2-way players can benefit football teams

By PETER FOURNIER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Their skill set ranges from taking a third-down handoff to spying the quarterback on a crucial fourth-down play, with little rest in between and an expectation to be one of the best on the field at all times.

So goes the life of a two-way high school football player.

Rancho Cotate's Chris Taylor-Yamanoha runs the ball during a game riday, Sept. 19, 2014. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Rancho Cotate’s Chris Taylor-Yamanoha runs the ball during a game riday, Sept. 19, 2014. (Crista Jeremiason / The Press Democrat)

Teams across the Redwood Empire and the high school level in general are known for utilizing athletes on both sides of the ball. The combinations can vary between a running back who doubles as a linebacker or a wide receiver who plays defensive back, too. There are even quarterbacks who have doubled as safeties.

What do coaches take into consideration when deciding if a player should play two ways?

“If I have somebody that starts both ways, that means we have no other option,” Petaluma High coach Rick Krist said.

“And that’s our best option because we’re going to put the best 22 players on the field. If we get the guy that goes both ways, he’s a pretty special player. It’s that we need him.”

Rancho Cotate coach Ed Conroy said his decisions on two-way players are sometimes “situational” decisions. “We really need to come up on a run stop on third down. We’ll put in the big offensive lineman in there on third down,” he said.

“On third and short, we need a little bit more bulk in there, so we’ll get those kids in there.”

The Cougars also play their best players both ways, too. Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, a wide receiver with a bevy of scholarship offers in just his junior year, doubles as a defensive back. Playing both ways isn’t a chore to him; it’s just how he likes it. He wouldn’t be happy playing on just one side of the ball.

“I’d be pretty mad,” he said. “I’d get bored, probably, because I also love defense. I couldn’t really pick which way I had to go if I had to pick.”

Cardinal Newman coach Paul Cronin is well versed in using players on both sides of the ball, in part because of the size of the school and players’ talent.

“Our theory is that when you’re in need, more people go both ways than you want,” he said.

Cronin said the Cardinals’ receivers and corners go both ways “if they’re good players.” He said the team limits linemen to “one and a half ways.” One and a half ways means a player plays full-out on one side of the ball and half the time on the other.

“It’s a lot of collision; it’s a lot of wear and tear on the body,” Cronin said of linemen’s jobs.

“If we have a star guy that is better than the guy behind him, we’ll play him both ways. If we had two comparable guys … then we stick them on one side of the other. It’s more the star guys where you’re in that dilemma.”

“If we had a star linebacker, we want to make sure he’s able to play one and a half ways. You can focus a lot more on their skill development in practice.”

One of Newman’s best skill players in school history, Scooby Wright, who’s currently playing linebacker at the

University of Arizona, was probably one of the most heavily utilized two-way players Cronin’s ever had. The Cardinals coach said he played six positions: Defensive line, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, tight end, fullback, wide receiver and tailback at different times, and even played all of them in one game his senior season, vs. Alhambra. He’s even returned kickoffs and punts.

“I tell people I used to return kicks in high school and they say ‘No, you’re lying,’” Wright said.

Wright’s focus in high school was defense. He said Cronin simplified the offense for him.

“The challenge is how you make him comfortable in the different spots,” Cronin said. “You want to maximize what you’re doing with him in the seasons you have him.”

Wright said Cronin utilized him everywhere because his size and speed was just that much better than most of the opponents on the field. He hasn’t had the chance to do the same thing in college, though.

“We haven’t really worked on it too much because we don’t have that much depth at linebacker,” Wright said.
Current Newman quarterback Jordan Brookshire will be playing defense next season, according to Cronin. He’s a player who’s almost at the level of Wright and another two-way talent Cronin wants to take advantage of.

“In Sonoma County, you’re blessed to get them, and you’re going to put them on the field because they’re special guys,” he said.

  • Timbo

    Most small schools in the Empire under (500) play players both ways, due to limited numbers, but it is those small school players that are the least discussed…….