April 3, 2012

The Age of the Gunslinger: Rader's first practice portends fast-paced MC offense

More news about: Maryville (Tenn.)

Stefan Cooper, Blount Press Row Editor

Mike Rader has taken the practice field countless times as an assistant coach the last decade. Monday, it was his team.

The new Maryville College head football coach opened his first spring practice to curious onlookers at Honaker Field. For the first hour of the two-hour session, the Scots separated into groups by position. The final hour was largely a fast-paced, 7-on-7 scrimmage, three- and four-wide on every play, quarterback in the shotgun, letting it fly on every down.

"It was somewhat surreal," said Rader after leaving the practice field for the first time as a head coach. "I've been around here for a while and everybody has been talking about this day."

Rader spent the last seven years as the receivers coach and recruiting coordinator at Division III powerhouse Huntingdon (Ala.) College. The Hawks amassed mind-numbing offensive numbers during his stay.

Maryville will have much the same gunslinger, go-get-'em mentality. It won't be as easy as plugging in a video game for the Scots. That first hour Monday was tediously repetitious, much of it focused on receivers getting in and out of routes, quarterbacks getting the ball out on time.

"The main thing I wanted was to get us communicating," Rader said. "From the kids' standpoint, they want to learn and they want to be good."

The loudest cheer of the day came when Rader huddled the Scots near midfield and posed a question: "Who are we?" he shouted.

"Scots!" came the reply, a ritual Rader plans to use with every practice when the Scots change stations.

Maryville's first steps under its new coach were necessarily tentative. Rader is putting in an offense that will bear little resemblance to those of the past 10 years. Probably the last 20, actually.

Huntingdon wowed the college football world in 2010 when the Hawks became the only team in all four NCAA divisions to average 300 yards passing and 200 yards rushing per game. The Scots will be made over, in many respects, in the image of that team.

Maryville teams this fall hope to spread teams out and run the ball to control the game, then throw it an awful lot to put it away.

Maryville High products Austin Canfield, Zane Winders and Dalton Graumann are taking an understandable liking to the offense. Canfield, a true freshman, is among the frontrunners to be the starter at quarterback when the Scots open the season at Rader's old school, Huntingdon, on Sept. 1.

"People are definitely excited to learn the new system and get involved," Canfield said. "Everything is much more up-tempo and people are excited and happy. I think they are pumped to see what is going to come of this season as a result of all this new stuff. Right now we have only got a few basic things in, so there is still a lot left to learn."

Canfield threw the ball well against the headwinds of an approaching afternoon shower Monday. Winders, a junior, and Graumann, are likely targets should Canfield get the nod as the starter come September.

"It's a different atmosphere," Winders said. "The energy is incredible. Everybody is excited to be out there. There is no dragging around."

The Scots will scatter 16 practices dates over the next four weeks. Division III programs are prohibited from donning helmets or pads until the fall.

"Everybody is taking the initiative to be a leader and it's working," Graumann said.

Blount Press Row staff writer Robert O'Neal contributed to this report.

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