becoming a powerhouse. Art Briles, now Baylor’s head coach, took over at Stephenville in
1988 and a year later the Yellow Jackets were
in the playoffs for the first time in 37 years.
Stephenville stung opponents with a quick-hitting, often-shifting, no-huddle offense that
sometimes sent as many as six players out on
pass patterns. It spread out defenses with a
philosophy akin to that of famed coach Rusty
Russell, who from 1927 to 1942 led Fort Worth’s
Masonic Home, a school for orphaned boys, to a
record of 127-30-12.
Russell is often credited as the father of the
spread offense. Knowing his team couldn’t
move the ball with brute strength, he designed
an offense that opened up the field so his
“Mighty Mites” could operate. He later coached
at Highland Park, leading a team that included
quarterback Bobby Layne and running back
Doak Walker, and at SMU.
Russell led the Mighty Mites and the Scots
to state finals, but he didn’t win a championship. Briles’ teams had no such problem.
Stephenville won 4A titles in ’ 93, ’ 94 and ’ 98,
and by the time Briles left to assist Mike Leach
at Texas Tech after the Yellow Jackets won a
fourth title in 1999, the spread was intriguing
offensive minds and scaring the bejeezus out
of defensive coaches.
“It made the field so wide open,” said Kendal
Briles, who was the quarterback for the 1999
champs and now coaches QBs on his dad’s
Baylor staff. “At that point in my life, I didn’t
know anything else.”
Other programs did, however, and they were
still having success. Lewisville and Duncanville
each ran the option during their 5A title sea-
sons in 1996 and 1998, respectively. Lewisville
didn’t even attempt a pass in its championship
game. Garland, using the Wing-T offense, won a
5A title in 1999.
But as Stephenville’s offense continued to
make defenses dizzy, more DFW teams began
adopting spread philosophies. Grapevine ran a
no-huddle offense during its 4A title seasons in
1996 and ’ 98, and Flower Mound Marcus won
a 5A title in 1997 by spreading four receivers
wide for quarterback Spencer Stack, who three
for more than 4,000 yards that season.
As the 1999 season began, and people were
abuzz about how the Y2K bug might affect
computers, the spread offense was swarming
across the Metroplex. Randy Allen was debuting the spread at Highland Park, replacing the
Scots’ split-back Veer, Todd Dodge was refining
his spread attack at Keller Fossil Ridge, and Joey
Florence was wondering if he would ever have
the personnel to make the spread work at Cooper, a 2A school 80 miles northeast of Dallas.
At Ennis, coach Sam Harrell was looking for a
way to get his team deeper in the playoffs. He
ended up becoming a spark for the DFW area’s
blaze of football glory.
WHEN HARRELL ARRIVED AT ENNIS IN
1994, the once proud Lions program had
played in only two playoff games in 18 seasons.
When the 1998 playoffs began, Ennis was 10-0
and making its third straight postseason appearance. But the Lions lost their 4A Division
I playoff opener to Greenville, 17-7, in a gritty,
In preparations for the 1999 season, Harrell
and his staff thought about what they could do
differently with their I-formation option offense.
With a young team and a senior quarterback
(O’Neil Peterson) who could carry the ball like
a running back, how could they keep defenses
from lining up with eight- or nine-man fronts to
stop the run?
Ennis had tinkered with the spread in practice
and used it as its hurry-up offense late in the
games. But during a nondistrict game in 1999,
when Ennis led Cedar Hill just 3-0 at halftime,
Harrell and his staff made a switch at halftime.
Ennis came out in shotgun formation and
rolled to a victory.
“It had been a battle, just trying to get any
yards,” Harrell said. “We decided, ‘Let’s just
spread it out and see what O’Neil can do.’
“He just kind of took over the game.”
A month later, right before the playoffs, Ennis
went to the spread exclusively. After averag-
ing 27 points per game in the regular season,
Ennis blew the doors off its first four playoff
opponents by a score of 165-22. Ennis lost in
the 4A Division II semifinals to Art Briles’ final
Stephenville team, but then won 4A Division II
state titles in 2000 and 2001.
A woebegone program had become a winner,
thanks in large part to a wunderkind offense.
“We didn’t have great big linemen,” Harrell
said. “They played hard and we loved them
to death, but there comes a time when you’re
outmanned up front. They just put more people
in the box than you can block.”
That changed with the spread offense, which
forced defenses to cover more of the field and
put pressure on isolated defenders to make
open-field tackles. The basic read-option play,
which over the years coaches have molded
to their personnel, gives the ball to the quar-
terback in shotgun formation. He then reads
whether the defensive end or outside lineback-
er is going to cover him or the running back.
“When your quarterback is under center, I al-
ways describe it as you’re really playing 10 on 11
because your quarterback is just taking the ball
and handing off,” Harrell said. “In the spread,
you’re finally playing 11-on- 11. Your quarterback
can take care of the [defensive] end.”
You need a skilled, versatile, dependable
quarterback to run it, and that can be difficult
to find at a program mired in losing. Denton
Ryan fit that description in the spring of 2000,
when Florence inherited a team that had won a
combined six games in three seasons.
Florence was a defensive backs coach at
Marcus in 1993, when Marauders coach Que
Brittain and offensive coordinator Cody Vander-ford were early devotees to the spread.
“We were trying to defend it every day in
practice,” Florence said. “Whoa! It was tough.”
Florence ran the Wing-T at Cooper, but he
was waiting for the right personnel to install it.
Although Ryan had struggled for years before
he arrived, he found the ingredients.
“You’ve got to have that trigger man,” Flor-
ence said. “We had James Battle, and I thought,
‘yeah, we can do this.’”
With Battle at quarterback, Ryan advanced
to the 4A Division I title game in 2000 and
then won state titles in 2001 and 2002. Ryan
advanced to another title game in 2003, and
in 2004, Ennis won its third state title in four
seasons. The spread offense was dominating
in 4A, and the seeds of success were soon to
sprout in 5A.
FOLLOWING IN THE POWER-RUNNING FOOT-
steps of champions Lewisville and Garland,
Mesquite used the triple option on its way to the
2001 5A Division I title. Out west, Midland won
5A titles in ’ 98 (Division II) and ’ 99 and 2000
(Division I) by lining up in the I-formation an
handing the ball to future Texas Longhorn and
NFL running back Cedric Benson. But the spread
was taking hold.
Southlake Carroll had been well-known for
its option offense until 2000, when Dodge arrived with an offensive philosophy he had been
polishing since becoming McKinney’s offensive
coordinator in 1988. His first two Carroll teams
were in 4A, the second of which lost to Ennis’
spread juggernaut in the 2001 4A Division II
In the summer before the 2002 season,
Dodge and his staff traveled to Murfreesboro,
Tenn., to watch Middle Tennessee State’s no-huddle offense. The new wrinkle helped the
Dragons, in their first year in 5A, finish 16-0
and win the 5A Division II championship. Quarterback Chase Wasson threw for 490 yards and
five touchdowns in the title game.
Who wouldn’t take notice of that?
Allen’s coaching staff certainly did. Head
coach Joe Martin and offensive coordinator
Tom Westerberg, who had moved to Allen a year
after leading Garland to a state title in 1999,
needed a way to pump up their offense.
Joey McGuire turned Cedar
Hill into a state power with
the spread offense.