For most people, a spread is something that helps make a sandwich taste better.
With more than 20 Baton Rouge metro area offenses set to use some form of it this fall, the spread is as much a part of high school football as the condiments you’ll find at the concession stand.
The high school origin of the spread offense in Louisiana is traced to Class 2A power Evangel Christian Academy-Shreveport. In 1993, future LSU quarterback Josh Booty and the Eagles brought a new look to prominence that included a shotgun formation in which Booty lined up 9 yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Evangel, the defending Class 2A state champion, won its first state title in 1A that year.
Now, 18 years later, prep coaches use the spread as a way to run and pass. There are more variations to the spread offense than there are sandwich condiments.
“My interest in it started when I was student at LSU and I worked with coach (Gerry) DiNardo’s staff,” Zachary High coach Neil Weiner said. “That’s when Hal Mumme was at Kentucky and they had Tim Couch at quarterback.
“They were throwing the ball all over the place. I thought it was real exciting to watch, so whenever I got a chance, I’d get the tapes.”
Weiner’s interest in spread offenses continued, but it didn’t peak until he became coach at Catholic-Pointe Coupee.
In 2006, he obtained DVDs that detailed the offense run by Mumme’s offensive coordinator at Kentucky, Tony Franklin, who is now offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech.
From there, Weiner embraced a true “Air Raid” system that other local schools use, including Tara, Port Allen and St. Michael the Archangel. Screen passes are a key component. Weiner said Zachary’s version has seven to eight basic concepts.
“Because we’ve had big, talented linemen and running backs, we haven’t thrown it around as much as maybe I’d like the last couple of years,” Weiner said. “I like scoring touchdowns, and you can apply the concepts just as well to running the ball.”
There are other spread systems. Donaldsonville High coach Terence Williams is a spread option coach. So is West Feliciana coach Robb Odom.
The term spread is not simply a code word. Most offenses line up so that the formation, including receivers, stretches from one set of numbers on the field to the other. Plays are designed to be run quickly.
The distance between the linemen in the formation ranges from one foot to five feet, depending on the system or play.
Williams’ philosophy is based on the spread-option run by former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Nevada coach Chris Ault’s pistol spread system is also popular.
“We want to run the ball and create as many one-on-one opportunities as we can for our running backs to make plays,” Williams said. “I loved what Rich Rodriguez did when he was at West Virginia. I’ve taken some of the things you see Auburn and Florida do, too.
“Some spreads don’t use a lot of motion, but this one does. You use it to create what you call fluff to confuse the defense. If the defender has to think about what you’re doing, you’ve got a better chance to make something happen.”
Getting an advantage is what high school coaches seek when using the spread, said St. Michael coach Eric Held.
“I don’t consider myself to be a guru, but I did get interested in it (spread) when I was an assistant coach in New Orleans,” Held said. “People had seen Evangel, and then you had Tommy Bowden and Rich Rod (Rodriguez) turn things around at Tulane with a spread.
“I used to go out to Tulane and talk to them. Everybody looks for a way to get an edge. You can adapt it to your personnel. You don’t have to have big linemen or a quarterback who can throw 70 yards.”
The spread can also be adjusted based on the players’ experience. Williams said Donaldsonville’s system will be different this year because running back Tre’ Brown and quarterback Devon Breaux are seniors.
The same is true for Weiner, who has a senior quarterback in Mason Pace and for Held, who relies on senior quarterback Dash Duncan.
“When Devon was a sophomore, he was basically running whatever we called,” Williams said. “This year, his role will be distributing the ball to everybody we have out there … our running backs and receivers.”
Springfield coach Ryan Serpas is among the coaches who uses a “pistol” system, in which the running back lines up behind the quarterback.
Many coaches who embrace the spread are offense-minded. Serpas got interested in it during his days as the Bulldogs’ defensive coordinator.
“When I was coaching the defense, the spread was one of the toughest offenses to defense,” Serpas said. “I studied it. So when I became the head coach, I decided to use it.
“My pistol is based on several things I’ve seen, not just one specific system. I take things I like and adapt them.”
Serpas’ pistol has a decidedly run-oriented flavor this season. The goal is to give a young, athletic quarterback, Joseph Kemp, more alternatives.
“The past couple of years, we had bigger guys and they were able to stay in the pocket and throw it,” Serpas said. “This year, we’re looking to get him (Kemp) and some of our other players in the open field.”
Held said many schools who list their offenses as multiple also run a form of the spread, along with other systems. Elements from other offenses can be added to a spread.
One example is Held’s use of the spin series Weiner’s father, Dale Weiner, uses at Catholic High. The spin series also utilizes motion.
Pointe Coupee Central Lawrence Brown’s spread is a hybrid. It’s based on what Brown learned in New Orleans at St. Augustine and locally with Desire Street Academy.
“What we do suits our personnel,” Brown said. “Our kids really like it because it’s fast. They like to keep moving.”