By BRETT MARSHALL
Some call it the spread. Some the shotgun. Others call it the run and shoot, the shoot and run. There's probably a few other tags that go with the latest offensive trend in football — the spread offense. It has traversed its way from the NFL, to major colleges, junior colleges and to the high school ranks.
That's what has Garden City High School head football coach Mike Smith excited about the beginning of the 2009 season.
Friday night, Smith put the Buffaloes through a nearly 75-minute scrimmage where much of the first team offense went up against the No. 1 defenders.
When it was over, Smith had mixed reviews about what he had seen.
"Some good, some bad," Smith said. "We're a little banged up at the moment but we hope to get some of them back for next week."
Next week is next Friday, when the Class 4A Ulysses Tigers come to Memorial Stadium for the season opener. A year ago, the Buffs opened the campaign on the road against the Tigers and came home with a convincing 32-10 victory in what would become a roller-coaster season in which they finished 4-4.
"We'll have a good test against Ulysses next week," Smith said. "They've got a good team, lots of people back from last year and they're always very tough."
What Smith liked Friday night, though, was the improved performance of his offense — quarterback Cody Bernbeck throwing the ball, senior wide receiver Breven Graham catching the ball, and the offensive line showing positive signs of catching on to the new blocking schemes that has come with the switch to the spread formation.
"The defense kicked our tails last Saturday morning," Smith said. "The line is getting better and we know it's going to be a battle up front against Ulysses."
One of the players who has benefited from the new offensive set is senior Jace Larsen (5-foot-11, 215). A year ago, Larsen was entrenched at one of the guard spots in the mostly run-oriented power attack. Now, he has been switched to center and is the player responsible for calling the blocking schemes for the entire offensive line.
"It's been really good because I've got a lot more control of how the offensive line will block," Larsen said. "Before, we just had one player to go block but now we get to block an area and block whoever shows up. There are more angles that you get to block and just take what the defense gives you."
Larsen said he sees the excitement not only in the linemen but also the skill position players.
"It adds more to what the quarterback and the receivers can do," Larsen said. "I just like being in control of what we do on the line."
Smith said one of the things he has been happy with in this week, and especially at the scrimmage, was the improvement in mental errors.
"We're getting fundamentally better and getting used to the calls that we're making," Smith said of the new offense. "The coaches love it because we're doing more coaching all the time. It's more fun."
Smith also said the spread formation allows the staff to take advantage of the skill positions that the Buffs will utilize this season.
"We don't have that big of a line so the change was a lot out of necessity, but once we sold out, we were committed to it and I think we all believe it will benefit us the entire season," Smith said. "We are looking forward to seeing somebody else next week, but we know Ulysses will come in with the mindset that they can win."
Brown and White Scrimmage notes: Ulysses head coach Jason Kenney and his staff were seated in the south stands at Memorial Stadium during the scrimmage. The Buffs' staff had been in Ulysses the night before to watch the Tigers' scrimmage.
"Not sure we've figured out how to stop this pistol offense," Kenney said watching Garden City's new offensive spread formation. "They have some very good players and it will be a monumental challenge for us."
Kenney said in typical preseason fashion, his team's defense is well ahead of the offense heading into the season opener. Last year, the Tigers had only two returning starters in a season his team finish with a 5-5 record, going 3-0 in 4A district play before losing its playoff opener against Clearwater, 23-21.
"We're definitely ahead of where we were last year," Kenney said. "We played a bunch of young kids last year, so we've got a lot of them back who have some experience."
Kenney said he, his staff and the players were excited about making the hour trip to Garden City to play the Buffaloes.
"Artificial turf, the big crowd, stadium, the jumbotron, it's all an exciting experience for us," Kenney said. "This type of game against a bigger school, good team will only make us better for the rest of the season."
The kickoff will be at 7 p.m.