High School Kick Return


Today we are going to talk about Kick Returns for High School Football.  This is a scheme I have developed after coaching 20 years of High School football.  It was developed not as a superior scheme that I learned at a clinic or college visit, but as an alternative approach to Kick Returns to maximize the potential of my current players.  Over the years I have watched the front line of kick return players in High School struggle to turn and sprint the distance required to execute traditional kick returns.  What you normally see is Kickoff guys running right by the front line of your return team and blowing up the returner.  For years I tried to find players that could run 20-25 yards and set up wedges, talking about angles and leverage.  We tried crossing front line players to create angles for kick out blocks.  After years of what I thought was sub par performance in the return game I decided to make a change.

What we do now is not going to be a new trend in Kick Returns or a revolutionary idea that changes football, but it works for us.  We now use a 6-1-2-2 kick return alignment that is a straight man blocking scheme.  The 6 front line players are only going to drop 8-10 yards before engaging their blocking assignment.  Now I realize that with these short drops if we miss or don't maintain our blocks we are giving clearer paths to the kickoff team and better angles to the ball. But I also believe I am giving my kids an assignment they are better able to execute.  I am basically turning it into a WR stalk block with leverage.  I am asking guys to block a man in a certain direction and win with that leverage.  They don't need knockouts or pancake blocks, they need to occupy a body as long as they can and win with leverage.  We now only need to drop 8-10 yards before picking up our assignments so I think the task is physically more conducive to my players talents.  We now have made it more accountable for our players.  It's simple, don't let your guy make the tackle.  Now it has become easier to identify where the mistakes are in the return.  The middle guy in the scheme is there to protect against ambush onside kicks, help adjust to sky kick schemes, and be a 7th blocker to get a body on a body as quick as possible.  The 2 upbacks are always in position to receive pooch or sky kicks, and then are usually used to double team the best player on the kickoff team. Sometimes they will be used to trap or kick out a player based on the return.  The 2 deep players are just your traditional return home run threats.

We are going to use all skill players on this team.  We want WRS, DBS, and RBS.  We will sacrifice size for the ability to field kicks.  When you look at our return team on film it is hard to pick out a weak link for onside kick opportunities.  Now the perfectly executed onside kick may still give us trouble but I feel like I have 11 players on the field that can field kicks.  To me the most important aspect of Kick Return is not giving up your possession of the ball.  We never want to lose a possession in a game.  We can recover from a poor return or a missed blocking assignment, but it is very difficult to recover from a lost possession.  We see so many sky kicks and pooch kicks in High School.  If you can handle these situations you will generally start with decent field position.  Our alignment helps us adjust to sky kick formations because according to game plan we can use the middle player in our 6-1 alignment to help field sky kicks.  Our alignment also helps us get bodies on bodies sooner which helps prevent the kickoff team from free runners at the returner fielding the sky or pooch kick.

All in all it is a very simplistic approach to the kick return game.  We have not lost a possession yet this season with our return team and our average starting field position is the 31 yard line.  To me that is just as good as a 25 or 30 yard return.  We have brought 2 returns past our 40 yard line as well and last season returned a kick for a TD.


One Formation Football


Today we are going to talk about One Formation Football.  This does not mean staying in one formation the entire year or the entire game, but getting your kids to see pictures clearly and understand assignments by making things simple.  The number one mistake coaches at younger levels make is they confuse kids with multiple assignments and changing pictures.  I often hear coaches say "our kids cant do this" or "we don't understand assignments."  But immediately after saying that they change the assignment or the formation or the play.  If you want your kids to master certain techniques within a scheme then keep it simple.  Changing rules or assignments every other play causes confusion which leads to the ever popular coaching phrase "block somebody!!!"  The same is true when it comes to formations.  If you constantly change formations then you are constantly changing the picture your kids are looking at.

If a picture is "Worth A Thousand Words" then in my opinion that's a pretty powerful picture.  If that saying is true then in football terms how crucial is it to get your kids to understand the picture they are seeing? If you stay in one formation for a series or two or three series you have a chance to keep the picture clear and consistent.  If the picture is clear then you have a chance to teach your players the assignments they need to execute with more clarity.  When you can rep 4 or 5 plays vs. the exact same look you have a chance to achieve mastery.  When the defense changes every time you run those 4 or 5 plays now that creates confusion.  Let's be honest, at the lower levels of football when you line up in a formation the defense usually only lines up 1 or 2 different ways.  If you line up in 15 formations then they technically may line up 30 different ways.  If you want consistency with technique and execution then keep your assignments simple and keep the defense you work against simple. Now instead of yelling "block somebody" you might actually be able to tell your kids who to block. 

Multiple Options to Attack
One of my favorite formations is 2 Back 20 personnel Twins Open.  This set gives you power run game, option run game, ability to get 3 routes to a side, and the ability to isolate a stud receiver.  If I had one set to choose to play football out of this would be it.  I can attack inside and outside in run game.  I can attack coverages horizontally and vertically. I can max protect my QB if I need to.  I can get 5 receivers in a route if I want to.  This set for me gives me every answer I need to effectively move the football.  It also gives me a chance to play at a faster tempo if I stay in this set for an entire series.  But ultimately what it does is it gives me a clear picture of the defense I want to attack.  I will usually only see 2 or 3 different looks in this formation and sometimes I will see the same look all game.  When it comes time to practice we can rep the things we want to attack with clarity and confidence knowing the picture we will see.  Your lineman will understand their run blocks and protections easier.  Your QB and WRS will have simpler coverage structures to understand.  And most important your Offensive Coordinator can feel confident executing a simple game plan.

It's not about the types of plays you run, it's how you run those plays.  It's about getting your kids to understand the game plan and their assignments. It gets down to simplifying what you do and creating stress on the defense.  Play to your strengths and attack their weaknesses.