“In 2002, Lufkin beat the dog out of us in
the second round of the playoffs,” said Martin,
who is now assistant executive director of the
Texas High School Coaches Association. “Rid-
ing on the bus home, Tom and I said, we’ve got
to change. We can’t coach our kids this way and
expect our kids to advance any farther.”
It was out with the Wing-T and in with the
spread. The Eagles then made their deepest
playoff run ever, advancing to the 2003 5A Divi-
sion II semifinals before losing to Carroll.
“We felt like if we had still been in the Wing-T, we might not have even made the playoffs,”
Martin said. “It was that a big difference for us.”
A lot of the principles had remained the
same. Allen still was a run-heavy team, averaging nearly 260 yards rushing per game. But the
average gain on Allen’s simple trap running play
went up by more than two yards after the switch
to spread formations. That’s one of the attractive features of the spread. It’s flexible.
“It just depends on your personnel,” said
Westerberg, who took over for Martin in 2004.
“It allows you to keep the field spread and kind
Quarterback Kyler Murray was the highlighted player the last two seasons as Allen
won back-to-back 5A Division I titles, giving it
three state championships since 2008. Murray,
who threw for 46 touchdowns and ran for 19
last season, is now a senior and the Eagles are
favored to win again.
Cedar Hill, last year’s 5A Division II champion
and a finalist in 2012, is also expected to be one
of the state’s top teams. Part of the Longhorns’
success can also be attributed to its potency
in the spread, which was implemented in 2003
when Joey McGuire was promoted from assistant.
Cedar Hill had finished a combined 5-15 in
the previous two seasons and hadn’t been to
the playoffs since 1998. Switching from the
Wishbone to the spread, McGuire decided,
would better utilize the team’s speed.
He also thought it would be more fun, and
thus pull more kids into the football program.
He found inspiration in Cedar Hill’s fast-paced
basketball team coached by David Milson.
When you’re in the true spread, he told potential players, it’s like a fastbreak.
“I told them, ‘Look, you’re going to get the
ball and you’re going to be able to do these
things,’” McGuire said. “That’s how we sold it
to those guys.”
It was an easy sell, and it became even
easier when Cedar Hill finished 16-0 and won
the 5A Division II title in 2006. Led by slippery
quarterback William Cole, that team rushed for
348 yards per game. Last year’s champion was
led by receiver DaMarcus Lodge, who had 72
receptions. Different attacks, similar success.
The Longhorns missed the playoffs in their
first two years with the spread, but they’ve now
been in the postseason nine straight years. The
players and coaches just needed time to adjust.
“You’ve got to sell out to it,” McGuire said.
“From seventh grade to varsity, we’re taking
shotgun snaps. It’s not pretty sometimes, but
you’ve got to get these guys ready.”
IN 2005, CARROLL AND EULESS TRINITY
won 5A titles and Highland Park and Hebron won
4A titles, giving the DFW its first sweep of the
state’s four biggest crowns. A year later, Cedar
Hill won 5A Division II and Carroll won 5A Division
I, capping a five-year run in which the Dragons
were 79-1 and won four state titles. Trinity was
the only DFW big-school champ during those
years that didn’t use spread formations heavily.
The spread was living up to its name, stretching its tentacles of wide-open offense to more
teams across the state. Austin Lake Travis’
mastery of it helped the Cavaliers win five consecutive 4A titles from 2007 to 2011.
Not everyone has gone to the spread, of
course. Trinity, 5A champ in 2005, 2007 and
2009 and a finalist in 2010, still lines up in
the I-formation and grinds opponents. For a
program that regularly produces 300-pound,
Division I linemen, it makes sense.
But for many programs, the spread makes
sense. It creates space for playmakers, forces
defenders to make solo tackles against shifty
backs and receivers, and aided by the growth
of 7-on- 7 competition, it has turned Texas quarterbacks into recruiting darlings.
The signing class of 2006 marked the height
of it, led by quarterbacks Matthew Stafford (
Highland Park), Christian Ponder (Colleyville Heritage)
and Greg McElroy (Carroll). Stafford and Ponder
were both first-round NFL picks – Stafford was
No. 1 overall in 2009 – and McElroy was starting
QB for a national champion at Alabama.
“I think it’s going to be here a while,” Westerberg
said of the spread. “It’s one of the first trends in
football that’s going up the ladder instead of down
it. You saw more spread stuff in high schools, and
then in college, and then in the pros.”
The West Coast offense, made famous by the
San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s, shared con-
cepts with the spread. So did the Run-and-Shoot
offense, which helped University of Houston
quarterback Andre Ware win the Heisman Trophy
in 1989 and flared in the NFL in the early Nineties.
But the spread as we see it today, with the
zone-read option being run by NFL quarterbacks
such as the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson, the
49ers’ Colin Kaepernick and the Redskins’ Robert Griffin III (who won the Heisman while playing
for Art Briles at Baylor), has strong roots in Texas
high school football. Some of the deepest roots
are in North Texas, which continues to thrive with
an offense that shed the fad label long ago.
Harrell’s struggles with multiple sclerosis
led to his resignation from Ennis in 2009, but
his health has improved dramatically and he’s
the new offensive coordinator at Fort Worth
Christian. It’s no surprise what offense he is
It’s the same offense that Harrell used at
Ennis, and the same offense that led coaching
staffs from around the state, including Allen’s,
to visit Ennis practices during the 2000 and
2001 seasons. The spread wasn’t a magic
formula, but it was creating magical results
that have continued for many teams, especially
those in the DFW area.
Now the spread creates some big plays in the
NFL, and for Harrell, some laughs.
“They run the zone read, and oh gosh, those
announcers on TV act like it’s the most unbelievable play ever,” Harrell said. “And I’m thinking,
we’ve been doing that for more than 10 years!
We were doing that in 2000 and you’re acting
like it’s the greatest play in the world.”
Matt Wixon (Twitter: @mattwixon) is the high school
sports columnist for The Dallas Morning News.
Highland Park’s Matthew
Stafford turned his
experience running the
spread offense into a highly
successful career in college
at Georgia and in the NFL
with the Detroit Lions.
In the late 1980s, Art
Briles, now the coach at
Baylor, resurrected the