MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Melissa Block. And now, a little Friday Night Football. The games at tiny Piedmont High School in the San Francisco bay area have been getting lots of attention lately. The coaches there have developed an entirely new way of playing the game. Depending on whom you ask, it's either offensive genius - or an offense to the game. From member station KXJZ, Ben Adler reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF A FOOTBALL GAME)
BEN ADLER: It simply wasn't a fair fight. On one team, Stockton's Stallworth Charter School, some of the most athletic high school football players ever. On the other, Piedmont High, a bunch of your typical suburban teenagers. Yet, there they were at half time tied at 27. In the locker room, Piedmont Coach Kurt Bryan rallied the troops.
BLOCK: Don't you love going against the best?
PLAYERS: Yes, Coach!
BLOCK: Right now, that team is stunned. This game was supposed to be over. Over! We're it, man. We're it. They're stunned.
ADLER: Stunned by the A-11 offense, something football has never seen before, at any level. Instead of everyone lining up around the ball on the line of scrimmage, Piedmont's players spread out across the entire width of the field, in pods of three. Behind the middle pod are - are you ready for this? - Two quarterbacks, or a quarterback and a running back. But that's not all, says Kurt Bryan.
BLOCK: The A-11 offense stands for all 11 players potentially eligible.
ADLER: Normally, only five players are allowed to catch a forward pass on any given play. But in the A-11, anyone can as long as they line up in a legal position. The goal is to confuse the defense as much as possible, to give the offense every edge it can get. And opposing Coach Sam Font said Piedmont did exactly that.
BLOCK: I tell you, about 60, 70 percent of the time, I didn't know where the hell the ball was at! It took us the whole first half, nearly, to try to figure out what the hell was going on.
ADLER: At tiny Piedmont High, almost anyone can be a varsity athlete, even I sat on the bench for two years of baseball there. So to compete with larger schools, Bryan and another coach came up with the A-11 - and found a loophole in the rule book that made it legal. Still, Bryan had his doubts before the first A-11 game last year.
BLOCK: We told ourselves and our staff and our kid's two things. Either we are going to be an absolute joke and we're going to get fired, or we're going to do well and we're going to help change football history in a good way.
ADLER: Well, he certainly didn't get fired. Piedmont won its final seven regular-season games last year, to make the playoffs after starting 0-2. Now, hundreds of schools around the country are using the A-11 and the coaches have a website, sell playbooks and DVDs online, and even run special clinics. But whether that's changing football for the better or not depends on whom you ask.
BLOCK: This is an unsporting act in terms of deception, which is not in accordance with the rule code or the intent and spirit of the great game.
ADLER: Mark Dreibelbis is the supervisor of officials for the North Carolina High School Athletic Association. He says there are other, better, more legal ways to level the playing field.
BLOCK: The A-11 offense is taking an exception to the rule code, a planet to an every rule down.
ADLER: So North Carolina and a handful of other state associations have banned the A-11. And by next season, the organization that sets high school rules nationally could, too. But Piedmont's Kurt Bryan says the A-11 shows how football is evolving.
BLOCK: Ever since the forward pass came into play, the game has slowly become faster, and more spread out, more athletic. If you take a look at 10, 15, 20 years down the road, the game is going to look more like the A-11, not less like it.
ADLER: Piedmont's players love the offense, too. Senior quarterback Jeremy George says it's a great fit.
BLOCK: We don't have a very big class, both in number and in size but we've got a lot of skill players. I don't think it fits for everybody, but it works for us.
ADLER: The second half didn't work out as well for Piedmont. The other team made some adjustments, Piedmont made some mistakes - and the final score was 61-34. But without the A-11, the coaches say, it would've been a lot worse.
(SOUNDBITE OF A FOOTBALL GAME)
ADLER: For NPR News, I'm Ben Adler.
BLOCK: You can hear more about the A-11 offense and see video of it in action at our website, npr.org.
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