When Kurt Bryan first introduced the A-11 offense at Piedmont High last season, he was nearly given the classic tar and feathers treatment, with extra tar. Parents didn't understand it, opposing coaches mocked it and his own players feared it, and those were the positive aspects. And when the Highlanders started 0-2, things really got tense in this sleepy Oakland Calif., suburb. But look at Piedmont now. The offense of the future, as some call it, has propelled the school to five straight wins, the past three by a total score of 139-55, as they march into the playoffs with an 8-2 overall record, 6-1 in league. I visited a Piedmont practice last week and tried to wrap my t-formation sensibilities around America's newest football fad, and I thought I was starting to get it, until it began getting even weirder. So I gave up. That made starting quarterback Jeremy George laugh. He could relate."When I first saw coach draw it on the board, I thought he was joking," said George, a senior. "We're running all of our plays out of a special teams punt formation? The parents hated it. But now the only thing you hear in the stands is people yelling 'A-11!' " "There was some harsh criticism in the community, but we were watching film every day and we knew we were on to something," said assistant coach Steve Humphries. He and head coach Bryan dreamed up the offense during a late-night bull session, as they tried to devise a way to make their diminutive roster competitive with other, larger schools. One way to do that would be to use two quarterbacks at the same time, Humphries thought. And then Bryan said, why not make all the players eligible to catch a pass? What the hell? Everybody go long!
What resulted is an offense with a touch of Tourette's, where anything can happen. Any five players on any given play are eligible to go downfield and catch a pass, and the defense never knows which five. With two quarterbacks in the backfield, no one under center and three receivers split wide on each side, it's basically a kick formation, where the standard receiver eligibility rules don't apply. There can be direct snaps to any of three players in the backfield, lots of end-arounds and reverses; a maddening array for any defense to defend. "Our first opponent this season spent their entire spring working on defending the A-11," Bryan said. "We started 0-2 last season, but then we won our next seven straight, and by week six I'm getting calls from college coaches asking 'What is this?' " "It took a lot of getting used to, a lot of studying," George said. "It requires you to think. That's a lot of pressure on me, but I like it."
Slowly, the momentum is beginning to build. Benedictine High in Georgia, Saddleback Valley Christian in San Juan Capistrano (Calif.) and Trimble Co. High in Bedford, Kentucky, all run the A-11. Saddleback is 9-0 overall. Bryan has put up a web site devoted to the offense where coaches can trade A-11 strategies. Forty-one states have legalized the A-11. "But there's a loud minority out there who think that it's ruining football," Bryan said. "The truth is that today's athlete has changed. The field dimensions are the same, but the athletes aren't, and that's how the A-11 came to be. "You heard the same type of detractors when the forward pass was invented in the early 20th century," he said. "But football evolved from a mob rule type of game to one that was more spread out and more safe, and it will evolve again. This offense is catching on, and these kids have a sense of ownership with it. It will be interesting to see how far they go."