Northwest Mustangs football fans will find something familiar about the Mid-Missouri Outlaws offense this season.
The Outlaws have brought in Mustangs head coach Caleb Crooker as offensive coordinator and Crooker brought with him the offense that averaged more than 50 points per game in eight-man football with the Mustangs last fall.
“We’re doing a lot of trapping, a lot of jet sweeps, a lot of middle screens, fullback shovel screens, just ways to slow down the defensive line,” Crooker said. “These guys are used to pass rushing a lot and getting to the quarterback, so this will take a lot of the pressure off the offensive line by running some traps and draws and middle screens.”
There are a few differences in the rules about pre-snap motion between the MSHSAA eight-man game and the Champions Professional Indoor Football League, so Crooker has had to alter a few things, but overall the two game plans are similar.
As much success as the Mustangs have had with it, the system is still new to the Outlaws.
“It’s like learning a foreign language almost,” said quarterback Kyle Middleton. “I’ve still got a wristband on my wrist every practice, looking through it. I’m just learning on the fly just like everybody else.”
Crooker said much of the system is designed to make life easier for Middleton.
“Playing quarterback is always tough and in arena football you’re going to be passing the ball a lot, which makes it even tougher,” Crooker said. “He’s a veteran. He’s done this for several years. We have a lot of confidence in Kyle. He does a good job of watching film and tweaking things. He’s like a player-coach out there. It’s nice to have him.”
Middleton is back to 100 percent after missing much of last season with a broken left (nonthrowing) collarbone.
“It’s about as good as last year,” he said. “It doesn’t bother me at all. My rehab last year really helped it out so it should be 100 percent right now.”
Backing up Middleton will be defensive back Ken Davis.
“We might be able to do some wildcat with him because he’s a real threat with his legs,” Crooker said.
Middleton will have a lot of talented receivers to throw to. Back is Josh Reid and competing for other spots will be a host of receivers with plenty of experience. Lynell Payne played college football at Cincinnati. Terry Dennis is a former Missouri Tiger. Ronnie Celestine played at Langston University.
“Kyle’s got some excellent receivers to throw to,” Crooker said. “It’s just a matter of us doing the small things like running the traps to make the defense play honest.”
Returning at running back is former Missouri Tiger Marcus James.
“He put up some outstanding numbers,” Crooker said. “I would think he’s going to get a lot of snaps.”
The key to this new offense will be the offensive line led by center Tony Vaka and tackles Micah and Seth Brimer.
“Those three are going to be doing things they haven’t done before,” Crooker said. “They’ve really come a long ways and are willing to work. They’re going to be all right.”
They will be tasked with protecting Middleton.
“I’ve got to be able to get it to our playmakers,” Middleton said. “Our receivers make me look good and our linemen are going to make everybody look good.”
For Crooker, who normally has a lull in his schedule between the end of junior high basketball and the beginning of high school football practice, he is happy to be a part of the Outlaws.
“I think it’s going to help me out when I start practice in August,” he said. “I might get some new ideas.”
The Outlaws begin the season against the Lincoln (Neb.) Haymakers at 3:05 p.m. Sunday at the Mathewson Exhibition Center.
The doors will open at 1 p.m. and fans are invited to watch warm-ups and get autographs before the game.