Led by top QB, South Fayette offense among WPIAL's all-time best
With his smartphone in hand, Brett Brumbaugh uses an occasional study hall to watch online videos.
But that doesn't mean he's not studying.
“Just a little now and then,” said the South Fayette quarterback, who uses his free time and his iPhone to scour game films on hudl, an online video database used by high school football teams.
He'll study the plays, watch himself practice and search for weak spots in the next defense he'll see.
“The beauty of using hudl is you can see how many minutes each player spends logged on,” coach Joe Rossi said. “With his minutes, I don't know how he has a 3.6 GPA or whatever he has. He watches film all the time.”
But that obsession, which some teammates share, has allowed the coaches to add creativity to the Lions' no-huddle attack.
“We are so blessed,” said assistant Andrew DiDonato, who calls the plays. “Brett's one of the smartest football players I've ever been around — high school or college. … That's what makes us go.”
A starter since his freshman year, Brumbaugh could become the WPIAL's all-time passing leader this season, as South Fayette tries to defend its state title with an offense that's among the most creative, successful and fun.
He threw for 41 touchdowns and 3,917 yards last season, breaking a WPIAL single-season record held by his brother, Christian, since 2010. The senior needs about 1,200 yards to break the career record of Sto-Rox's Lenny Williams, who had 8,508. Brumbaugh has 7,326.
“I think about the record every now and then,” Brumbaugh said. “It's going to mean a lot. But when it happens — if it happens — I'm going to be too worried about just winning. That's all I want to do. I want 16 wins again. After the season, I'll be able to look back at the accomplishment, if it happens.”
A look at the ‘eye candy'
With two former star quarterbacks on the staff (DiDonato and Seton-La Salle grad Shane Patterson), South Fayette's offense has evolved since Rossi became coach in 2007. He'd used a run-based spread offense at Riverview. But Rossi, a Chartiers Valley graduate who played at West Liberty, tweaked South Fayette's spread-offense scheme with some borrowed ideas.
Now, others copy South Fayette.
After winning WPIAL and PIAA Class AA titles last season with a 16-0 record, Rossi and DiDonato were asked to speak at two coaching clinics, one in Pittsburgh and another in Cleveland. With video clips and PowerPoint slides, the coaches broke down an attack that led the WPIAL last season with 4,101 passing yards.
Yes, South Fayette played a few more games than most, but no other team reached even 3,000 yards.
The play selection isn't endless. The team might run only five or six unique pass plays each game, Rossi said. But at the clinic, they showed how one play could have 30 variations, with changes in formation, motion or personnel.
Rossi calls it “eye candy” for football.
“A lot of our concepts are ones you're going to see on Sundays, Saturday and Friday,” said DiDonato, a former South Fayette quarterback who ranks seventh on the WPIAL yardage list. “Our mission is to see how many different ways we can do that concept. We try to master the core principles — our routes, our reads — and then really have fun with it.”
‘The cutting edge'
The PIAA final against Imhotep Charter was a good example of creativity. Receiver Conner Beck was instructed to line up wherever he wanted — split to either side or the backfield — and then motion to a designated spot, Brumbaugh said.
South Fayette won 41-0, and Brumbaugh threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns.
“We spread them out, we motion around and had fun with it,” he said. “They were a little confused. … The playbook is basic; and it's simple, but then we make it so complex that it's hard to game plan against. We could run the same play in formations you've never seen before.”
The offense has incorporated ideas from a few well-known coaches. Some came from Urban Meyer via a former South Fayette assistant who attended Miami (Ohio).
DiDonato added ideas he learned at Buffalo under coach Jeff Quinn, a former assistant to Notre Dame's Brian Kelly at Cincinnati. Others came from campus visits to Villanova, Northwestern and Boston College.
“It doesn't matter what it is, (Rossi) wants to be on the cutting edge,” DiDonato said, “whether it's film, game preparation, philosophies or technology. We use iPads on the field because he saw someone utilizing them.”
A new wrinkle allows Brumbaugh to decide at the snap whether a play should be a pass or run. He'll handle the throws. Others will run.
“I'll stick with what works,” said the 6-foot-4, 200-pound pocket passer, who has scholarship offers from Akron and Temple. “If I see a lane I'll take it, but I don't run the ball.”
Getting a head start
South Fayette, like other teams with spread offenses, has benefited from the increased popularity of seven-on-seven passing camps. The Lions used this summer to acclimate new receivers. Gone are Beck and Justin Watson, each a 1,000-yard receiver. Only tight end Logan Sharp and fourth wideout Ryan Schmider return from last year's lineup.
“The beautiful thing about seven-on-seven is we can (teach) our whole passing game during the summer,” DiDonato said. “When we come into camp, these are concepts we've worked on for two or three months.”
Four WPIAL teams passed for more than 2,500 yards last season. That includes 2,726 yards by Beaver, which transitioned from one style to the other. Sto-Rox had 2,708 yards and Gateway had 2,564.
But not all passing teams are champions, said Aliquippa coach Mike Zmijanac, noting “what gives (South Fayette) an advantage is they do it well.”
Snow covered Heinz Field last November when Brumbaugh led a winning drive to beat Aliquippa, 34-28. The winter weather tested the notion that teams must be run-oriented to win a WPIAL football title.
“I would say we've proved that wrong,” said Brumbaugh, who kept his throws low into the wind and passed for 315 yards. But the Lions weren't one-dimensional. South Fayette rushed for 2,912 yards last season.
“There have been a couple teams that had great running games but couldn't throw at all,” Zmijanac said. “You have to be able to do both as some point. South Fayette was capable of running the ball when they wanted to.”
The Lions' lineage
Two passes in that championship caught Rossi's attention. The first was a 65-yard touchdown to Watson. It wasn't the distance, but rather Brumbaugh's composure to check three other receivers before finding Watson as the fourth option. On another, Brumbaugh noticed a hidden linebacker blitz and threw to the tailback.
“You don't realize in a game that that was his fourth read or that a kid blitzed,” Rossi said, “until you look at the film.”
The WPIAL title was the second in four years for South Fayette, both with a Brumbaugh at quarterback. Christian, now a junior at William & Mary, was the Lions' quarterback in 2010. He ranks third on the WPIAL passing list, now just behind Brett.
Only South Fayette has four passers among the Top 15. DiDonato (seventh) and 2000 graduate Niel Loebig (15th) also make the list. Brumbaugh considers himself a product of that quarterback tradition.
“I grew up watching (Niel) and Andrew,” he said, “and then I was on the sideline with my brother. Watching all of them made me want to do it, too.”