The calls are simple. The intricacies are not.
Eighty-eight flag right on three.
A lanky sophomore quarterback brings his leg up and calls for the snap.
His right arm sets near the towel at his hip. Marquez North rolls to his right and rifles a pass. Seconds later, the sophomore sensation towers over the Pirates’ huddle, anxious to run another play.
Predicated on speed and perfected by blocking, Lumberton's aggressive run-first playbook is a staple of a Mike Brill-coached football team.
The ancient rendition of the Delaware Wing-T has a new wrinkle, specifically geared for the Maroon and Gold – hand off or toss the ball to a running back five yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Lumberton’s legion of reliable ball carriers helped with the transition.
And North, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound hidden gem from last season’s junior varsity team, enabled the overhaul for Brill and Co.
“He has learned the new offense quick,” Brill said. “He’s picked up the plays fast and he can run. He gives us a new element back there.”
The Pirates’ offense is scoring at an all-time high during the current four-game winning streak to open the season.
Brill altered his normal rushing scheme from under center to the shotgun thanks to a coaches’ clinic he attended over the summer.
“It was well worth the plane ticket,” Brill said, referring to the event in Georgia. “Over 100 coaches were there and all the speakers talked about the Shotgun Wing-T. I learned a lot and it was a great experience.”
The longtime coach can't recall when his rushing numbers have been this gaudy. And that includes Brill’s heyday at South Robeson, a collection of wonder years that featured offenses led by Robeson County football icon, Vonta Leach, who now starts for the Houston Texans of the NFL.
“Defenses have to be disciplined against us, that’s for sure,” Brill said.
North reminds Brill of a former quarterback he coached in Rowland – Stephen Fletcher in 1993. Fletcher passed for 2,400 yards, ran for 800 and tossed 24 touchdown passes for Brill’s playoff-bound Mustangs.
“Marquez can be that kind of player in due time,” Brill said.
With that being said and expectations high as ever, there’s always room for improvement and the Pirates iron out the details each day in practice.
WORKING OUT THE KINKS
Larry Parker gets an earful for grabbing the jersey of a teammate.
North looks discouraged after fumbling a snap.
Dorian Davis drops a pass near the sideline that should've been caught.
The mistakes are there. False starts, holdings calls and bad exchanges could all cripple an offense that runs 90 percent of the time. That’s why Lumberton focuses on repetition and instruction before games each week. Preparation is most important for Brill's unit.
“We have an opportunity to win a championship if we play smart,” Parker said, a tailback who has 30 career touchdowns entering this senior season. “We definitely have the firepower if we don’t make mistakes.”
Meanwhile, after another missed assignment from a blocker on the first-team offense, Mackie Register and Brill whisper ear-to-ear. Masterminds are at work. A tweak here and a modification there and the rest is history.
Register, Lumberton’s running game coordinator for the last three seasons, calls the offensive plays along with assistant coach, Willie George. Both coaches learned of the new offense after Brill's return from the Peach State.
It’s a work in progress for everyone. A scary thought considering the Pirates are averaging over 400 yards of total offense every Friday night and have ripped defenses apart for 49.7 points per game.
“Me and Willie try to see what the defense is giving us,” Register said. “I’m on the sidelines and Willie is up to top. We call plays accordingly.”
Register credits his squad’s depth in the backfield and ability to wear opposing teams down to the Pirates’ early success.
“If one guy goes down, we’ll just plug another one in there,” Register said.
Entering Friday's game at Cape Fear, Parker is second on the team in rushing with 414 yards on 24 attempts, good for a 17.3 yard-per-carry average. Daniel Robinson has six touchdowns as a sophomore and North has 765 total yards of offense.
Kendrick McGill, a running back who has been in Brill’s system for four years, gets the bulk of Lumberton’s rocket sweep plays in practice, an extended toss his coach borrowed from Wofford’s playbook and one of the Pirates most successful calls during in-game situations.
“I’d hate to try and defend us,” Register said.
STACKING THE BOX
While Lumberton’s balanced rushing attack is no secret, Brill says he still has not seen a team put nine defenders on the line of scrimmage to try and contain his offense.
“I’m still waiting on the true, nine-man box,” he said. “Teams have to respect our running game now that we use the shotgun.”
When the Pirates do throw from the pocket, North’s long balls are usually completed – in the end zone. North is 12-of-21 in four games for 308 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions.
“We’ve installed some passing packages just for Marquez,” Register said. “We could throw a little last year, but he gives us a new threat. He’s like a fourth option back there. He’s just a sophomore and I expect him to improve a lot.”
The rest of the horses behind North, Parker in particular, says most of the credit should be given to the Pirates’ offensive line – a unit of youth with two starting sophomores. Parker has enjoyed gaping holes at the line of scrimmage in the early going and attributes that to his strong teammates up front.
“These guys are picking up the offense and the schemes quick," Parker said. "It makes my job easy."
“Our line is one of the best we’ve ever had.”