The San Luis Obispo County team is turning to a radical offensive approach to try to end a four-year losing streak to the Northern Santa Barbara County squad and cover up the absence of several standout seniors who will miss Saturday night’s FCA All-Star showcase at 7:30 p.m. at Santa Ynez High.
Even without premier names such as Bailey Gaither, Josh Oliver, Jonathan Baldwin, Nate Greenelsh and Ryan Teixeira for a variety of reasons, the area lineup still boasts seniors who either won a CIF-Southern Section title this past year or at least made semifinal runs.
Two such players are quarterbacks Matt Albright of Nipomo and Atascadero’s Tommy Carr — a pair of signal callers with differing skill sets.
So rather than compile a vanilla playbook to take advantage of Albright’s decision making and Carr’s athleticism, their respective high school coaches are co- offensive coordinators who will run two completely different units.
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“We kind of talked about it and said, ‘Shoot, there’s a lot of offensive linemen and skill position players that do a lot of different things, why don’t we run two totally separate offenses?’ ” Nipomo coach Russ Edwards said. “So that’s what we’re going to do.”
Edwards, Albright and a majority of their Northern League compatriots will run Nipomo’s up-tempo spread offense. When those 11 come off the field, the other unit is comprised mainly of PAC 5 players who will run Atascadero coach Vic Cooper’s run-centric scheme.
Edwards said there was some switching on the line. San Luis Obispo’s David Chellsen will be able to better utilize his quick feet pass blocking for Albright while Morro Bay maulers Adrian Astorga and Karsten Sween will help pave the way for Carr and his Greyhound teammate and running back Ethan Hicks.
“We’ve also spent some time in practice swapping quarterbacks, too,” Edwards said. “So if there’s an injury, the other will be able to at least run some basic stuff.”
The SLO County team is 0-4 overall in the summer showcase, losing by scores of 29-7 (2011), 27-14 (2012), 36-10 (2013) and 24-20 (2014).
“Camaraderie has been better this year than any other year,” Edwards said. “They’ve bought into the spirit of the game and are really enjoying each other’s company.
“Their chant after practice is ‘Fellowship!’ and it’s half-joking, but there’s also some seriousness to it.”
The game has agreed-upon rules regarding defensive strategies to keep players healthy and help boost the offensive outputs traditional in all-star games. The defenses cannot blitz, Edwards said, but while in previous years the defensive linemen couldn’t slant or stunt, they’ve been given more freedom to move along the line of scrimmage this year.
Edwards said that will benefit SLO County’s smaller — and disruptive — linemen such as Nipomo’s Matt Sparks and Morro Bay’s Jordan Liberatore.
When a lineman slanted in past games, it was supposed to result in a penalty, such as the infraction called against SLO County on a crucial fourth-down play last year that allowed Northern Santa Barbara a fresh set of downs and allowed it to score the go-ahead touchdown.
“It takes the pressure off the officials to make calls they never normally have to make,” Edwards said. “Rather than put the blame or a key moment on the official, it will give our guys more freedom.” Edwards singled out Atascadero linebacker Karson Block as a standout throughout the practices leading up to Saturday’s game.
“We can’t block him — nobody can,” Edwards said. “Wherever he lines up, it’s going to be fun to watch him.”
Wide receivers Cooper Kuhnle from Atascadero and Nipomo’s Nick Kimball are splitting time with both units in part because of their talent, but also to out of necessity with both Greenelsh and Gaither out Greenelsh, an All-County first teamer and preferred walk-on at Cal Poly, is still nursing a hamstring injury that cut short a promising track and field season this spring.
Gaither, The Tribune’s County Player of the Year after scoring 30 touchdowns in 2014, will attend the showcase but won’t play as he begins training at San Jose State in July. Edwards said the decision on when either unit will take the field falls to head coach Rich Schimke.
“With how much we have offensively, it’s going to present problems for the other team because we’re not really vanilla,” Edwards said. “We’re able to do a lot of our actual offenses. “Now, will we be able to get into a rhythm? I think because we have two very good quarterbacks we’re going to be able to.”