Jared Lankford: Following Webb City's blueprint

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

There is an old saying that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Nowhere is this statement more correct than in the world of sports.

In the 1990s, the Buffalo Bills took the idea of the hurry-up offense and applied it to the whole game. That style of offense gave birth to the shotgun strategy, using five-receiver sets on what used to be considered running downs.

The passing idea has further evolved.

Today, there are college coaches, like those at Oregon, who want the team to get 90 or more offensive snaps per game.

In the past decade, the I formation, wishbone and veer have given way to the spread offense.

The running back position has lost much of its luster, and the days of 1,000-yard rushers seem numbered.

This trend is not limited just to football, or even sports, but also the business world. Why? When you see success, you try to emulate the formula.

Pick up a generic box of medicine and you will see a statement asking you to compare its ingredients to the name brand version. The point the manufacturer is making is that the generic is just as good, but at a cheaper price.

Grocery stores want you to believe that fruit whirls are just as good as Fruit Loops.

I'm not saying that emulation or brand competition is a bad thing. I believe you should model yourself or your sports program off of something that is successful.

Many people in southwest Missouri are familiar with John Roderique. He is the head coach of the most successful football program in Missouri.

Webb City is tied for the most state championships in our grand state, and the big red machine shows no signs of slowing down.

Every time a football coaching job opens in Missouri, Roderique's name is always rumored to be in the running. I'm sure when Gary Pinkel retires from Mizzou, someone will be advocating that Roderique should inherit that job.

What Roderique has accomplished at Webb City over the past 18 years has been nothing short of amazing. He has won 92 percent of his games, made 16 playoff trips, had 11 Show-Me Bowl appearances and won nine state titles.

Success like that is worth emulation.

If you talk to Roderique, he is quick to deflect credit and praise. He will instead tell you about the great community support, his dedicated athletes and his assistant coaches.

What makes the Cardinals' machine tick is the way he has vertically integrated his program.

His teams reload, they don't rebuild.

The system created forces junior varsity players to practice against the state's best every day. When a player is hurt, there are two more ready to step in, and the system never misses a beat.

The process begins with the Mighty Mite third-grade football program at Webb City. The Cardinal youth are taught and drilled over and over again on the veer offense. The coaches are given a playbook designed by Roderique. They attend coaching clinics so they can implement high school strategies, boiled down to be

applicable at the youth level.

Their youth teams will suffer defeats, but the goal isn't to win youth games, it is to create football players.

For the coaches, it is not about the me, but the we.

Year after year, the Mighty Mite program adds to athletes' base fundamentals until they turn the players over to the school's coaching staff in the seventh grade.

From there, the skills are further refined until the players enter their freshman season with six years of veer knowledge and technique under their belts.

The players find that the same blocking assignments, terminology and playbook taught to them six years earlier is the same one being used at the high school level.

Because of their fundamental soundness, most games are won before they even step off the bus on Friday nights. They slay teams that are bigger, more talented and come with more hype, because teamwork will beat individual talent every day of the week.

The Cardinals have appeared in seven of the last nine state title games including the last five consecutively.

I find it more than coincidence that their dominance in the last decade has grown since his system's inception.

Wildcats Nation has also witnessed these principles on full display and has two state championships to show for their work.

Roderique believes you can't have third-graders running the I formation, fourth-graders learning the spread, fifth-graders the veer and sixth graders the pro set and expect the kids to be ready for high school with just two seasons in his system.

He has proven, the system is fun and will produce results when implemented early on in the athletes' lives.

Stan Van Gundy, the Detroit Pistons' head coach, once told a group of YMCA coaches that when he coached youth leagues, he didn't care if his squads won a single game. His players were going to learn his way -- the right way to dribble, pass, shoot and play defense. His goal was not to win youth championships, but to create better players -- players who could win in high school, in college, in the pros, and in life.

That is the Webb City way, one that churns out champions.

Jared Lankford is the sports editor of the Cassville Democrat He may be reached at sports@cassvill-democrat.com, or at 417-847-2610.

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