During last season's playoff game against Anaheim High School, La Habra quarterback Matt Shackelford--then a 16-year-old junior--scrambled to his right and threw the ball to his left, across his body. The pass was intercepted by an Anaheim player, whose team went on to win.
Later, watching game films, La Habra Coach Bob Rau told Shackelford: "You can't do that. Not unless you're John Elway."
"I am John Elway," Shackelford said.
Of course, Shackelford was just kidding. At 6-feet 185 pounds, he's three inches shorter and 27 pounds lighter than Elway, the Denver Bronco star. And, though he says he can throw the ball 65 yards, his arm is by no means equal to Elway's.
But Shackelford and Elway have one thing in common. They both direct complicated offenses.
Rau shouldn't have been surprised to see his quarterback try something that might have been beyond his ability. Rau has been asking Shackelford to run one of Orange County's more complicated high school offenses for the last three seasons.
Shackelford became a varsity starter his sophomore year, the first season Rau instituted a run-and-shoot passing game. The run and shoot, which keeps the quarterback on the move and sends out a variety of receivers, is a rarity among high school offenses. But it is still in place at La Habra.
Each year, however, Rau has added a twist in the running game. Last year, he switched from a one-back to a two-back rushing attack. This year, he has added a triple-option play and the wishbone formation.
"From what I've heard, we have a pretty sophisticated offense," Shackelford said. "But I learned this stuff from the start, so it seems natural to me."
The offense has worked well the past two years, helping La Habra reach the Southern Section Central Conference playoffs twice. In 1985, the Highlanders made it to the semifinals before losing to Saddleback, and last year, they advanced to the quarterfinals against Anaheim. Both seasons, Shackelford passed for more than 1,000 yards, despite sharing time with quarterback John Robertson and missing part of last season with a separated shoulder.
And the run and shoot worked the way it was supposed to, allowing La Habra to score quickly. Twice last year, the team rallied from big deficits, scoring on Shackelford's three touchdown passes to beat Warren with less than eight minutes to play, and scoring four touchdowns in the fourth quarter to defeat University in the playoffs.
"(The run and shoot) is almost impossible to defense against," Shackelford said.
As for the changes in the running game, Shackelford said he hasn't had problems adapting.
"I'm not sure why (Rau) keeps changing things," Shackelford said. "I guess to give other schools a hard time."
Rau said his basic offensive sets and terminology have remained the same the last three years, but he continues to add new twists, adjusting to the defense of his opponents and the ability of La Habra's personnel.
Shackelford said he has never felt intimidated handling an offense that is more complicated than what most 17-year-old quarterbacks must deal with.
"He's the type of athlete that can adapt," Rau said. "There's a big load on him, but he's done real well so far. Last week, he executed the option phase of our game really well."
However, in general, Rau wasn't pleased with his team's performance in last week's 7-0 victory over Warren, and admits that the offense may be getting too complicated.
"The team has so much going on," he said. "The run and shoot and running the option. . . . We need a lot of work on both of those. If it's too sophisticated, we'll start simplifying things. We have five nonleague games to fine-tune things."
Rau said he believes La Habra's complex offense will make Shackelford appealing to college scouts, "as long as we execute it well." Shackelford, who hopes to play both college and professional football, has been contacted by a number of colleges, including Indiana, Purdue, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado.
"I assume it (the complex offense) will help me in the future," Shackelford said, gesturing at the arrows, X's and O's that snaked across the plays of his playbook. "It's just common sense to me."