South Lakes might be the home of the Seahawks, but there were eagles on the field and in the air at football practice Tuesday.
Players hustled to the frantic pace of their new no-huddle offense, taking sideline cues from the goofily adorned cardboard signs popularized by former Oregon coach Chip Kelly, now the head man for the Philadelphia Eagles. Engulfing the chaos on the field was “Desperado” by the Eagles, which trickled in loudly over the Patricia A. Bergan Stadium speakers like a weary old man imploring his rambunctious grandchildren to go to sleep.
It was a head-scratching scene, but there may have been an unintentional metaphor at work. The 1973 classic floating through the air represented South Lakes’ old football tradition, a basic set of schemes producing so-so results year after year. Players did their best to tune out the song’s volume, which might as well have been the naysayers shouting about the Reston program’s usual losing ways. The current crop of Seahawks worked feverishly to perfect their new offense for their new coach, who ignored his team’s past results in favor of a brighter future.
OK, maybe we’re getting a little carried away here, but the point holds: South Lakes has a new coach trying to reinvigorate a program coming off three straight losing seasons. Trey Taylor is shaking things up with plenty of changes, the most challenging being his no-huddle spread offense.
Taylor, a former offensive lineman at West Springfield High, dealt mainly with offense during head coaching stops at Woodson and Robinson, but he served as defensive coordinator during his one season at South County last year. Going up against an attack that averaged over 40 points per game everyday in practice ultimately changed his approach to coaching offense.
“It was about the best experience I could have in terms of running an offense because that offense was so good and presented so many different things, it really made me think about what is difficult to defend,” said Taylor, who ran Robinson’s traditional Wing-T offense during his two seasons there. “I’m trying to apply the same concepts of what was difficult to defend to what we’re doing.”
Taylor is installing an option-oriented spread attack that mixes runs and short passing routes to keep defenses guessing. The main ingredient is pace, as Taylor hopes his squad’s frenetic movement in between plays can wear out defenses and offset potential mismatches at the line of scrimmage.
Though Taylor is drawing knowledge from various sources, his practices look like copies of the grueling track meets for which Kelly has become known in the NFL. Players alternate between position drills to work on fundamentals and mini-scrimmages to ingrain their whirlwind offensive schemes. Coaches yell and signal frantically from the sideline during the scrimmages, and one of them holds up a cardboard sign depicting angry reptiles, Mike Tyson, Justin Beiber and other incongruous images that indicate play calls based on the sign’s orientation.
Even as the play is developing, the sign-wielding coach is already turning to the kid holding the play sheet and barking, “I need the next one!”
It’s enough to make your head spin, but players insist it should benefit them against conference opponents used to the comparatively plodding South Lakes teams of yesterday.
“I feel like [Taylor] makes us practice harder than most other teams do, so I feel like we have an advantage there,” junior wide receiver/running back Eric Kirlew said.
Kirlew is part of a talented skill-position group that has the speed necessary to run Taylor’s system effectively. Starting tailback Sam Arpee and wide receiver Darius Hawkins have the athleticism to get around the edge, as does senior quarterback Tavarius Lee, who operated out of the wildcat formation last season.
“I’ve got a lot more options,” Lee said. “Last year it was kind of going to one person. This year I’ve got four receivers, a running back — we’ve got skill players all around.”
The offensive and defensive lines are works in progress, as all but one starter from last year’s squad graduated. Blocking responsibilities are being handed to guys like David Kroll, a 6-foot-4, 280-pound sophomore with more potential than polish.
On defense, Hawkins will use his rangy athleticism to be a difference maker from the free safety spot, while senior defensive end Trey Montague adds some much-needed size and strength to the Seahawks’ pass rush.
South Lakes still has a long way to go before it becomes a consistent contender, but Taylor believes the tools are in place to make it happen. His kids are embracing the new system, and he was pleased to see a solid group of freshmen arrive on the scene this year.
“They all want to win a state championship; it’s just about teaching them what they have to do in order to go do that and then making them buy into the fact that if you want to win football games you’ve got to work in the weight room the rest of the year,” said Taylor, whose team opens at home against Madison on Friday. “You can’t just show up in August and play football and expect to win games. And they’ve bought in. They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do so far, so I’m excited for what we’ve got going in the future.”