Savage Words: Numbers high school athletes are putting up are astonishing

Tom A. Savage, Contributing writer

So Saturday’s 11AAA championship game between Sioux Falls Lincoln and O’Gorman didn’t end up being the track meet that most thought it might be. After combining for 93 points in their regular season outing, the Patriots and Knights tussled for a 31-7 Lincoln victory. 

I’ll give credit to both defenses as they held the two quarterbacks to reasonable numbers.  

Lincoln’s Tate Schafer threw for 187 yards and two touchdowns on Saturday and finished his senior year with 42 TD passes and nearly 3,000 yards passing. That’s just a crazy number, and he did a majority of it before halftime for most games, as the Patriots had a sizable lead. 

O’Gorman’s Hayden Groos threw for 199 yards Saturday and also entered the game with gaudy numbers by throwing for 2,565 yards and 30 touchdowns this season. 

Between the two, Saturday’s quarterbacks threw for 5,511 yards and 73 touchdowns this season. Again, just amazing. 

Those were unheard of numbers when I was in high school in 1987. The quarterback position has changed so much over the past three decades, and it’s a blast to watch.

As a senior at Lincoln 36 years ago, our quarterback was Eric Eidsness. Not in a million years did he think he’d throw those kinds of numbers. He’s now the offensive coordinator at Northern Illinois. 

“We probably threw it as many times in a season as these kids are throwing in a game now,” he said to me with a chuckle from his home in DeKalb, Ill. “But if you have kids throwing for 3,000 yards and 40-some touchdowns, those are phenomenal numbers in any part of the country.” 

I think back to those times in the mid-80s and wonder when things changed so much when it came to football offenses. 

I grew up watching Roger Staubach, Bob Griese, Fran Tarkenton and Dan Fouts sling it around, but certainly not to the degree NFL teams pass it now.  

In South Dakota, it was likely the arms of Josh Heupel from Aberdeen Central and Peter Martin at Rapid City Stevens in the mid 1990s that were the start of today’s run/pass option offenses that can now be found from 9B to 11AAA across the state. 

Eidsness said he thinks when quarterbacks started lining up in the shotgun more frequently is when things began to morph into what we see on a weekly basis now.  

“That opened up the vision for quarterbacks to see more, and read things, and spread the field out,” he said

Players are also developing at such a younger age in how to throw the football and how to read coverages. They watch more film and study the game year-around. 

“Roger Staubach – he didn’t have a lot of access to quality film, but our kids do,” Brandon Valley head coach Matt Christensen said. “Kids know more than they’ve ever known. Systematically, coaches know more, they’re evolving, tapping into potential that hadn’t been tapped into. And they’re trusting kids to know more.”

Tackling an offense playbook is dizzying. You think kids stress about their calculus test tomorrow? Try getting rid of the football in three seconds or less while a pair of 300-pound defensive lineman are salivating to take your head off. 

Obviously, watching the skill level of quarterbacks on the college and professional level has changed the way kids prepare for football. Friday nights look very similar to Saturdays and Sundays when it comes to offensive sets and play calling from the shotgun.

And it’s not just football. 

Think how Steph Curry or Iowa’s Caitlin Clark have influenced the game of basketball? There’s not a better form of flattery for those two when I see a third-grader on a 3-on-1 fast break pull up for a 25-foot three-point attempt. It’s mind-boggling, and a head-scratcher. I’ve often thought moves like that must drive basketball coaches nuts. 

Maybe not.

“It’s a great influence to have your Steph Curry and Patrick Mahomes, guys that do things a little different,” Brandon Valley boys basketball coach Craig Nelson said. “A lot of times it can progress basketball and make it a lot better. Kids are learning stuff and even trying new stuff. But when it comes to winning basketball games, that’s when you kind of have to reign it in and remember that’s probably not a great shot for a fourth grader, or even a high schooler. But I do think the influence of those guys helps the game as a whole.”

Who knows? If basketball continues to replicate football’s progress as players like Curry and Clark inspire youngsters, a 25-foot jumper on a 3-on-1 break may be around the corner in high school gymnasiums in South Dakota.


The Brandon Valley Journal


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