Two games into the season, Lawrence High football coach Dirk Wedd and his staff — discouraged following a 23-point home loss — figured it was time to scrap the team’s offensive philosophy.
“We were a spread football team without spread people,” Wedd said. “We survived somewhat in the first game of the season and showed flashes here and there. Then Shawnee Mission East exposed us for what we were.”
The following morning, the Lions traded in the spread for a double-tight formation to take advantage of their offensive strengths. From that point on, it was up to the Lawrence’s sturdy offensive line to plow defenders and open running lanes.
The plan worked immediately. Lawrence (1-3) rushed for 258 yards in a near upset of defending Class 6A champion Shawnee Mission West and picked up 286 more yards on the ground in a 35-20 homecoming victory against Olathe Northwest. The Lions plan on more of the same tonight, when they play Shawnee Mission Northwest (1-3) at Shawnee Mission North District Stadium (kickoff at 7).
Wedd said LHS has embraced its new identity as a hard-nosed, run-between-the-tackles team.
“We go foot-to-foot and don’t allow penetration and just try to knock people off the ball,” Wedd said. “When (defenses) come up and put enough people at the line of scrimmage, that’s going to allow us to throw the football and run the perimeter a little bit.”
Of course, none of this could have gone so well without left tackle Alex Jones, left guard Cole Greenwood, center Kyle Wittman, right guard Jacob Nation and right tackle Amani Bledsoe embracing the challenge. When LHS quarterbacks Nyle Anderson and Alan Clothier hand the ball off to running backs Drew Green and JD Woods, Lawrence’s O-line wants nothing more than to make things easy for the skill players behind them.
Wittman, a senior, said the linemen have a lot more fun playing in this style of offense.
“That’s what we wanted,” Wittman said. “Not necessarily to be just a running team — we want to throw the ball a little bit — but we want to be able to pound it between the tackles and be good at that. That’s what every big guy’s dream is. Following up behind you, Drew’s getting chunks of five to 15 yards — that’s what we want.”
Green (365 rushing yards, two touchdowns) prefers the old-school offense, too.
“We try to come out and just punch people in the mouth — strike first,” Green said. “We want to start that off with the line and getting our running game going. That opens up many more options for us.”
Now that the Lions have a philosophy that suits them, Wedd said the players can’t get complacent.
“We’ve played a lot better offensively,” he conceded. “That doesn’t mean it solves anything.”
Wittman, who also starts at defensive tackle, said the LHS defense would like to get a shutout, and the offense is capable of putting together even more impressive numbers. The senior lineman thinks the Lions have responded in the best way possible to their first victory of the year.
“Any win helps a team, especially in a situation like this,” Wittman said. “Well over half of our starters had never won a varsity game.”
That overall inexperience is part of Wedd’s concern, as LHS takes on a SMNW team also coming off its first win, 42-21, against Leavenworth. The coach is just glad the Lions have adapted so well to change.
“We should be feeling good about ourselves, too,” he said.