YORKTOWN – Each season, the Yorktown football team shapes its offense in the image of its best player.
In 2013, diminutive and stout tailback Chandler Carroll’s peculiar blend of elusive-yet-powerful running set the stage, while quarterback Riley Neal empowered the passing game. A year later, the offense revolved around Neal, letting him run with abandon and throw at his Division I standard.
Now, Ball State-bound offensive lineman Anthony Todd is the team’s top player, and the Tigers attack will shapeshift to match the power he can provide. He’s moved from left tackle to center and is flanked by four other returning starting linemen. A team long known for chucking it around will slide more toward ground-and-pound.
“It’s a great different feeling,” Todd said. “With Riley, you’re used to throwing the ball a lot.
“Coming into it this year, the weight is on our shoulders.”
Instead of spreading it out, the Tigers will go for more of a power scheme. It means trading the shotgun for more I-formation with tailbacks behind fullbacks. It means offensive linemen trading a two-point stance, ideal in pass-heavy alignments, for a hand on the ground.
This kind of transformation is nothing new at Yorktown. Tiger coach Mike Wilhelm said every season his staff reassesses, reorganizes. His team doesn’t have a year-in, year-out system, and the seeds for the change were sown early.
“As soon as the season was over,” Wilhelm said, “we talked about it and decided that it would do two things. One, it would put our best player where we’re never running away from our best player. Last year we ran the ball, I think, 70 percent of the time to the left because Anthony Todd was our left tackle. So every play is going to be behind Anthony Todd.
“He’s a great athlete and we knew that will only make him a better football player.”
This is life when you’re the smallest school in the Hoosier Heritage Conference, where a rigid outlook will get a school such as Yorktown shellacked (Wilhelm’s word) by a range of solid programs.
This kind of transition from QB-centric to run-heavy isn’t even foreign, as a mid-2000s changeover saw a pass-heavy offense built around quarterback Chase Thurston morph into a power scheme reliant on running back Ryan Keys.
The offense will be similar to the one of that 2005 vintage. With a backfield comprised of solid runner Dawson Allen, rising junior varsity star Jordan Spangler and muscle-bound fullback Peyton Stites, the formations will be tighter and more runs will come straight downhill.
“It is kind of nice having some fullbacks, some extra power in there,” Allen said. “Kind of punch some people out of the way for you.”
Those fullbacks are a somewhat new addition to Yorktown’s schemes. Last year, Stites and occasionally linebacker Myron Howard came in as designated blockers for Neal’s plunges. But for the most part, they’ve been a one-back team.
Stites said some of that will carry over, and he seems to relish the new designation and new arrangement.
“That will diversify our offense a little bit instead of just throwing the ball more than running the ball,” Stites said. “I think we’re going to be able to mix it up more this year.”
What both players did say was it always helps to have Todd tearing open holes in the middle of opposing defenses.
This is a change for the four-year starter. Standing on the Tigers’ practice field in mid-August, he looked back to his freshman year, when offensive line coach Steve Brown pulled him aside and said he’d start his first ever high school game against Southside.
“It’s been a fast process,” Todd said. “It’s kind of weird thinking I’ve got one week left until it’s my last year of high school football. High school football’s been the most fun I’ve had in forever. I’m looking forward to four more years, but I just want to cherish this year, have fun with this year and live in the moment for it.”
After playing both tackle spots, he was approached this year with the proposal to move inside. At nearly 300 pounds, he’s able to play every line spot, and could play a range of them in college.
Brown has seen his development along the way, adding to his game and always taking instruction. This offseason, the staff asked him to lose weight to improve mobility. He did. Moving to center required adapting to having his hands and feet work independently (something other spots don’t ask as much for) and he made the effort to master those skills.
Todd is only the second four-year line starter they’ve had, and that too worked to his advantage.
“We’ve had that happen one other time that I’ve been here with Daniel Blanton,” Brown said. “So we kind of had a pattern to work off of. It enabled us to do some things better.
“It’s been a real joy to watch Ant because he honestly and sincerely works at it.”
The coach added moving Todd inside gives the line one voice. In past years, he made calls for one side of the line and guard Daniel Lavoie made calls for the other. Now Todd can look both ways and coordinate things.
He’ll have to for a team that lost an army of passing and receiving stars, but return the whole front from an offense that surpassed 5,000 yards (Todd’s move shifted Shawn Llamas from right to left tackle and Joey Pier from guard to tackle). That means more power, a look more suited to an offensive lineman’s preferences and one built around a Division I big man.
Todd might be coming to the end of his line as a Tiger and trying out a new spot, but he made one promise about his rebuilt Yorktown squad.
“Expect a run game,” Todd said. “That’s all I can say.”
Contact sports writer Ben Breiner at 213-5848. Follow him on Twitter @BenBreinerTSP.