High School Sports

Heights using the flexbone to become lethal offense

Heights' Ontario Russell averages 11.4 yards per carry.
Heights' Ontario Russell averages 11.4 yards per carry. Correspondent

It irks Heights coach Terry Harrison every time he hears a discussion about the highest-powered offenses in the Wichita area.

He thinks the popularity of the spread offense, perfected by teams such as Derby, Northwest, and Bishop Carroll, seem to garner all of the attention, while Heights’ old-school, run-heavy flexbone offense seems to have become a forgotten power.

Heights (9-1) is averaging 44.8 points and close to 480 yards of offense entering the Class 5A quarterfinals, where it will host Goddard (9-1) on Friday. Harrison thinks those numbers prove Heights is every bit as elite of an offense as teams that throw the ball more than 20 times.

“Last time I checked the goal is to score points,” Harrison said. “And we score … a lot.”

Harrison thinks there are many misconceptions about the flexbone, which has capped its popularity.

“I think a lot of people think that we just run the ball up the middle and to the side,” Harrison said. “But there’s way more to it. I would contend that it’s one of the most complex offenses out there.”

While spread quarterbacks have the luxury of taking snaps out of the shotgun, which gives them a cushion from the line of scrimmage and time to make their reads, flexbone quarterbacks are making their reads instantly after the snap and near the line of scrimmage.

In some ways, Harrison thinks the flexbone offense attacks defenses in the same areas as spread offenses do.

“When we get the ball and pitch it, I don’t think that’s any different than these spread offenses throwing a hitch route,” Harrison said. “We’re pitching the ball in the same, exact space. We attack every area of the field just like those offenses do, it’s just that we do it in a different way.”

While other programs may have problems convincing kids from this day and age, who are constantly chasing the latest craze, to stick with the flexbone, it’s never been an issue at Heights.

Receivers in spread offenses shutter to think what it would be like in a flexbone, where they block for 90 percent of the plays. Heights senior receiver Courtez Orange hears it all the time from his peers across the City League.

“It is tough at times, but ultimately I like to win more than I like stats,” Orange said. “If I’m doing something that is helping us win, then I am more than happy blocking for my brothers.”

That’s not lip service — Orange takes his job seriously.

Harrison has an assistant track pancake blocks — when a blocker flattens a defender to the ground — and Orange has been credited with 53.

“He’s got to be up there for the state lead,” Harrison said. “He’s so physical out there. I know those guys don’t get the stats, but they are a huge part of our offense.”

Another integral part is the offensive line. Heights rarely uses hulking 250-pound presences on its line because it expects its linemen to get out and move. Athleticism is a requirement, not size.

This season Heights has rolled up 4,322 rushing yards, averaging 9.3 yards with the offensive line of Ryan Depperschmidt, Terry Jenkins, Ben Folks, Austin Weiser, and Max Valdez, a group that doesn’t even average 200 pounds.

“You don’t have to be big, you just have to play hard,” Depperschmidt said. “We’ve stuck with that in our program and I don’t see why we would change. We win games and we produce a lot of points every game, so there’s no point in changing.”

The decline in popularity of the flexbone has actually benefited the teams that still run it, Goddard coach Scott Vang pointed out.

Vang, who is trying to prepare his team for the attack on Friday night, said it has been an incredibly difficult task this week.

“Replicating that in offense is tough because you can’t simulate the speed they have,” Vang said. “It’s a physical offense, so you can’t beat the hell out of your kids in practice all week, either. So it’s tough to get a lot of really good reps in and not beat your kids up. It’s a challenge.”

Since one runner doesn’t usually have more than 20 carries, it’s also difficult to defend when defenses are preparing for quarterback K’Vonte Baker (1,342 rushing yards) and his army of weapons in the backfield: Dejuan Scott (877), Ontario Russell (858), and Jalani Williams (611). Baker (10.2), Russell (11.4), and Williams (13.3) all average more than 10 yards per carry.

Harrison hopes that someday the flexbone offense is feared in the same way that people talk about spread offenses right now.

But for now, he can do without the talk — all he wants is a win on Friday.

“Here at Heights, all we love is winning,” Harrison said. “We don’t think there’s any one magical offense, but we feel like we run the one that gives us the best chance at winning and I think we’ve been proving that since 2008.”

Taylor Eldridge: 316-268-6270, @vkeldridge