Panthers mastering the art of misdirection
By KEITH SPARKS
Camera operator for the Liberty Hill High School football program might be the most difficult job in sports.
If you’ve watched a Panther football game, you’ve likely thought to yourself, “Who has the ball?” Well, opposing defenses have, too. This, of course, is by design.
In fact, the Liberty Hill coaching staff rewards players who fool the defense enough on play fakes to get tackled without the ball. Each player gets a sticker on his helmet for making impact plays throughout the season. Being tackled without the ball is considered one of those impact plays. That’s how important those play fakes are to Liberty Hill’s “Slot T” offense.
According to Panthers’ Head Coach Jerry Vance, the fake handoffs in the backfield are the catalysts that allow the Panther offense to succeed by keeping the defense off-balance and setting up big opportunities for his quarterback.
“That’s part of our system,” Vance said. “We make a living on carrying out fakes. We give pride awards for being tackled while carrying the fakes. When you look out there and everybody’s running to the ball and nobody’s paying attention to Garrett (Wright), you say, ‘Huh, okay, well let’s run what we do with him carrying the ball.’”
Although the Panthers have never run drills that specifically focus on carrying out play fakes, it’s incorporated into everything they do on a daily basis.
“It’s our offense,” Vance said. “Every day we go out and practice a 300 series or a 200 series, and everybody has to carry out their fakes. There isn’t a drill, per se, but it’s just practicing our offense.”
Despite the Panthers’ lack of consistency in the backfield with their personnel, due to injuries and other undisclosed reasons, the Panthers have continued to find ways to move the ball on the ground with the help of misdirection play fakes.
How has that affected senior quarterback Garrett Wright’s ability to carry out those fakes effectively? Despite different styles from each of his backs, it really hasn’t had much of an effect at all.
“A lot of the time, different backs will have a different first step, or they run a little bit different, accelerate a little bit different,” Wright said. “It does change the timing on my part a little bit, but in the big scheme of things, it doesn’t really do much. That’s kind of the beauty of our offense is it’s more of a refuel style than a rebuild like some of the spread teams.”
Wright insists that the misdirection isn’t very complicated, though it may look that way from the bleachers. To be fair, he has been running Coach Vance’s Slot T offense since he was in seventh grade, and at this point, it’s like clockwork for Wright and his running backs.
“It’s really a lot simpler than it appears,” said Wright. “A lot of it has to do with the other guys, the other backs. Freddie (White) does a really good job of making the defense think that he has the ball. There’s a little contribution from everybody about where the ball is. It’s a lot simpler than it actually appears.”