There were no vows or rings exchanged and no one came dressed in suits or dresses, but a shotgun wedding of sorts took place 11 years ago for J.R. Wait and the Granville High School football program.

There were no vows or rings exchanged and no one came dressed in suits or dresses, but a shotgun wedding of sorts took place 11 years ago for J.R. Wait and the Granville High School football program.

After attending a coaching clinic about the spread offense that featured then-West Virginia University coach Rich Rodriguez as speaker, Wait and some of the other members of the Blue Aces' coaching staff felt compelled to give the approach that was about to catch fire at the college level a chance.

With eight winning seasons and thousands of points scored since then, the celebration of the Blue Aces' long-term romance continues.

Granville has averaged more than 35 points and won nearly 75 percent of its games since the beginning of the 2007 with an offense that often includes four or five wide receivers and several formations that include shotgun snaps.

"We always joke that in 2001, we married the spread offense," said Wait, who formerly was the offensive coordinator for the Blue Aces before becoming their head coach in 2009. "There are good things and bad things with it. We went to one of those clinics that Rich Rodriguez was running, and some of the things he was doing made sense for us. We thought that if you extended the timeline into the future long enough, you can project what kind of athletes we have at our school in the long-term, and we have a lot of wide-receiver, skilled-position type of kids that would fit that system."

While no one knows whether the spread offense will endure or if it someday will be considered a temporary gimmick, its development is a prime example of a changing philosophy.

Whether the approach is centered on a traditional power running game or on one that sports multiple passing formations, figuring out how to get the quickest play-makers into open spaces on the field has become the principle philosophy regarding the prep offense.

Westerville South, which has made the Division I playoffs five times since 2003, had the district's Player of the Year on offense the last two seasons in running back Jayshon Jackson. The Wildcats also have produced wide receivers such as 2001 graduate Lance Moore, who plays for the New Orleans Saints.

This season, South has a wide receiver, Gary Brown, and a running back, Daxton Cates, who each have scored in double figures in touchdowns.

According to coach Rocky Pentello, the spread offense his team utilizes was born out of necessity.

"It seems like offense evolves because defense evolves," Pentello said. "Most defenses are set up to stop the run, so if you're facing a defense that's set up to stop the run, you can pass. If you can pass, it makes it easier. My goal is to stretch teams horizontally so that I can go vertically. Most offenses try to spread you out, which is where it gets the name from, to create mismatches."

AN AERIAL ASSAULT

With five quarterbacks who eventually played in college coming through its program over the past 10 seasons, there isn't a more respected passing offense in central Ohio than Dublin Coffman's.

The Shamrocks run a spread offense that attempts to have a balance of the run and the pass, with some shotgun formations.

According to coach Mark Crabtree, the increased use of the shotgun has been a major contributor to the aerial game at the prep level.

"In the 1970s, the run and shoot was popular, and there was a lot of the option in the 1960s, '70s and '80s," Crabtree said. "The option is probably still the most popular offense in the state of Ohio, but I think the single most important factor in the passing game has been the evolution of the shotgun. The passing game has been emphasized more because of the shotgun. Roger Staubach and the Dallas Cowboys did it on third-and-long plays and in passing situations in the 1970s, but for people back then it was gimmicky. The college game is where you see things opening up with the passing game."

For players such as Shamrocks senior wide receiver Marcus Davis, playing in an offense that encourages passing like Coffman's is something he believes is an effective way to take advantage of a team's athleticism.

Davis fit in immediately after transferring to Coffman from Olentangy Liberty after his sophomore season. He had 53 catches for the Patriots as a sophomore, caught 53 more a year ago for the Shamrocks and had 45 through seven games this season.

"Once we get into a rhythm, our offense does a little bit of everything," Davis said. "Our quarterback is able to run when we need to and we have two talented and quick running backs. Sometimes we use our passing game like a running game with some of the short passes we do."

Doing plays without a huddle is a wrinkle to the spread that has become a routine for teams like Westerville Central.

After adding a series of no-huddle plays a year ago, the Warhawks have kept enough pressure on opponents to average about 30 points.

Their approach, combined with quarterback Cody Kondas' ability to lead formation switches inside the team's spread, has Central on the brink of its first playoff berth.

Kondas had thrown for more than 1,200 yards during his team's 6-1 start.

"I think it's a big advantage when you can open up your offense and create more holes for your play-makers," Kondas said. "We do a lot of multiple stuff out of our spread offense and we're trying a lot of no-huddle stuff. We run like 90 plays a game, but once you just rep them they come to you, and (the coaches) trust the decisions I'm going to make. A lot of it just depends on what the defense gives."

"We've never huddled, and I think the huddle is an incredible waste of time," Hartley coach Brad Burchfield said.

STILL RUNNING

Burchfield is among the believers in the concept of getting his best athletes at the skilled positions into the open field.

He admits, however, that his team might be as far from a spread passing team as anybody in central Ohio.

With sophomore Jared Brandewie at quarterback, the Hawks had thrown just 34 passes through seven weeks - a reminder that moving the ball on the ground still has its place.

Led by 2011 graduate Noah Key at running back, Hartley ran its way to the Division IV state championship.

"Fifteen years ago it was about getting the biggest guys you could get," Burchfield said. "Now we're just trying to go out on the perimeter. Our philosophy is that we want to control the line of scrimmage and get good blocking out in spaces. We're not going to get out into the shotgun much. Things can look great on Saturday and Sunday, but it's more about what you teach."

Another team that continues to find success with a run-first approach is Hilliard Davidson, which has won two Division I state titles since 2006.

Through six games, the Wildcats' vaunted triple-option attack led by senior running back Alex Mickley (612 yards) had them off to a perfect start.

Even Davidson has added shotgun plays to its repertoire according to coach Brian White, although perhaps the more practical tweaks to its offense have come with the evolution of its blocking techniques.

"We try for the most part to have a program and try from top to bottom to do similar things," White said. "Over the last 10 to 12 years, it has evolved. I would think our playbook would be just as big as or bigger than anybody else's. We've added some more diversity in terms of our blocking schemes and our formations, and we even have some shotgun plays based on what other teams are giving us."

DeSales is another team known for running the option and has done so successfully for most of the past two decades. Although it has shown little of that offense this season because of the power running abilities of Ohio State-recruit Warren Ball at running back, the Stallions have remained a run-first offense sometimes featuring the I-formation.

Mifflin coach Gregg Miller agrees that the biggest changes to the prep offense have come from influences at the college level regarding the passing game.

The Punchers run the same I-formation offense often including two tight ends that he taught for much of his 17-year tenure with Brookhaven, and he believes that approach can continue to be successful.

"There are a lot of spread offenses now, but we're not doing it," said Miller, whose team won its first six games this season. "I'm still running the same stuff I ran for 30 years. I think that's to our advantage because it's what I'm comfortable with. We've seen defenses come full circle. I've been seeing some of the old defenses that I haven't seen in 20 years. It's not a flashy offense, but I think people get caught up in what the general public sees as successful football."

FULL STEAM AHEAD

Although problems on defense have continued to plague Columbus West since coach Mike Flusche took over in 2007, there's no denying the successful passing attack that he and offensive coordinator Hank Patterson have helped to create.

Under Patterson, who also coaches the Columbus Comets women's football team, the Cowboys have central Ohio's leader in passing yards in Chris Rhodes. He took over behind center in 2010 for Eric Stewart, who threw for a Central District all-time best 8,421 career yards.

West's offense usually features two or three wide receivers on each side of the field with Rhodes standing in the shotgun.

"It evolved from a normal pro-style offense and has kind of morphed into a spread," Flusche said. "Eight to 10 years ago we were probably one of the few teams doing it, but now we're seeing more teams line up in spread formations. If you're good at it, it's tough to defend because not many high school teams have four or five defensive backs who can cover everything."

A coach who has adopted more of the principles of the spread after traditionally featuring the run-oriented wing-T offense is Ready's Larry Wolf.

He believes the spread and the triple-option each are "counter-punch offenses" in that they attempt to fool a defense.

"At least in high school, you can find more of the kids that can catch and run than you can block," Wolf said. "If we ran the wing-T like we used to, we'd be in trouble. People start putting in these nine-man fronts on defense, and you're thinking, 'My goodness, we can't run against that.' Teams like Hartley and Davidson have got tough kids who have bought into a system and they're willing to play that brand of football because they can control the tempo, and they do it fantastically. They're blocking schemes are very intricate."

Regardless of the direction that offensive philosophy goes over the coming years, Wait expects technology to continue to play a big role.

In addition to the numerous clinics held by colleges throughout the winter and spring that coaches can attend, various web sites featuring instructional videos on everything from how to run pistol formations to Wildcat formations to the triple option have become available.

"I think the big thing is the increase of sharing with the college coaches," Wait said. "Before the internet, you didn't have the same opportunities to subject yourself to those philosophies. Coaching on the internet is about 10 to 15 years old, and that in itself is what has led to more shotgun spread formations. People are seeing that it can succeed in faraway places like California. Coaching videos have become really good. There also are a number of good coaching clinics, and when they have these things it's a real big event."