Cole Bailey
ASU Student Journalist

Two-way players are the name of the game for St. Mary's football

October 10, 2018 by Cole Bailey, Arizona State University

St. Mary's defense at work in their game against Tempe High on September 28. (Cole Bailey/AZPreps365)

For small high school football programs like St. Mary’s, improvisation is necessary in order to succeed.  They don’t possess the resources or numbers that some of the bigger schools have, which makes creativity a must.  For the Knights, this creativity comes in the form of two-way players.

In a school of only about 600 students, the pickings for potential football players are very slim.  Because of this, St. Mary’s relies a lot on two-way players, or guys that can play on both offense and defense.  It is not uncommon for schools to have a few guys that play this way, but the Knights’ small roster forces the team to use them in a much higher volume and on a more frequent basis than other teams.

St. Mary’s head coach Tom Brittain is no stranger to using guys on both sides of the ball, however.  Before becoming the head coach at St. Mary’s, Brittain coached at Tempe Prep, another small school with not a lot of players at their disposal.

“It’s all I know as a coach, because I’ve always coached at smaller schools where numbers are always an issue, and right now at St. Mary’s, numbers are an issue,” Brittain said.

Brittain’s experience with two-way players helps with running practices, which are a lot different then practices run under conventional circumstances.  Instead of having the first-team offense take reps against the first-team defense, the Knights have to use their scout teams against these groups to compensate for guys switching between the different first-team units.

“You have to manage practice a little differently and try to make sure guys don’t get too beat up,” Brittain said.  “We have to make sure they’re in great shape so they can persevere in the fourth quarter.”

“When you’re working on defense and you’re an offensive player too, you have to give it your all on defense and make sure you’re doing what you need to do to be ready for offense also,” said wide receiver and defensive back Antonio Flores about practicing for both of his positions.

As for the players, playing two different positions on different sides of the ball means memorizing two different playbooks.  Learning the different plays and schemes for one side of the ball is difficult enough already, but adding another set in there makes things even more challenging.

“It’s kind of hard, but once you get it, you know the team needs you so much that it’s always on your mind.  Even at school you’re always thinking about it,” said wide receiver and outside linebacker Ryan Lauer about the challenges being a two-way player.  “Our coaches give us packets and stuff to always remember, so that helps.”

“You always have to be on your toes and listening to what coaches have to say,” Flores said.  “You might be on defense and Coach is talking about offense, but you still have to be ready and you have to be listening, because the moment you take a couple plays off or stop listening, you fall behind.”

Despite the extra workload that is put on them, Brittain believes that his two-way guys are more than capable of succeeding in their expanded roles.

“They’re young and they love football,” Brittain said.  “They’re the kind of kids that want to do anything to help the team win.”

Having a lot of key guys saddled with this increased workload has not kept St. Mary’s from performing well so far this season, as they currently sit at 4-3 overall and 1-1 in league after only winning a single game all of last season.  According to Brittain, the Knights’ success comes because of these types of players, and not in spite of them.

“I don’t care if I get 100 guys out for a varsity football team, I’m going to play the best players, even if I only need 11.”