By Brian Paglia
Locust Grove football coach Clint Satterfield once had to explain his team's flexbone offense to new players and their parents. When they asked Satterfield to describe the flexbone, he would cite Army and Navy as examples of college programs that use the option-oriented rushing attack. But that didn't help.
"People just couldn't relate," Satterfield said. "They thought it was a lower brand of football."
Now, Satterfield no longer has that problem. He just points to Georgia Tech -- to their ACC title, to their Orange Bowl appearance, to their top-15 ranking, to their top wide receiver a first-round NFL draft pick -- and players understand.
"To be honest with you," Satterfield said, "I think Georgia Tech has helped us with the popularity of the offense."
When Johnson brought the offense to Georgia Tech in 2008, it was chastised as "a high school offense." Skepticism surrounding the flexbone has quieted since, and its popularity has increased. In the Southern Crescent, almost half of the football teams will run the flexbone, or some variation.
"All football is more copy-cat than anything else," said Locust Grove offensive coordinator Edmund Coley, who played at Georgia Southern under Johnson. "Before somebody tries something new, they usually have to see it work at some level.
"Five years ago, people were saying Urban Meyer's offense would never work in the SEC. And then three years ago, they were saying Georgia Tech's offense would never work in a big-time conference."
When Satterfield left Jonesboro to be Locust Grove's first head coach in school history, he knew the caliber of athlete from the school's rural community would vary during the program's infancy. He needed an offense that could get the most out of his roster's talent. He picked the flexbone.
It's an offense that doesn't require massive offensive linemen or gun-slinging quarterbacks to succeed. The flexbone aims to use time management and mastery of the offense to even the playing field with more talented teams.
The flexbone -- a formation defined by a fullback, two slotbacks and two wide receivers -- revolves around a quarterback's decision-making. The quarterback reads the defense and then has three choices: Hand off the ball, take it himself or pitch it.
"The beauty of it is that it's really simple," Coley said, "but extremely detailed. Instead of trying to impose what we do against the defense, we pretty much take what a defense gives us."
Satterfield said the flexbone is the perfect offense for the identity he wants to create at Locust Grove.
"I've always been a defensive guy," Satterfield said, "so I think I was looking for an offense to complement the defense. Give your defense a breather, don't turn the ball over, ball control, clock's running and keep moving the sticks."
For a first-year school, Locust Grove ran the flexbone with great success. The Wildcats went 7-3 in a non-varsity schedule, averaged 221 rushing yards per game and nearly five yards per carry. Six different players rushed for a touchdown.
Returning to run the offense is quarterback Slater Eckert (1,063 yards of offense, 14 TDs), and he'll have the choice of handing the ball off to Jacob Ashe (376 rushing, four TDs) or pitching to Ray Dotson (334 rushing, three TDs) and Taylor Rapes. They'll run behind an offensive line anchored by Jared Cobb and Gerald Clark.
Satterfield said the offense is even better now. It may be, but the Wildcats' schedule might not allow them to showcase their improvements. Six of their first seven games are against Tift County, Coffee County, Eastside, Jackson, Henry County and Sandy Creek, a grueling opening stretch to get acquainted with varsity competition.
So, Satterfield is preaching patience to the community.
"Hopefully, the community here is realistic about Locust Grove," Satterfield said. "They have to understand that the program's going to be built. We're looking to get better each year and two or three years down the road looking to play into late November."