Laker football continues to thrive in revamped offense that has become one of the state's best
Camdenton football coach Jeff Shore dubbed his creation the “Purple Tide” offense.
For the defensive coordinators tasked with stopping or at least slowing it down, it might as well be a real life Frankenstein.
“I could talk about it all day,” Shore quipped with a smile about the new phrase in the Laker lexicon.
The pass-heavy scheme the coach and his staff installed a season ago has been among the best in the state of Missouri. According to maxpreps.com, the Lakers’ average of 46.3 points per game trailed only True Divine Word Academy (52.6) in 2018 and the offense is among the best again in 2019 with 50.3 points per outing that currently trails only True Divine Word Academy’s 56.5 and Joplin’s 51.5.
Breaking away from decades of a successful tradition, the Lakers went from lining up behind the “Hogs” on the offensive line and leaning on the running game to airing out the pigskin. Since “Frankenstein” has come to life, the Lakers have won 22 of their past 24 games, have made an appearance in the state quarterfinals and are currently enjoying a perfect 11-0 undefeated season.
“We’ve been awfully successful in our previous slot-I (offense) for a long time,” Shore recalled of an offensive scheme that previously led to five state championships under his father and former Head Coach Bob Shore. “I felt like we needed an injection- something to give us that chance to maybe win some more games and go further in the playoffs. The ultimate goal is to get to the state championship and that is hard to do.
“I felt like we had the receivers and the quarterback and it was just a good year to do it.”
Although, the transition was admittedly not such a simple one.
Part of the idea for the new offense originated from the games Camdenton played against Glendale the past five years. The Falcons had struggled with a number of losing seasons until the pass-heavy scheme Head Coach Mike Mauk brought with him blossomed into an unbeaten regular season, Ozark Conference title and Class 5 district title in 2016 before the team bowed out in the state quarterfinals to finish 11-1.
“The first time we played against them I thought they were crazy. No backs in the backfield,” Shore remarked as he often had his defense line up five yards off the line of scrimmage to dare the Falcons to run. “It just creates a real numbers problem for the defense and dealing with it from the defensive side of the ball, I knew it would be hard.
“You don’t see it very often. It is hard to get your mind around that you only have one linebacker or play with all 11 guys and none have their hand in the dirt on defense.”
Seeing the success of consistently using four or five receivers and knowing he had the personnel to install something similar, Shore set out to put together his own variation of the air assault. He noted the things Glendale did well and combined it with the strengths the Lakers already had- emphasizing his belief that it was still vital to be able to use the old “DNA” and run the football when situations called for it. However, Shore also pointed out that contrary to popular belief, the offense is not the familiarly known spread offense that often employs a running back and typically leaves two linebackers in the game.
“It was going out on a limb. I studied it 45 minutes a day and committed myself all winter long and all spring long to come up with my version of it,” Shore recalled after the 2017 season that ended with a loss in the district semifinals to undefeated state champion Webb City. “I had to know it more than anyone else and tried to figure out how to teach it for my kids. Fortunately, it all came together pretty good. The coaches did a good job and the kids were excited about it. I knew if we were pretty unsuccessful with it, we could play some defense to keep us in games until we figured it out.
“We hit the ground running with it and have not looked back since.”
The man tasked with taking the reigns of this brand new offense was quarterback Paxton DeLaurent. As a sophomore he saw a little bit of varsity time completing one of two passes for 17 yards and a touchdown. Little did he know at the time what was to come.
“Going into it junior year, Coach Shore told me we are going to start a new offense and are going to go ‘5 Wide.' I thought he was joking at first because normally we hand off the ball so it has been fun, exciting and it has worked,” DeLaurent said of the offense. "All around it is an awesome thing.”
The Lakers went from 515 rushing attempts and just a mere 123 pass attempts in 2017 to 447 pass attempts and 320 rushing attempts a year later. DeLaurent completed 279 of his 435 passes for 3,858 yards, 43 touchdowns and just nine interceptions and rushed for seven more touchdowns in the process to finish the season with a total of 50.
He shattered previous school passing records for pass attempts, completions and passing yards previously held by Bo Dean who had 229 attempts, 136 completions and 2,054 yards in 2013. DeLaurent also broke his own coach’s record of passing touchdowns in a single season that Shore set at 30 back in 1986. Fast forward to today and the senior is already nearing some of his record totals after going 277-405 for 3,412 yards, 48 passing touchdowns and five rushing touchdowns through 11 games.
DeLaurent already owns the record for career pass attempts with 842 that was previously held by Daniel Eidson’s 453 from 2003 to 2005, career completions at 557 that was held by Cory Simpson with 260 from 2010 to 2012, career yards at 7,087 that was once held by Matt Brock (1998-2000) and Eidson at 3,833 and career touchdowns with 92 that was once belonged to Shore with 51 from 1985 to 1987.
All of this has happened in 29 career games the senior has appeared in and it simply goes back to the chess match with the defense. Put more defenders out in coverage with two safeties and it leaves just four in the front seven with three linemen to rush the quarterback and a single linebacker against five offensive linemen. Add more players to the front seven and there are less defenders to help with coverage. DeLaurent said knowing how many defenders line up in the “box” or front seven helps him decipher between man and zone coverage when reading the defense. The rest is just simply “adapting and having fun” and it is a little different than the old days where he simply rolled out and decided between throwing deep or in the flat.
“There are only so many things you can do against it so it makes it easier for us to diagnose it quicker,” Shore stated, noting that the only real downside is that a few quick incompletions may lead to a short possession.
“It is a little harder to complete passes because you have that many guys in coverage, but you are going to get more time. As long as you throw it and catch it, you’re alright.”
And that has not been a problem for Camdenton because the offense is a fun one to run. Shore likens the initiative of his players to improve their craft to backyard football or basketball because there is enjoyment in throwing and catching a football or simply shooting hoops.
“You never go in the backyard and see guys practicing handing the ball off so it is not hard to get them to practice and show up. They like to do that in the offseason and it is fun things they can do on their own,” the coach posited. “What surprised me is the development of our receivers. We had a good set last year, had question marks coming into this year and our guys have really developed. They’ve learned to catch the ball and that is a good part about it is that it is something they’ll naturally work at on their own.”
Camdenton’s two leading receivers this year missed a combined 12 games in 2018 due to injury and the Lakers graduated their top five pass catchers. Now, junior Cooper Ezard is at 67 receptions for 749 yards and 12 touchdowns while senior Jase Nicklas has 56 receptions for 830 yards and seven scores, There are eight Lakers with over at least 100 receiving yards. One goal DeLaurent and his receivers set this season was to have the receivers catch 100 passes after each practice and the rapport has clearly grown.
“I think the connection has even grown these past three weeks. We really fine-tune and realize this could be our last rodeo any time,” DeLaurent said as his team moves through the playoffs. “No matter what we only have four weeks left if we make it all the way. It is going to end so we want to make sure we don’t hold anything in the tank, excel, work our hardest and become the best players we can be.”
Shore said one of the best benefits of the offense is how many different players it involves and gets into a game, which draws more interest, and it goes beyond quarterback and receiver. The coach said linemen love to pass block and even the scout team defense has fun with linemen wanting to rush the quarterback and get a sack, linebackers wanting to blitz and defensive backs wanting to get an interception. The “backyard football” just makes for more fun practices.
“Our kids did not want to stop practicing. It combines all the favorite parts of football and since we’ve done this our practices have been so much more enthusiastic,” the coach said, also taking the time to commend the running game and the efforts of offensive line coaches Parr Pitts and Shawn Maschino for having the “Hogs” ready including junior center Devien Stamper who Shore described as one of the most important pieces to this style of offense besides DeLaurent.
Another benefit is that the Lakers are always prepared for the “Two Minute Offense” where the team needs to score quickly or make a comeback and it has kept the Lakers in games. Just this season, Camdenton beat West Plains in an overtime thriller and scored two quick touchdowns in less than eight minutes to complete a comeback in a shootout at Glendale.
“There is never a situation we are in where we feel like we are panicked or pressured,” Shore said. “We may not get it done, but we have a good plan and our chances are better.”
Camdenton remains undefeated in 2019 and the future is not looking so bad either as the junior varsity, freshmen and eighth graders all went undefeated while the seventh grade team lost just one game. The seventh and eighth graders still run the old offense, but they will soon come to know the “Purple Tide.”
“Our program is in great shape right now. Credit to our players, coaches and community,” Shore noted. “Program wise it is very exciting and frankly I think it is exciting for our fans to watch. It is exciting all the way through and pretty fun to come to a Laker game.”
It has been said that a rising tide lifts all boats and it seems the “Purple Tide” has done just that.