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Betting the spread

Start fast. Play hard. Finish strong.

The motto is the same, but that’s about it for the Park City High School football team ahead of its 2010 season. The 2009 state semifinalists have a new head coach, 30-year-old Kai Smalley, who is charged with installing the spread offense and recovering from the loss of a memorable senior class.

Less than a month remains before the Aug. 20 season opener at Riverton High School, and the Miners have spent the last week holding one-a-day workouts in the mornings. "Things have been going really well," Smalley said. "We’ve been getting good turnouts, and our seniors have really stepped up and become leaders on this team."

Some players left Friday to better learn the spread offense in Thurston, Ore., at The System Camp. Next week’s X’s and O’s camp will introduce all of the drills the players will run so they’re fully prepared when two-a-days begin Aug. 9. At least in the early going, confidence is high among the Miners.

"We’ll be pretty good," said 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior tight end and defensive end Jake Adams. "We’ve got a lot of talent. It’s a new system; it just takes time, that’s all."

Smalley’s spread offense is a deviation from Park City’s identity under departed coach Brandon Matich, who left for East High after last school year. Matich’s diverse running attack was led by Dylan Chynoweth (now at Navy) and Erik Walker (Weber State), who combined for 53 touchdowns on the ground before losing to Hurricane in the state semifinals at Rice-Eccles Stadium.

"We’re losing two really good players, but we have more than just two really good players," Adams said. "We’ve got a lot more talent, I think, this year."

Smalley played four years on the defensive line after walking on at the University of Oregon and most recently served in both offensive and defensive coaching roles at rival Wasatch. He said he’s been surprised by the quality of athletes through spring ball and late summer. "When I got here, they told me we didn’t have very big players," he said. "We’ve got a good-sized line."

The spread offense, for the uninitiated, has been a major revolution in high school and college football over recent years. In the spread, the quarterback lines up in a shotgun formation while three to five wide receivers space the field so that defenses must betray their coverages. The offense – a staple of Chip Kelly at the University of Oregon and for Urban Meyer during the University of Utah’s undefeated season in 2004 (using a variation known as the spread option) – puts a lot of pressure on the quarterback to make quick reads, often calling plays without benefit of a huddle.

Assuming that challenge for the Miners will be 6-foot-1 junior Paul Flake. Smalley said Flake has looked very capable thus far, and he’s excited to have a quarterback to mold for two years. He still needs to improve his read progressions, but his work ethic has encouraged Smalley.

"He’s a real focused kid," Smalley said. "As soon as I met him, he knew what he wanted to do: He wanted to come in and be the quarterback. He’s been working hard all summer, and he throws a great ball."

He might not be mistaken for Walker, the 100-meter state champion, but Flake can put a dent in a defense with his scrambling ability.

"He ran the ball in JV," Smalley said. "I’m not afraid to get the ball in his hands and have him make plays with his feet if he needs to." Juniors Heath Vincent and Rufie Frost are also capable backups, he added.

Flake is blessed with a talented receiving corps including Adams, 6-foot-3 senior Brian Schettler, and erstwhile soccer player Nick Dorius – who Smalley said has "grabbed the attention of the coaches." Park City’s players are excited about the big-yardage potential of their new attack, but the Miners won’t completely abandon the running game. Far from it, said Smalley.

"One of the things that we told the kids when we first came in was they’ve been a run team in the past, and just because we’re going to spread the field, doesn’t mean that we have to be only a passing team," Smalley said. "Brandon built a great running game. Why would I not take advantage of that? We’ll find different ways to get guys involved in the offense."

The team has a number of options at halfback, but the early edge at starter appears to have gone to 5-foot-9 Blake Thorne, who also plays cornerback. "He has a lot of the good speed that Park City’s known for, and he’s really taken this offense and stepped up as a leader," Smalley said. Another burner, track and baseball standout Chad Wing, will get carries for the Miners.

Doing the dirty work at left tackle and defensive tackle will be 6-foot-2, 275-pound senior A.J. Flint. He has already made a lasting impact. "A.J.’s been a very positive leader out here for the guys," Smalley said. "He’s a big kid, he’s a presence." At 240 pounds, Genaro Villa has also made an impression at right tackle and defensive lineman, Smalley said.

Park City’s defense, which allowed just over 16 points a game last year, will be led by a new coordinator in Joe Sisson. The former Logan coach will teach at Morgan High School and commute each day.

"The kids have really bought into him," Smalley said. "He’s stepped into a coordinator position in kind of a tough situation. He got hired kind of late, but it was one of those things where he was familiar with what I wanted to do on the field."

A host of old coaches also return for 2010, including Mike Dolan and Les Wiehe. "We have a lot of guys coming back that have really stepped up in new positions," Smalley said. "I’ve asked them to do some different stuff, and they’ve taken the time to learn it. It’s as important for them to learn it as it is for the kids to learn it."

The class of 16 seniors brings the Miners some semblance of continuity. Adams said it’s hard to come into a program as a new coach, but he thinks Smalley has performed well so far. "We’re out here doing everything we can, and he’s really pushing us a lot," Adams said. "He’s a really good guy, I like him a lot."

His new coach returned the compliment to his players.

"It’s better than I could’ve hoped for, actually," Smalley said. "The kids are working hard, and they do stuff on their own. They want to get better."

After Riverton, the Miners stay on the road for Juan Diego on Aug. 27. Delta is slated for the first home game on Sept. 3. The homecoming game will be held against Manti on Sept. 17.


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