Tritons Regroup With No Huddle : Football: San Clemente winning games with quick-hitting offense for second year in a row.


San Clemente Coach Mark McElroy doesn’t claim to be an innovator or a guru. In fact, he’d rather someone else take credit for his team’s no-huddle offense. McElroy insists he’s simply trying to win football games--something San Clemente hasn’t done consistently for nearly 20 years.

“I’m growing as a coach,” he said. “I’m not the best offensive coach in the world. I’m just a coach trying to do something unique that will put our team in a more advantageous situation.”

The Tritons tried huddling for 16 years and in that span they made the playoffs once--in 1993. Now in its second year of forgetting about the huddle, San Clemente has remembered how to win. The Tritons, coming off impressive victories over El Toro and Wilmington Banning, are 2-1 and ranked fifth in Orange County entering Friday night’s game against third-ranked Foothill.


“We’ve gathered around each other before on the sidelines during timeouts, but it’s not really a huddle,” McElroy said. “It’s more like a semicircle.”

To defensive coordinators, the no-huddle offense appears more like a television show whose characters have too much nervous energy. The line calls of “Forrest Gump, Dopey, Sleepy, Larry, Curly and Moe,” seem more appropriate for the big screen than the football field.

And when opponents stop laughing at the ridiculous terms, they usually start wearing down because they don’t have time to catch their breath between plays. El Toro Coach Mike Milner paid the no-huddle the ultimate tribute three weeks ago, when he warned his players about straying too far from their positions.

“I told them, ‘Don’t go sprinting across field to join in on a tackle if you can’t get back to line up for the next play,’ ” said Milner, whose team lost to San Clemente, 27-15.

But defenses’ problems don’t end when they get lined up. There’s still the four-receiver, one-back offense to worry about, and that has caused more headaches lately than the no-huddle.

Wilmington Banning tried blitzing the four-receiver set last week. San Clemente responded by throwing middle screens over the blitzing linebackers to receivers Trevor Insley and Jason Hylland. Both passes went for touchdowns. When Banning was too exhausted to blitz in the second half, McElroy simply went to a base offense and ran junior Ryan Davis up the gut for 117 yards in 12 carries.


“If I make the right reads and the right throws, this offense is unstoppable,” said senior quarterback Chris Boden, who ran the no-huddle for the junior varsity last year.

But so far, Boden admits the offense has stopped itself more often than not. In three games, seven of his passes have been intercepted. However, four of those came in San Clemente’s opener, a 20-6 loss at Hawaii to Honolulu Punahou.

“I was a little nervous that first game and their defense was really good,” Boden said. “If we played them now, the result would be a lot different.”

Boden’s completion percentage of 48.6 is far from sparkling, but his 811 passing yards lead the county after three weeks. That is the kind of production McElroy had in mind when he decided to implement his Bill Walsh-style “West Coast offense” two years ago.

San Clemente was coming off its best season in 14 years, including a Southern Section Division I quarterfinal playoff appearance in 1993. But McElroy knew he needed to change.

“We had no legitimate running back and our offensive line was depleted, but I had some great receivers,” said McElroy, now in his fourth year as head coach at San Clemente. “Week in and week out, San Clemente is not going to line up and beat the brains out of the top schools, so we had to do something a little different offensively.”


McElroy, who played quarterback and defensive back on two San Clemente league championship teams in the late 1970s and later coached at Brigham Young for two years, was introduced to no-huddle guru Tom Craft in 1987 at a coaching clinic. Craft, then the head coach at Palomar College, went on to become San Diego State’s offensive coordinator.

“It [the offense] was difficult at first,” said Insley, who leads the county in receptions with 23. “I was pretty overwhelmed, but once coach Mac explained it and said it would catch the other teams off guard, I started believing in it.”

But not many coaches do, as San Clemente is the only team in the county to employ the no-huddle offense. It’s believed only Newhall Hart, in the entire Southern Section, runs a similar scheme.

Milner said he admires McElroy for running the no-huddle, but he’s not a believer.

“I don’t think I’d think of seriously running it,” he said. “I think it has an adverse effect. I think the idea of coming in the huddle and grouping together, firing each other up and drawing strength from each other is something that’s really necessary.”

McElroy doesn’t argue that point. But he also notes that defending a no-huddle offense requires a no-huddle defense, and McElroy says that can be demoralizing. He also argues that it keeps a team in essentially the same base defense throughout the game.

“We usually take our time calling the plays,” McElroy said, “But if defenses get lazy, we can quick count them and go at any time.”


McElroy, who has the plays taped to his arm, initiates the offense by signaling the play to Boden, the four receivers and Davis. Boden then calls the play at the line of scrimmage for the offensive line’s benefit. Meanwhile, receivers pace up and down the line of scrimmage before getting set.

“It’s hard to identify the receivers, especially Insley,” Milner said. “We had a hard time following him and figuring out where he would line up.”

Boden said teams often have a hard time deciphering what “Forrest Gump” is all about. McElroy said it’s all about having fun.

“It’s a lot more fun calling ‘Dopey-89’ than a blast play,” he said. “When a kid comes up with a signal for a play, he takes pride in that. This allows them to be more creative.”

McElroy said you have to have a couple brains too.

“It’s the kids that make it go, but our quarterback last year, Jeff Carlin, was a 4.0 student who’s at the U.S. Naval Academy.”

“Boden has a 3.7 grade-point average. I don’t know if it would work with a knucklehead, although the receivers seem to understand it OK,” McElroy said with a chuckle.