Raiders receiving attention for solid pass game

Photo by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Southridge’s Grant Maxey (11) leads the Raider receiving corps with 495 yards and five touchdowns ahead of sectional play.

BY JONATHAN SAXON
jsaxon@dcherald.com

A lot of people have a specific idea of what good football looks like. For some, it’s all about lining up your big guys and cramming the ball down the opponent’s throat with a superior running game.

But over the last few years, more and more teams at all levels are focusing on their aerial attack to move the ball downfield in huge chunks. And one of the most important factors when it comes to a potent passing game is having the receiving corps to catch those tosses and make good things happen after the haul.

Southridge football coach Scott Buening believes he has such a group among his Class 2A No. 5 Raiders (7-2), who opens 2A sectional play at home tonight against South Spencer (3-6).

That group of receivers includes Grant Maxey, Garrett Voegerl, Matt Price and their large stable of ball carriers who can also run routes out of the backfield. He said this year’s crop of pass catchers is the most talented one he’s coached during his tenure at Southridge, which is in its fifth season.

“We’ve got a lot more depth than we’ve ever had out there,” he said. “We’ve got a group this year, you go down the list and they all run really good routes and they’re really good with the ball in the air.”

Historically, Southridge is known as a team that has focused heavily on the run, and for the most part that still remains true. This season, the Raider offense accounted for more than 2,300 yards on the ground versus more than 1,100 yards through the air.

But, Buening said the evolution of the game has forced his coaching staff to look more to passing in pursuit of a more balanced offense.

“The last few years we’ve run into quite a few games where teams would really stack the box and make running the ball tough on us,” he said. “So we needed to have a balance. When you do that, you stretch the defense out a little bit more.”

For senior wideout Maxey, he saw that as an opportunity to leave his mark on the football program and leave a legacy for future players to look toward.

“I told myself freshman year that I wanted to make the Raiders known for receiving after I graduate,” he said. “Just step up the passing game and make it a little more important. I feel like I’m paving a way for the younger guys that want to be receivers.”

Voegerl had a different motivation that led him to the receiver position. The sophomore said he originally set out to be a running back, but with the likes of Tucker Schank and Colin Smith in the backfield, he thought he might be able to contribute to the team by splitting out wide.

“I’m (for) anything I can do to help the team,” he said.

Being a receiver isn’t all about securing passes and dashing to the end zone, though. Buening said the Raider wideouts are asked to do a lot for the offense, and it all starts with setting up protections.

“They have to be able to block,” he said. “You got to tie your protections in with good route technique and good timing.”

In addition to blocking, they have to be able to run crisp routes — both for getting open, and for their own safety. Receivers put themselves in vulnerable positions when it comes to crossing the field and need a high level of awareness to protect themselves while making plays.

“You’ve got to be composed when under fire because when you’re running those routes and there’s defenders running all over the place, they’re trying to intercept it or trying to separate the ball from (the receiver),” Beuning said.

Voegerl admits it took him a little time to figure out all of the nuances of the position when he first started playing it for Southridge.

“At first I was confused with what to do; we have so many jobs,” he said. “But the pass routes are pretty easy, and that’s what you do.”

Maxey, who said his favorite route is the fade, has developed different little tricks he uses to throw off defenders and get open. He said it’s important to be a bit crafty on the edge in order to get the upper hand on the opposition’s defenders.

“I like to focus on my cuts to kind of throw (defenders) off,” he said. “(I) get the opposite momentum going, then shift out the other way and beat them with speed.”

“(I) usually turn around and try to get my hands up and get my eye on the quarterback so the corner looks at me,” Voegerl added. “Then I (run) my route that I’m supposed to, and it usually works most of the time.”
And if the look-off trick does not work?

“The other times, I just try to do a quick stutter-step and go real fast,” he said.

Raider senior quarterback Jayce Harter said there were concerns about an aggressive passing strategy before the season started. They were primarily rooted in the graduation of Nolan O’Brien, who led Southridge in both receptions (35), receiving yardage (741) and touchdowns caught (six). In fact, O’Brien had all but one of the Raiders’ receiving scores last season, as well as 60 percent of the pass-catching yardage. But despite any doubts in or around the program, Southridge has had success not only throwing in general, but also spreading out passes to different receivers.

Maxey has a majority of the receiving yards (495) and touchdowns (five), but there’s a close cropping of Smith (180/1), Price (171/1), Schank (126/1) and Voegerl (76/1) just behind him.

“After last season when Nolan O’Brien graduated, everybody thought that we wouldn’t have as good of a receiving (corps) or have as many receptions as last year,” Harter said. “They came out, worked hard and proved everybody wrong.”

Harter credits the throwing game’s success to the extra work he and the receivers put in to ensure everyone was on the same page heading into the season.

“It takes a lot of hard work and dedication in practice, things like asking them in the summer after workouts, ‘Hey, can you stick around for an extra 20 minutes or half hour and do some routes we’re going to run in the season,’” he said. “We’ve put the time in throughout the season, and it’s been a good year with them.”

“We work on our route running a lot, and I think we look good as a whole when those routes mesh together,” Maxey added. “Jayce and I went to some camps over the summer and worked on throwing and catching the ball. I think that’s added a lot to our passing game.”

Buening also encourages his guys to watch as much football as they can in order to pick up habits and techniques they can add to their game. Voegerl and Maxey each have their favorite receivers to watch.

“(I’m) a pretty good fan of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham,” Voegerl said of the NFL receivers from Pittsburgh and the New York Giants. “Their moves off the line (are) real fast. They’re really fast with their feet and arms, and then they’re really focused on the ball when it’s coming to them.”

“(Simmie) Cobbs from Indiana’s got some hands,” Maxey added. “It’s always neat when a guy can effortlessly make a grab one-handed or under pressure.”

Buening has enjoyed the balance the passing game lends his offense, and said he believes the team is heading in the right direction on that side of the ball ahead of tonight’s tilt against the Rebels.

And while Buening said he and his assistants have many young bucks who look like promising receivers, he added that it will be up to the staff to develop that talent in order to keep the offense balanced, dynamic and versatile.

“You’re always marrying the run game to the passing game and using the strengths of your guys in your schemes, he said. “We’ve grown our passing tree, and we have a lot more route combinations and play-actions than we’ve had in the past. You need to be able to generate some big plays in high school football if you want to be successful, and you try to utilize that in both the run and the pass game.”




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