State

A versatile athlete is required to play QB these days

Maybe it's television, or perhaps the coaching clinics that bring in folks from across the nation to swap ideas, but football's become a trendy sport.

It might take a while for an idea to move from one part of the country to another, but don't worry, it will get there.

And so the era of the athletic quarterback has arrived.

This evolution we're seeing with Stanislaus District quarterbacks -- from one-dimensional players to versatile athletes -- yielded Isaiah Burse and the district's first State Bowl champion last season.

Ryan Emerald, Kevin Kramer, Klayton Miller, Ravonne Pious and a handful of others have taken his place this fall. Like Burse at Modesto Christian, many of the next-generation players are winning, too.

Kramer, Miller and Pious are examples of how the new-era quarterback can change a school's fortunes in one year.

Turlock, 0-10 a year ago, is 4-0 and The Bee's top-ranked team with Kramer, Modesto's resurgence the last few years coincided with Miller's arrival, and the folks in Orestimba are talking about the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

There are lots of names for the schemes they run, but all fit into one of three categories: the pass-oriented spread, the spread-option and the pistol.

They share many qualities, but none so critical as this: They put the ball in the hands of the best player every play. With the defense spread thin and shifting as offensive players move about, it can create chaos and expansive avenues that produce explosive plays.

The spread has been the offense of choice in Texas for a decade, and the top programs in Florida converted, as well. It's been in California, but it took a state title to validate it for many folks in the valley.

A few years ago, an athlete such as Kramer might have been a halfback getting 20 touches a game. Ripon's 5-foot-7 Alex Gustin would been relegated to receiver, his running skills wasted in a standard offense.

Now Kramer gets it 50 to 60 times, taking each snap in the shotgun. He gives to a back, or a receiver in motion, or he runs it himself, or he looks to pass ... unless he can't find a receiver, then he scrambles.

Gustin exploits his diminutive frame as a runner in the open field. More space means the 5-7, 150-pounder is elusive and averages 10 yards a run.

Quarterbacks used to come in two types before this trend: They took a snap from center and relayed the ball to a back, or dropped back and counted on the pocket for protection.

Those in run offenses didn't pass, and those in pass offenses didn't run. It was a rare player who was proficient at both, so rare that some coaches were not sure what to do with him.

Now they put him six yards behind center, a back beside him and three or four receivers spread across the field. It makes a defensive coordinator devise a new attack plan -- but that always comes later.

Offense rules the day in this evolution, as teams pile up 40, 50 and even 60 points, leaving defenses in tatters as they're forced to play sideline to sideline, end to end. All it takes is one missed assignment, someone slips and it leaves the gap open, and a quarterback like Miller is on a 60-yard TD run.

Just ask Sonora, which saw Miller take an option keeper 69 yards in Modesto's victory -- still Sonora's only loss. Of course, Sonora's Ryan Emerald was every bit as effective as both a runner and passer.

Wonder what's comin' next?

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