Northwestern’s “Air Raid” offense alive and well

bbyers@heraldonline.comJuly 30, 2012 

  • Northwestern Schedule

    Aug. 17at Gaffney

    Aug. 25at Conway**

    Aug. 31 SOUTH AIKEN

    Sept. 7at Byrnes

    Sept. 14OPEN

    Sept. 21at Lancaster

    Sept. 28 SOUTH POINTE

    Oct. 5at Clover

    Oct. 12 FORT MILL

    Oct. 19at York

    Oct. 26 NATION FORD

    Nov. 2at Rock Hill

  • More information

    *all games start at 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted **game starts at 5 p.m.

— Kyle Richardson made one thing clear when he was hired to run Northwestern’s offense six years ago: “We will throw the ball on nearly every play and mix in the run every now and then.”

Richardson is entering his second season as the Trojans’ head coach and nothing has changed. The “Air Raid” offense he brought from his college coaching days is alive and well and in the good hands of junior quarterback Mason Rudolph.

Finding and teaching the offense to a quarterback who can run it and has a lively arm has not been a problem. Richardson started with Will King, who signed with Furman and was moved to wide receiver, was his first in 2007. He shattered every school single season passing record.

From 2008 to 20010, he had 6-foot-5 gunslinger Justin Worley, a sophomore backup quarterback at Tennessee. He broke every record King set and was named South Carolina’s Gatorade Football player of the year.

Last season Rudolph, also 6-foot-5, moved in from Westminster Catawba and hit the field throwing. He finished the season with 2,691 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air, completing 67.2 percent of his passes.

But any coach worth his salt will tell you a team can’t throw the ball if it doesn’t have good receivers. That’s another area where the Trojans have been blessed. One of the best was Cordarrelle Patterson, a 6-foot-5 Junior College All-American who signed with Tennessee this year.

This year’s pass catchers include Rontavious McClure, 6-foot-5 and also a basketball standout, Mustaffa Love (6-4), Dupree Hart, Ahmad Dewese and Torrie Adams. Running back LaThomas Long has to be counted because in Richardson’s offense, running backs have to be able to catch passes. Long has 16 catches for 110 yards last season, which produced and un-Trojans-like 8-5 record.

“We have great kids in that group,” said Bubba Pittman, Northwestern’s receivers coach and a former Rock Hill Bearcats quarterback. “Every one of them can play multiple positions and are students of the game.

“The good thing is they practice hard and what they learn carries over to the field on Friday nights. They do what we ask and they are easy to work with.”

McClure and Love stand out because of their size. It’s a good guess that one of the two would be the leading returning receiver.

Good guess, but not so. McClure caught 51 passes for 499 yards and 4 TDs. Love had one catch for 11 yards.

The top returning receiver is also one of the smallest players on the team, maybe one of the smallest starters in Class AAAA this season. Dupree Hart, 5-foot-4 and 150 pounds, had 88 catches for 650 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Hart is a pure athlete: a sophomore who has started for the school’s baseball team since he was an eighth grader. He gets his gets his skills honestly. His dad, Larry Hart, was a small, quick standout in football, baseball and track at Emmett Scott, Rock Hill’s high school for blacks until it closed in 1971.

“My dad tells me to work had and I can overcome all obstacles,” Hart said. “I’ve had to do that because of my size. We played one team last year and the guy who lined up against me was about 6-4 and said, ‘I’m about to kill this number 14.’

“On the first play, he ran a dig and caught a 10-yard pass for a first down. I ended up with around six catches. The defender found out he wasn’t going to push me around.”

Hart said he doesn’t care who catches the passes because in the, “Air Raid,” because every receiver gets chances. Hart believes a lot of his throws last year came because team keyed on senior BJ Boyd and McClure because of their size.

“Being out there with bigger receivers creates openings for me,” he said. “I was getting passes because other teams were worried about BJ and Rontavious. We have a couple of tall receivers this year and BJ is gone, but I still look for there to be openings because I’ll be overlooked.”

Probably not.

Hart is no longer a secret. Opposing coaches saw what he could do and will game plan to stop him. When they do, it might open more opportunities for Love since teams will likely concentrate on stopping McClure.

“We have a lot of offensive weapons,” Love said. “I feel like it doesn’t matter who we throw to because all of our receivers run good routes and have good hands.

“This offense is like going out on Sunday and playing pick-up games with friends. You pass on every down and sometimes draw plays in the dirt. We have our playbook and don’t draw up plays.

“We did well in the 7-on-7 passing competitions this summer, and I like what I saw from our passing game.”

Barry Byers 329-4099

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