Rock Bridge football team uses option to boost offense

Friday, October 2, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT; updated 10:51 a.m. CDT, Friday, October 2, 2009
Rock Bridge quarterback Mark Pickerel, left, says he has adapted well to the Bruins' new option offense. “Once you start watching film on a team, you can pick up its tendencies. If he does that, I’ll do this," he said.

COLUMBIA — Rock Bridge football coach A.J. Ofodile had seen enough. Enough of a stagnant offense, enough of an old system, enough of losing. It was time for a change.

The Bruins finished both the 2007 and 2008 seasons with 1-9 records. That type of performance was not acceptable to Ofodile, who began coaching at Rock Bridge in 2003.

Saturday's game

Helias (5-0) at Rock Bridge (3-2)

WHEN: 1 p.m.

WHERE: Jefferson City


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“Obviously there was something wrong with the way we’re playing and something wrong with the way we’re coaching,” Ofodile said. “We went on an offseason expedition to find out exactly who we wanted to be, what we wanted to be and how we wanted to coach.”

That “offseason expedition” began right after the Bruins concluded their 2008 campaign. Ofodile said the success he had in his first couple of years as a head coach might have prevented him from making the necessary changes to his game plans, therefore limiting his growth as a coach. He knew at that point change was necessary. He and his assistant coaches went to work on a plan to reestablish competitive football at Rock Bridge.

“My thought immediately after the (2008) season was that this was not the kind of program I want to be,” Ofodile said. “This is not the kind of coaching job I wanted and not the type of offensive system I want to run anymore.”

Ofodile ultimately decided to change the entire look of his rush offense from pro-style, hand-the-ball-off-to-the-running-back-and-go, to running variations of the option. He realized that when he first started coaching, he had the type of running backs that could run downhill and get through the line. Without those backs, the running game needed the adjustment.

Rock Bridge is seeing the benefits.

At 3-2, the Bruins have won more games in the first half of the 2009 campaign than they did in the past two years combined. By running the option 35 to 40 times a game, Ofodile said his team has probably gained more yards on the ground in five games this season than it did in all 10 last year.

Until 2009, Ofodile was always hesitant to install an option offense. Part of the hesitation came from watching other schools turn over the ball too much while running the option. The other part came from trying to learn a new system on the fly. Over the summer, he spoke with other coaching staffs, attended clinics and was constantly questioning those with the experience on how to install the new system.

“I just wasn’t familiar and sometimes when you’re not familiar with something, you shy away from it,” Ofodile said.

The Bruins are constantly tinkering with the mechanics of running the option to try to accelerate their learning curve. At a practice at the beginning of the year, the first-team offense ran three failed options in a row. Ofodile called a timeout to tell his running backs that they need to stay farther behind the quarterback to create a better angle to pitch the ball.

Ofodile says spacing and pitch angles are keys to running a smooth option offense. He also points to quarterback reads as the toughest aspect. When should junior quarterback Mark Pickerel pitch the ball? When should he keep it himself?

Pickerel says he has it under control.

“It really is not that difficult,” Pickerel said. “Once you start watching film on a team, you can pick up its tendencies. If he does that, I’ll do this.”

Ofodile, Pickerel and the rest of the Bruins know they’ve come a long way from 1-9 but that they have a lot of work remaining.

“We have taken some steps in the right direction,” Ofodile said. “We have more steps to take.”

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