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High school football season kicks off around the country this week. And this season, small schools have a new way of trying to keep step with larger schools that have linebackers that might make you wonder what they're giving students in their lunchroom. It's called the A-11 offense. It was developed by Coach Kurt Bryan of the Piedmont California Highlanders. It's an offense that puts 11 possible receivers on the field, makes it easier to trick some of the Goliaths on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Last year was the first season the A-11 hit the field. Piedmont took their new playbook all the way to the playoffs. The A-11 will be tested again Saturday night in the season opener against Sir Francis Drake High School. Piedmont Coach Kurt Bryan joins us from member station KQED in San Francisco. Coach Bryan, thanks so much for being with us.
Mr. KURT BRYAN (Football Coach, Piedmont California Highlanders): Thank you so much, Scott, for having me on today.
SIMON: Now, is there a quick way of explaining how you put, what is it, nine potential receivers on the line?
Mr. BRYAN: Yeah, sure, sure. If you're a bird looking down at a football field, you can picture three receivers split out wide to the left, three receivers are split out wide to the right, a center and two guards or a tight-in on either side of the center. And then two quarterbacks in the shotgun formation, or a quarterback and a running-back back there. So, we spread the field from the numbers to the numbers.
SIMON: Now, isn't there some regulation that you can only have, what is it, five or six eligible receivers?
Mr. BRYAN: Exactly. What we did is, we searched the rulebook, and we found the key to unlock this new system of football, and it lies in the scrimmage kick formation.
SIMON: So you line up the same way you would say for a kick-off.
Mr. BRYAN: Or a PAT or a punt. And as long as you have nobody under center, and at least one potential recipient of the long snap, seven or more yards deep in the back field, you can then have up to all 11 players wearing an eligible jersey number.
SIMON: So the defense doesn't know who to block?
Mr. BRYAN: Well, yeah. And the defense, more importantly, has to respect the potential threat of anybody who's wearing an eligible number on that particular play.
SIMON: Does this vastly increase the number of plays you can run?
Mr. BRYAN: You know, it's so funny that you ask that. Scientific American just did a study, and it takes your average offensive play from about 35 possible options to over 16,000 just on one formation. It is absolutely wild what it's going to do for the game.
SIMON: Now, I'm sure all of your football players are young scholars, but isn't that an awful lot of potential plays for them to have to know?
Mr. BRYAN: Yeah, it is. And, you know, you've got to make sure that you keep it simple. And we had to develop a system that was kind of a cookie cutter. So, the coaches and players that were going to learn the A-11 offense could see it, they could visualize it, it could be taught and learned at a rapid rate. So that was really critical.
SIMON: Does it decrease injuries? I'm just guessing, because you have less of the ka-thunk ka-thunk against each other.
Mr. BRYAN: Yeah, it really does decrease injuries. And because the players are so spread out across the field of play, there's a lot less gang tackling, and a lot less what's called roll-ups. We did not suffer any major injuries last year on the offensive side of the ball due to contact.
Mr. BRYAN: But the game is much faster and very exciting for the fans, so, everybody wins.
SIMON: I have to tell you, I logged on to your Web site to educate myself about the A-11, and it's a lot of fun.
Mr. BRYAN: One of the benefits that we found is that a lot of different players touch the football. And so it's easier to keep the attention of your players during practice and certainly throughout the game because they never know where the ball's coming to next play. And, you know, if you take a look at the history of football, it started as a very brutal, compacted game, and it slowly spread out. And if you take a look down the road at where it's going, the game is only going to become faster and even more spread out. And, you know, I want to see what's going to happen over the next 10 to 20 years as football reveals itself with this new dimension.
SIMON: What was your record last year, coach?
Mr. BRYAN: We finished seven and three, and then we made the playoffs and we ended the season seven and four. We lost to the champion, Las Lomas, in the playoff game.
SIMON: Well, I don't envy Sir Francis Drake.
Mr. BRYAN: Well, you know, we've got our work cut out for us. It's going to be a tough game. We're looking forward to it.
SIMON: Kurt Bryan, he's the varsity football coach for the Piedmont Highlanders in Piedmont, California. Coach Bryan thanks very much.
Mr. BRYAN: Thank you so much for having us.
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