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Copyright by John T. Reed
Because I have long been a contrarian coach, I was written about in our local daily paper. A coach who read it became friends with me as a result. He also brought me together with the contrarian coaches at his high school: Piedmont High School in Piedmont, CA (adjacent to Oakland, CA and 13 miles from my house). They, Steve Humphries and Kurt Bryan, are the inventors of the A-11 offense.
I attended Piedmont spring practices, summer practices, some coaches meetings, several games a year, an A-11 clinic, and I was part of the group of people who made presentations to the California Interscholastic Federation in 2009 to try to persuade them to agree to a two-year trial program of the A-11 after NFHS outlawed it. They voted us down 8-0.
That offense relied on an exception to the jersey-numbering rule. Normally, you must have at least five ineligible-numbered guys on the interior line. (NFHS Rule 7-2-5-b) But prior to 2009, there was an exception for a scrimmage-kick formation. That was defined as one with at least one back seven yards behind the line of scrimmage and no back with his hands under center to receive the snap.
The key was when the offense was in a scrimmage-kick formation, there was no requirement about ineligible jersey numbers. All 11 could wear eligible numbers (thus the name A-11). On Piedmont’s team, they all did. Furthermore, they all lined up off the line of scrimmage except the center until the last second when they shifted. Six of the players off the line stepped onto the line. After one second, Piedmont could snap the ball. But Piedmont used many formations so you never knew which six would step forward. In some formations, the center was the end man on the line and therefore eligible.
Piedmont ran this in 2007 and 2008. They went 7-4 and 8-3. It appeared that those were better records than they would have achieved without the A-11. At the end of their first season, the parents and players gave the coaches a standing ovation when they arrived at the post-final game party. Their quarterback, Jeremy George, 5'10" 150 was first-team all-league QB each season.
Piedmont also sought maximum publicity for the offense and got it. Stories were done in ESPN, the New York Times, American Football Monthly, and other outlets. All Piedmont 2008 games were broadcast live on TV online and were also archived on line for all to see. AFM published and sold books and videos about the A-11 featuring Piedmont coach Kurt Bryan.
But in 2009, a number of coaches around the country, coaches who had never seen the A-11 in person, decided it was the crime of the century. Apparently, they were aroused by reading about it in American Football Monthly. They persuaded the National Federation of State High School Associations (www.nfhs.org) to outlaw the A-11 at their 2009 rules meeting. NFHS sets the rules for 48 states. MA and TX use NCAA rules in high school.
I suspect if Piedmont had run the offense as quietly as possible, it would still be legal and might have had a chance to become sufficiently popular over time that a small group of enemies would not have formed at all or been unable to outlaw it if they did form. I previouly assumed the NFHS rules committees were retired elder statesmen. I was surprised and distressed to learn that they are current varsity head coaches. I suspect they made their decision on the A-11 based on their own selfish desire to avoid having to defend against the A-11 when they were on defense during their own seasons, not based on the guiding principles of NFHS and the various state federations who send delegates to the national meeting.
I thought and think that the A-11 was a very good innovation that should have been encouraged, not outlawed. It was safer, more interesting to watch, and gave smaller schools another way to try to match their limited personnel to an optimal path to victory, the essence of not only football, but life, as I explained in my Succeeding book and in The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense.
The forward pass was almost outlawed by football. The Knute Rockne Notre Dame shift was outlawed. See my book The Contrarian Edge for Football Offense for details on both of those issues. I see no reason why other than coach politics. Outlawing the A-11 was not NFHS’s finest hour. Modified versions of theA-11 can still be run at the NCAA and NFL levels. A number of colleges have shown some interest in it.
The third rule change on the second page of the 2009 NFHS Rule Book is the one. Two rules were changed: 2-14-2 and 7-2-5. Also, 2009 Case Book situations 7-2-5D and E cover the new rules.
It now says a scrimmage-kick formation must either be a field-goal formation with a holder on one knee at seven yards and another player three yards or less behind that player or have one player 10 yards or more behind the line of scrimmage and in position to receive the long snap. It is still prohibited to have a quarterback with his hands under center.
On the first three downs, you can only have one interior lineman, the long snapper, wear an eligible jersey number. At least four others must wear ineligible numbers. Furthermore, the long snapper is never eligible if you are in one of the formations described in 2-14-2. The center can be eligible if you have a QB under center or no back in the field goal or punter positions and five other guys wearing ineligible numbers. He is not allowed to be the end man on the line if you are in a scrimmage-kick formation..
On fourth down, you can still do the whole A-11 all eligible jersey numbers/shift routine except that one or two backs must align according to the new 2-14-2 rules. You can also do the A-11, with the new 2-14-2 rules on a P.A.T.
Under the new rules, to run the Glen Ellison Lonesome Polecat or Swinging Gate formations you would have to either put a back with his hands under the center and snap through the back’s legs or make sure no back in the backfield where he could receive the snap was more than nine yards back.