Joe Medley: One year in college, and Grass has record
by Joe Medley
Nov 23, 2013 | 2406 views |  0 comments | 33 33 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Eli Jenkins rushed for 124 yards Saturday and passed for 147. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
Eli Jenkins rushed for 124 yards Saturday and passed for 147. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
JACKSONVILLE -- If this Jacksonville State football season has laid anything to rest, it’s the silly notion that coaches can’t transition successfully from high school to college ball.

The regular season is complete, and JSU’s Bill Clark has produced a 9-3 team in his first season as a college head coach.

And remember that John Grass guy, the former Oxford head coach whom Clark hired as his offensive coordinator at JSU? One season in, and Grass’ offense has set a significant school record.

As of 0:00 in JSU’s 42-34 victory over Southeast Missouri State in Saturday’s regular-season finale, the Gamecocks have 5,244 yards in total offense. That beats the old school record of 4,882.

The old record was set in 1991, when JSU was still a championship-level Division II team. The Gamecocks have sought footing in Division I since leaving Division II after the 1992 season.

The 1991 team did it in 13 games, including postseason. This year’s team did it in 12, with postseason still a possibility.

What’s more, Grass has done it using three different quarterbacks -- two pocket passers in Max Shortell and Kyle West and a dual-threat guy in Eli Jenkins. Shortell didn’t arrive on campus until summer, and Jenkins spent his redshirt year in 2012 as a safety.

Grass has done it despite losing three of his best wide receivers -- Telvin Brown, Markis Merrill and Dalton Screws -- to injury. Gabe Chambers missed two games.

On top of all of that, Grass had to implement a hurry-up, spread offense with a program that had been built for the pro-style game, then decided what to emphasize on the fly.

It was a feat of Xs and Os, for sure, and Grass humbly points out that it has something to do with a system that’s designed to cram more snaps into a game and, therefore, more yards and points.

Still, there’s management involved.

“Number one, we didn’t know who we were going to be offensively,” Clark said. “Let’s just go back to the spring, and you’ve got West, who is a good thrower. He’s a game manager. He’s kind of in the lead. Of course, we had Eli, and we started seeing the glimpses of Eli and what kind of athlete he was.

“So, now you’re trying to decide, are you a run team who passes it, kind of like what we did tonight, or are we a throw team? We feel like we need to get another guy, so we go out and get Max, who is really a straight throw guy.”

That meant a gear switch from spring to fall camps, and Grass and JSU’s offensive staff had another dilemma.

“How do you practice, being a pass team, being a quarterback run team?” Clark said. “Putting all of that together, which is really the neat thing about the tempo we use in how we practice, with two groups going at once, but to make those decisions and have it all flow together? … Really, they’ve managed it very well. Very well.”

Grass has had to adjust even more on the fly this season, shuffling quarterbacks based on injury or which had the hot hand. Those quarterbacks have thrown to a dwindling receiver corps.

Grass was just the guy to make it work.

Clark, who came up through the Alabama high school ranks as a defensive mind, has said he hired Grass because Grass was one of the early innovators with the hurry-up spread system in Alabama. Working it for 16 years at Ashville, Albertville, Moody, Spain Park and Oxford helped Grass this season.

“You have to have two different systems, but I feel like our offensive system covers that,” Grass said. “We’re able to take a quarterback that can run and utilize his ability, and can take a guy that can’t run and utilize his ability and throw.

“I believe it starts with what that guy can do, so we’ve built it like that over the years.”

Grass’ adjustments have helped JSU set individual records this season, as well.

Thanks in part to a direct-snap “Heavy” set for goal-line and short-yardage situations, running back DaMarcus James broke the Ohio Valley Conference’s 25-year-old record for touchdowns in a season. James scored the record-tying touchdown with the “Heavy” set Saturday.

Then James scored on runs of 15 and 8 yards to give him 23 on the season. He set the record despite scoring only once in JSU’s first three games.

So, it turns out these high school guys can coach.

Turns out that schemes they bring from the 48-minute game are working in the 60-minute game, just with better athletes, and they can adjust.

In one year of trying, Grass has a school record to show for it.

Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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