Dual-Threat Quarterbacks in High School Are a Rare Breed
Simply put, a dual-threat quarterback is one that possesses the passing attributes of a traditional quarterback and the rushing attributes of a running back. When combined, these traits create incredible havoc for the defense, for it must defend both aspects simultaneously. And those visual cues that defenders read that dictate the play simply go out the window.
There are two types of dual-threat quarterbacks. The first involves the “read option”, where a quarterback either hands the ball off to the running back or keeps the ball and runs it himself, selecting which option is most favorable. The decision to keep or hand off is not pre-determined in the play call; it is made during the execution of the play itself. In other words, the quarterback must read the execution of the backside defensive end and choose which option to employ based on whether the end attacks or holds his position. If he attacks, then the quarterback keeps the ball and heads for the end’s initial position. Otherwise, it’s a handoff to the running back up the middle. This scheme has been very effective at the high school level and was run successfully for a number of years by Mentor.
The second type is of a more traditional concept where the quarterback lines up in the shotgun behind the center and simply runs the ball like a running back, sometimes off a fake handoff. But keep in mind that the quarterback must also be an effective passer and not just a running back playing the position. Otherwise, the play is not as productive, since defenders will simply key on the quarterback, assuming that he is much less effective in the passing game. By utilizing an empty backfield, defenders are forced to cover up to five wide receivers, which reduces the number of defenders in position to attack the quarterback.
Massillon fans may recall the 2014 playoff game against Perrysburg. In that one, quarterback Gus Dimmerling rushed 21 times for 302 yards and scored four touchdowns. He also completed 13 of 18 passes for 112 yards. Following the game, the Perrysburg coach remarked that he likes to select a good running back for the quarterback position and teach him how to throw. It might sound good on paper, but it just isn’t that easy. Players with the ability to both well just don’t come around very often. And they are extremely difficult to manufacture.
One of the best dual-threat quarterbacks seen in Ohio, one that employed the wildcat version, was Zanesville’s Buster Howe. During his senior year in 1987 he rushed for 1,700 yards and scored 34 touchdowns, leading his team to an 8-2 record. Subsequently, he was named Mr. Ohio Football, the first player to be awarded such an honor. For his career, he rushed for 3,075 yards and scored 59 touchdowns. After graduation he had a short stint with Ohio State.
Massillon has never had a dual-threat quarterback that used the read-option concept. But they have had a few that were pretty adept at running the ball. Here are the ones that stand out:
Willie Spencer (1994) – Second on the team in rushing with 129 carries for 775 yards. Averaged 6.0 yards per attempt. Also passed for 941 yards and 5 touchdowns. Scored 108 points. Led his team to a 42-41 overtime win over Canton McKinley in the 100th game. In that one Spencer rushed for 94 yards and scored a touchdown. He also threw two touchdown passes. The team finished with a 10-2 record. Spencer later played for the University of Akron and Tiffin.
Mike Danzy (1993) – First on the team in rushing with 93 carries for 702 yards. Averaged 7.5 yards per attempt. Also passed for 948 yards and 15 touchdowns. Scored 62 points. Rushed for 136 yards against Austintown Fitch (7-3) in a 34-15 victory. The team finished with a 10-2 record.
Steve Hymes (2002) – Third on the team in rushing with 64 carries for 448 yards, as a backup quarterback. Averaged 7.0 yards per attempt. Scored 38 points. The team finished with an 11-3 record.
Darius McElroy (2021) – As a starter early and backup later in the season, rushed 84 times for 431 yards. Averaged 5.1 yards per attempt. Passed for 448 yards and two touchdowns. Led the team in scoring with 72 points. McElroy was the catalyst behind the 35-13 victory over Canton McKinley, during which he broke the game open in the second half by rushing 13 times for 88 yards and scoring two touchdowns. The team finished 11-3 and advanced in the playoffs to the regional finals.
Dave Sheegog (1965) – Rushed 106 times for 405 yards. Averaged 3.8 yards per attempt. Also, passed for another 427. Led the team in scoring with 59 points. During his junior year he was instrumental in leading the Tigers to a 20-14 comeback victory over No. 2 Canton McKinley, during which he scored the winning touchdown on a 14-yard run with less than a minute remaining in the game. Both Massillon teams finished 10-0 and were named state champions by the Associated Press. Also, both teams finished second in the country.
Dennis Franklin (1970) – Third on the team in rushing with 79 carries for 363 yards. Averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Also passed for 699 yards and 12 touchdowns. Second on the team in scoring with 66 points. Rushed for 58 yards in a 28-0 victory over No. 3 Canton McKinley. Scored on a 37-yard run. The team finished 10-0 and was named state champions by the Associated Press. Franklin subsequently started at quarterback for three years for the University of Michigan.
That leads us to this year’s quarterback, Da’One Owens, who would be considered a pure dual-threat quarterback of the second variety. When featured in the play, he will normally line up in the shotgun in an empty backfield formation. Sometimes, he would run in combination with a jet-sweep fake handoff and other times he would simply run the ball. The offensive line would block like on a traditional handoff to a running back, using both power and zone blocking schemes, while Owens, at 6’-1”, 200 lbs., would simply become the running back.
Through seven games, Owens has rushed 60 times for 649 yards and scored nine touchdowns, averaging an incredible 10.8 yards per carry, aided by his 4.5-second forty time. Numerous times this year he has broken through the defense and taken the ball a great distance to the house. Owens has also completed 29 of 53 passes for 446 yards and five touchdowns. All that, while sharing the quarterback role with Jalen Slaughter. The sky is the limit for this young man.