KARNS CITY, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Saturday afternoons are spent watching football for Zach Kepple.
(Karns City offensive coordinator Zach Kepple talks with guard James Jones on the sideline during the Gremlins’ win over Kane on Friday night.)
With both film on the Karns City game from the night before splashed on his wall from a projector and college football playing on his television, every once in a while Kepple will see a particularly interesting play or intriguing formation from the college game and madly jot it down.
Such is the life of a high school football offensive coordinator. Kepple is always keeping his eyes open for something that will help the offense move the ball and put points on the scoreboard.
“I’m always watching to see something that we can run that would work for us and get our guys the ball in different scenarios,” Kepple said. “It’s awesome to be able to find something.”
Kepple did just that this offseason. When he looked at what he had coming back on offense and realized he had some big linemen upfront and a pile-moving running back in 6-foot-3, 225-pound Luke Garing in the backfield, the wheels in his mind began turning.
The mad scientist took over.
It hit him: Why just hand Garing the ball when he could line up at quarterback with an extra blocker in the backfield?
And the “Hogs” formation was born.
Garing has been impossible to stop in short-yardage situations out of that package. He’s 5-for-5 on 2-point conversions out of that alignment, many times strolling into the end zone. He also broke a 33-yard touchdown run and another 38-yard gallop out of the formation against Kane Friday.
“When you have a guy like Luke Garing, you have to find ways to get him the ball as many times as you can,” Kepple said. “That’s where it came up with that Wildcat formation. I saw it in the offseason and was like, ‘You know, he’s a great guy to run it with.’ That Hogs formation is kind of his, and it’s nice when you can run it from 30 yards out, and it’s meant to get four or five and it gets 30.
“It’s hard to stop him from not getting two yards,” Kepple added. “Then, when you have the guys up front — we have some big guys and a lot of good linemen this year — they get a little bit of a push and it’s going to go and up to this point it’s been successful.”
If you think you’ve seen everything there is out of the Hogs formation this year, think again. Like any offensive alchemist, Kepple has some things waiting in his back pocket.
“We do have some wrinkles off of it,” Kepple said, smiling. “We haven’t had to use them yet, which is good.”
The Hogs formation is close to Kepple’s heart. Kepple was a standout offensive lineman himself at Karns City and then moved on to Grove City College where he was an anchor on the Wolverines offensive line until he graduated after the 2014 season.
During his time at Grove City, he always paid close attention to the offensive coaches.
“I have always been an offensive-minded guy, ever since I was in high school, ” Kepple said. “I was always into the Xs and Os.”
When Kepple took over as the offensive coordinator, Karns City already had an established offensive system. The Gremlins have staple plays that they have run for decades, plays Kepple blocked for when he was wearing purple and gold.
But the game is constantly changing.
Karns City sees that on an almost weekly basis in District 9 where more and more teams are eschewing traditional offenses for spread and air raid attacks.
Karns City is sort of a throwback in that regard, but Kepple is always looking for new ways to utilize the wealth of talent on the roster.
“The Karns City offense has always been similar, and you don’t want to get away from that stuff that’s been productive,” Kepple said. “When you have the offensive line like we do, and you have the skill guys that we have, we’re able to do a bunch of different things.”
Karns City head football coach Joe Sherwin said Kepple has done a great job blending the traditional Gremlin offense with some new concepts.
“He’s an outstanding coach,” Sherwin said. “He does a great job mixing the pass and run, different guys carrying the ball.”
Kepple also has an affable personality on the sideline. Late in the first half when Karns City was on defense, he wondered aloud if his team would get the ball back in time to push for more points.
“Get the 2-minute offense ready,” Kepple said. “Well, the 55-second offense.”
“He strikes a happy medium as a coach,” Sherwin said. “He’s a guy people want to follow.”