The challenge in preparing for any Mickey Thompson-led football team always has been teaching defensive players to be disciplined enough not to over-pursue -- and then get burned -- by the tricky single-wing attack he first ran at Park View and then took to Stone Bridge when the Ashburn school opened in 2000.
This year the task for opposing coaches has doubled thanks to a new spread attack the 12th-ranked Bulldogs (8-0, 5-0 AA Dulles District) are lining up more than 50 percent of the time. That formation spreads five receivers the width of the field and leaves senior quarterback Sean Ryan alone in the backfield to work from the shotgun.
"When you're getting ready for Stone Bridge this year you have to divide your preparation between the single wing and the spread game, and that's tough to do," said Loudoun Valley Coach Bruce Sheppard, whose team fell to the Bulldogs, 28-14, on Friday. "It would be one thing even if they had to sub in different personnel to do it, so you'd have time to do the same. But they run both formations with the same group of guys and are really equally efficient at both."
Much of that credit goes to Ryan, who in his first season as a starter has been given free reign to go in any direction when the Bulldogs go to an empty backfield. He has spread the ball to nine receivers this season, completing 101 of 157 passes (64 percent) for 1,491 yards with 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. Senior tight end Brian Calloway, his favorite target, leads the team with 40 catches for 619 yards and seven touchdowns.
"When we make that call Sean is left to survey the field and find whatever throw he likes," Thompson said. "The plays aren't designed to go to any one player. I never know where the ball is going. I do start to get scared if I see him throw an interception, but luckily he hasn't had too many of those.
"When you give a kid that much freedom it's one of those things where you've got to take the good with the bad."
Ryan also ranks second in rushing (462 yards, six touchdowns) on a team that has totaled 1,428 yards on the ground.