There is no perfect science to operating an offense with a dual-threat quarterback, but when the system works, it's hard to find a more difficult one to stop in high school football.
Opponents of Shelbyville and Warrensburg-Latham found that out firsthand last season in their attempt to stop Turner Pullen of the Rams and Dionte Lewis of the Cardinals.
The two marched their respective teams to deep postseason runs, tormenting opposing defenses on the ground and then turning to their aerial assault when they needed to.
Shelbyville advanced to the Class 2A state semifinals behind Pullen's combined 42 touchdowns on 2,138 passing yards to accompany his 1,205 rushing yards on his way to an IHSFCA first team all-state selection.
Lewis helped the Cardinals to the Class 1A state quarterfinals – their furthest postseason advancement since 1987 – while throwing for 955 yards and 12 TDs and running for 1,930 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Though the Generals (1-8) didn't find the same team success as Shelbyville or Warrensburg-Latham, Brummett – who is committed to Northern Illinois University as an athlete – scored a combined 13 touchdowns while passing for 1,063 yards and running for 269.
Though the players are only there for a maximum of four years, the threat of a dual-threat offense is enough for the coaches to buy in well beyond the players' tenure, while making adjustments as needed.
“We hate defending it,” Warrensburg-Latham coach Scott Godfrey said. “That's the biggest reason we went to one. As a defensive coach, we hate defending it. You can defend the pass perfectly and he takes off and runs. It just brings another element that a non-mobile quarterback does not.”
“When you have the quarterback who is able to do it, it's just like having a 12th player on the field, really,” second-year Shelbyville coach Bill Duckett said.
Having the offense run like a fine-tuned machine isn't all about the quarterbacks. Offensive lineman have to adjust their blocking schemes, receivers have to run scramble drills or block down field in an effort to be there when the quarterback needs them most.
All three quarterbacks bring different experiences, but fall under the dual-threat umbrella.
Pullen put up the most gaudy numbers last season, and according to Duckett, could start as a running back on most teams.
Last season, the coaching staff encouraged him to take off running if he could pick up the first down on the ground, rather than risking an incompletion or interception.
Though that mindset exists, Pullen has a bevy of weapons this season who are ripe with the experience of a deep postseason run.
“I think that's what coach Duckett's mindset is for me to spread the ball out and get it to these receivers,” Pullen said. “I mean, with the guys we have, we might as well spread it out and get it to them.”
Those receivers include Cade Watson, Kentrell Beck, Brett Spears, Mason Cameron and Jack Lopez. But make no mistake, if Pullen can get an easy first down by running, he will take off.
“In the game you've got to do what you've got to do,” Pullen added. “Going into the game, it's always your mindset as a quarterback to get your receivers the ball. That's what a quarterback should do. In a game, if you've got that first down, I think every quarterback should get the yards.”
Lewis has spent the better part of the last 12 months learning the intricacies of being a quarterback.
Last July, Godfrey moved the speedster from running back to quarterback in order to be able to share the backfield with his brother, Diondre.
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It took time, but as the season progressed, so did Dionte.
“It was probably Week 7 when he started to kind of get a feel for the passing game and really start to figure things out,” Godfrey said. “The first few weeks, we were struggling to complete a pass. As he got more reps, he figured it out. Your playmakers start to figure it out. He had the ball in his hands enough that he kind of figured out how to show run and step back and throw at times and do things like that.”
After Lewis started to incorporate the passing game efficiently into his game, defenses started attacking him when he rolled out, allowing him to dump passes over the top.
“Before I was throwing better, they would load the box up and have nobody guarding any of my receivers,” Lewis said of last season. “Just throwing off air made me more comfortable and I was able to translate that to working the defender.”
Now, with 12 games under his belt from the quarterback position, he's ready to inflict more damage. With a more effective arm, Lewis knows he has more than enough ways to beat an opponent.
And when a lineman came up to try to tackle him or rattle him, he trusted his skill set and stayed composed.
“I knew I was too fast for the lineman to get me so it doesn't bother me if they get in my face because I know I can get around them or away from them somehow,” Lewis said.
Brummett is a different story at MacArthur. He won't be playing quarterback at NIU next season, but MacArthur coach Derek Spates says his signal caller is a passer before he's a runner.
The running just adds an element that can't be matched by defenses.
Spates loves watching his skill players match up against an opposing linebacker and watching his guys win a foot race.
“When you have a quarterback who can beat you on third down and whatever to keep the sticks moving, it's tough because you can't account for him on defense.”
Still, entering his third year as starting quarterback, Brummett has the mentality of a seasoned vet.
He knows options with his legs are available at the beck and call. Brummett also knows the big plays will likely happen with his arm, not his legs.
“Be a factor towards the game,” Brummett said of his mindset. “Make the big play and try to pass before you run. Don't be urgent to take off running. See the pass before you see the rush (coming at you). See downfield before you the rush (coming at you).”
If the defenders come flying at Brummett, one of his receivers is likely flying downfield uncovered. He's learned to wait for that.
Those same receivers – on MacArthur, Warrensburg and Shelbyville -- are the ones who round boundlessly waiting for their quarterback to find them.
It just so happens one the receivers on MacArthur is Amir's brother Armon.
Because they're brothers, Amir can be a little more blunt with his brother.
“If anything, it's me telling him to run his route faster,” Amir said. “Sometimes receivers get tired after they make a big play. After they've ran so many routes, they can't run it full speed anymore. I tell them every time when the ball is in the air, you always see a receiver hit another notch of speed. I say, 'Go off the ball at that speed and try to maintain that speed instead of hitting it once the ball's in the air.'”
For all three schools, receivers have to pull double-duty. They have to be ready for their quarterback at a moment's notice. They also have to act as de facto lineman when their signal caller decides to tuck the ball and take off.
All three coaches demand their receivers to block effectively; otherwise they will get an up-close view from the sideline.
But when everything clicks, the three offenses are a force to behold.