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Hidden Valley turns to spread 'O'

MURHPY — Hidden Valley football fans may not believe their eyes when they watch the Mustangs break the huddle for their season opener Friday at Del Norte in Crescent City.

They'll blink repeatedly, wipe their glasses and wonder, is that really our team lining up in a spread formation? With multiple wide receivers? And not bothering to huddle between plays?

Yep, that's the blue- and orange-clad Mustangs, looking more like thoroughbreds than pack mules under venerable coach Jim Figoni, a self-described "relic" of a football mentor who has had his teams in I-formation, smashmouth mode for virtually his entire 39 years roaming the sidelines.

"We're making some radical changes," says Figoni, in his 21st season at Hidden Valley. "We've got kids who can throw the ball, kids who can catch it and some smaller running backs we think can flourish in a zone-read, spread scheme."

The catalyst behind the change in offensive philosophy is quarterback Tyler Gulbransen, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound junior known for his laser-like arm and unmatched work ethic in the weight room.

"His job is basically going to be to sit in the (shot)gun formation and throw the ball," Figoni says. "We'll run some option with him, but he'll make his money with his arm. He can get the ball downfield and he's accurate.

"Tyler has been a good athlete for two years now and he has a phenomenal work ethic in the weight room. We're very comfortable with him as our quarterback."

Senior wide receiver Josh Marshall, the Mustangs' lone returning starter on offense, leads a capable group of pass targets, while juniors Johnny Gerson and A.J. Potts figure to be the workhorses at running back.

The 5-7, 138-pound Gerson could almost get lost operating behind a Hidden Valley offensive line that will average about 240 pounds, but his quick feet and superb balance make him a good fit in the Mustangs' spread attack.

"If we can create some space for him (Gerson) he's going to be a fun kid to watch," Figoni says.

Brothers Jefferson and Anthony Jarvis, who tip the scales at 250 and 288, respectively, headline what could become one of the better offensive fronts in the Skyline Conference, although Jefferson will miss the first game or two following minor surgery.

Figoni admits Hidden Valley may endure some growing pains with its new offense the first half of the season, but hopes to have the bugs worked out by its conference opener on Sept. 30 against Phoenix.

"We actually put in some aspects of it at the end of last season," Figoni says. "We were speeding up the tempo and going no-huddle the last three games, but we were still in the I-formation.

"One thing we learned was that we weren't in the kind of physical shape we needed to be in. That's been a point of emphasis in fall practice."

Defensively, the strength will be in the trenches, where Jefferson Jarvis and 6-2, 235-pound junior Brian Peebles return at end and Anthony Jarvis at nose guard. Also back as starters are Marshall, who will line up at cornerback, and Jamie Schmidt, who likely will split time and corner and safety.

"We could struggle a little at the second and third levels of our defense until those kids get some game experience," Figoni says.

If the Hidden Valley offense can put up basketball-like numbers on the scoreboard, it may not matter.