Shotgun formations, no-huddle offenses, five receivers weaving their way through defensive backfields.
The allure of the chance to score at will and put on a show for the fans has led more high school coaches in Georgia to adopt the spread offense.
But it’s not for everybody. The identity of Georgia high school football through the years has been a hard-nosed running game. And there aren’t many places that consistently do it better than DeKalb County.
“I’ve always believed in an aggressive, come-at-you type of offense,” said Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell. “As long as I’ve been coaching, we’ve been running.”
And running well. The Jaguars (9-0) are on track to become only the fourth team in county history to average more than 300 yards rushing per game. The Jaguars, led by Florida commit Mike Davis, are averaging 312 yards through nine games. Davis leads the county with 1,568 yards and 19 touchdowns this season.
“A lot of it depends on your personnel, and we’ve had a lot of good backs here at Stephenson,” Gartrell said.
Stephenson graduates Kregg Lumpkin, who played at the University of Georgia, and Theron Dudley, are two of only five players in the county who amassed more than 4,000 yards rushing in a career. Lumpkin also is third all-time in single-season yardage with 2,088.
The Jaguars’ are not alone in their ability to control a game on the ground. Lithonia, Southwest DeKalb, Tucker and Dunwoody each are averaging more than 250 yards rushing.
The Wildcats have a long tradition of success on the ground and graduate Rod Perrymond claims the single-season, career and touchdown rushing records in the county.
Marist and St. Pius, which run wishbone option offense, also average nearly 250 yards per game and are known as two of the state’s top rushing teams. Marist was running the wishbone when Alan Chadwick took over as head coach nearly 30 years ago. Chadwick still runs the offense today and has won 85 percent of his game and two state titles.
Tucker coach Franklin Stephens, a former assistant at run-heavy Camden County in south Georgia, employs the Wildcats version of the wing-T. The Tigers averaged 299 yards in 2010 and 281 this season on the ground.
Stephens, who led Tucker to its only state title in 2007 and is 58-6 in his fifth season at the school, has had success without a superstar running back in the past two years. No back has gained more than 600 yards this season for the Tigers but seven have combined to score a county-high 42 rushing touchdowns.
“[Camden County coach Jeff] Herron used to say the offense allows you to take advantage of different looks,” Stephens said. “You can use receivers and the quarterback to run the ball, and you’ve still got your fullback and halfback. What we do is based on our talent level, and no doubt we’ve had talented kids come through here.”
Dallas Rivers leads the Tigers (9-0) with 563 yards and 12 touchdowns.
At Stephenson, although Davis is the feature back, Gartrell said his team would not be as successful without a solid group of complimentary backs.
“T.J. Moon is a very competent back,” Gartrell said. “And Pernell Whitehead and Brandon Washington are complimentary backs who keep people honest. You’ve got to have a complimentary back to give defenses another look.”
Moon, Whitehead and Washington combine for 11 of Stephenson’s 30 rushing touchdowns.
While running the ball appears more conservative than passing, offenses like the wing-T, triple option and wishbone, combined with plenty of talented runners, is enough to keep defenses guessing.
“We make sure it’s simplistic in nature because we’ve got to be able to be good at something,” Stephens said. We want to know what we want to do and be good at it. This kind of offense lends itself to the kind of kids and talent level we have coming though here.”