coach John Doherty said Eagles coach Chip Kelly's influence actually began to filter down to the high schools when his teams at Oregon became wildly popular because of both their success and their furious pace (as well as their outlandish uniforms).

"I would say it trickled down from watching colleges like Oregon," said Doherty, whose own Eagles run a no-huddle spread under the direction of Horton, the creative former head coach at Moorestown.

Fucetola's teams at Williamstown were among the leading proponents of the wing-T offense for several years. Now, the Braves run a no-huddle spread.

"We wanted to get our athletes in space and quicken the pace," Fucetola said. "The kids love it."

Howard's teams at Paulsboro featured an "I" formation in recent seasons after running a version of the wishbone option for many years. Now, the Red Raiders also run a no-huddle spread.

"I like it," Howard said. "It's a lot of fun for the kids. It creates a lot of opportunities."

There are no official statistics about this trend. But anecdotally, it seems as if close to half the teams in South Jersey are running no-huddle offenses, at least at times.

Four of the first five teams in The Inquirer's South Jersey rankings - No. 2 Shawnee, No. 3 Timber Creek, No. 4 Haddonfield, and No. 5 Camden - run the no-huddle offense, along with No. 14 Paul VI, No. 16 Camden Catholic, No. 18 Burlington Township, No. 19 Williamstown, No. 21 Bishop Eustace, and No. 24 Collingswood.

Coaches say the offense provides opportunities for their top athletes to operate in space, allows the offense to dictate the game's pace to the defense, and enables the offensive coordinator (or, at times, the quarterback) to make play calls based on the defense's pre-snap alignment.

The offense is extremely popular among quarterbacks such as Camden Catholic junior Tyree Rodgers and Palmyra junior Max Smyth, who have thrown a combined 33 touchdown passes for teams that are a combined 10-2.

"It's so much fun," Smyth said. "You set the tempo against the defense."

Another advantage is the fast pace in practice, which creates more repetitions for both the offense and defense.

"When I visit youth teams, I'm always telling them, 'Don't huddle,' " Strom said. "You get better with practice repetitions, and you get so many more repetitions when you go no-huddle."

Cherry Hill West coach Brian Wright, who was a lineman for Gloucester Catholic and Rowan, said the offense's fast pace forces teams to "simplify" things, and that's another advantage.

"The kids go play without having to remember detailed information," Wright said.

Wright wanted his team to learn how to huddle last season, just in case it wanted to slow the game.

"They had no idea about the concept of what we were trying to do," Wright said. "We had to build a huddle period into our practice plan to get our kids comfortable getting into a huddle."

Strom swears he never uses the word.

Even during special-teams periods in practice, Strom said he won't ask his team to execute the dreaded "H" word."

Said Strom: "We tell them to gather."

 


panastasia@phillynews.com

@PhilAnastasia

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