Versatility key for football teams

On July 16, released its finalists for the annual Super 11 team—a preseason list put together by the publication to honor the best returning high school football players in the area. And while a roll call of 34 finalists predictably reads like a who’s who of players ready to become household names once September rolls around, it also shines a light on a transformation taking place in football circles; notably the rise of the hybrid player.

D’Andre Cosby breaks a tackle against Byram Hills during the 2017 season. Cosby—who shined as a running back and receiver last year—comes into the 2018 season with high expectations.

Many of the 34 finalists fit tried-and-true football molds. Big-armed Rye quarterback Declan Lavelle, speedy Huguenot wideout Omari Walker and every-down New Rochelle running back Jordan Forrest—not to mention stalwart defensive presences like the Garnets’ Jack Iuliano and New Ro’s Khairi Manns—are among the many who fit roles that have been recognizable in the sport over the last half century. But others, like Harrison’s D’Andre Cosby and Mamaroneck’s Shane Smith have shined while playing more fluid roles for their teams and could very well be a product of football’s evolution.

Smith, a rising senior, had his position listed as “athlete” on the 2017 Tigers’ roster and for good reason; he saw time at wide receiver and running back and excelled at both, gaining nearly 1,000 yards from scrimmage in just eight games of action last year. According to Mamaroneck head coach Anthony Vitti, Smith’s versatility—as well as his speed—is a big reason the 6’1, 195 pounder has had so much success in two seasons on the varsity level.

“Football as a game is becoming more multidimensional and you’re seeing guys less stuck in roles,” Vitti said. “Shane has tremendous ability as a runner and a receiver, which offers us the freedom to move him around and get him in a spot where we can get him in the open field to break tackles.”

Unlike Smith, Cosby does have a set position—he’s listed as a running back on Harrison’s roster—but the 5’8 speedster is used in a variety of packages, much like his fellow finalist. Opposing defenses were just as likely to see Cosby in the backfield as split out wide last year and needed to focus their efforts on stopping him between the tackles as well as making catches downfield.

Similar to the way Mamaroneck worked for different scenarios to get Smith in open space, much of Harrison’s game plan has been centered on finding ways for Cosby to exploit mismatches.

“He’s such a threat with the ball in his hands, we like to move him around and try to find different avenues for him to be dynamic,” said Huskies’ coach Dom Zanot. “And once he became comfortable in that role, he was really dynamite for us.”

According to Zanot, many area coaches are embracing new ways of isolating playmakers in today’s game, leading to high school football looking markedly different than it did just 15 years ago.

Shane Smith goes up for a ball against Scarsdale in 2016. Over the past two seasons, Smith has become a multi-purpose threat for Mamaroneck. Photos/Mike Smith

“The old I-formation toss sweep has now turned into a player catching a bubble screen pass, and the old I-formation tailbacks have given way to more versatile players,” he said. “Those guys who used to be Power-I tailbacks can run those same plays from different formations.”

Zanot believes this shift occurred in higher levels of football first, noting that the days of a running back-centric NFL have given way to a more wide open style of play.

“I think it started in college and the NFL, and has trickled down to the high school game,” he said. “We might not have an 1,000 yard rusher, but players like D’Andre are going to get those 1,000 yards whether it’s in the air or someone handing them the ball.”

Both Vitti and Zanot note that their Super 11 finalists share a similar unselfish attitude that helps free up opportunities for the team’s other skilled position players. These types of hybrid players, they say, need to have that team-first mindset.

“[Shane] opens things up for the other guys because he always needs some type of attention from the defense,” Vitti said. “If he’s in the backfield and the defense is heavy in the box, we can go to guys on the outside.”

Zanot added, “[Having a player like D’Andre] helps definitely, but it’s more effective when you have those other threats on the field. We’ve got guys like Alejandro Aguirre, Frank Nannariello and Justin Altamuro coming back, and D’Andre allows those players to be more dynamic as well.”

The official high school football season will begin with two-a-days starting on Aug. 13. The Super 11 team will be announced on Aug. 26, and the first game of the 2018 season will be played on Aug. 31 when Ramapo travels to take on Arlington.




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