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Football: Despite high enrollments, county teams find value in playing both ways
South Forsyth's Colby Cryz fights for extra yardage against Sprayberry on Friday, Aug. 23, 2019 at War Eagle Stadium. - photo by Ben Hendren

As North Forsyth’s Patrick Corrigan took his first carry in the Raiders’ game against Gainesville last week, his expectations were optimistic but tempered.

Corrigan plays primarily as a linebacker for North, but he’s played a big part on the Raiders’ very young offense as a power running back. He darted ahead expecting plenty of contact, but instead, he saw open space.

“I was just in there trying to get a yard, get us a first down,” Corrigan said. “The holes were tight at the beginning and opened up, and I busted in and got a pretty good gain. I was a little shocked and caught off guard because I was focused on ground and pound, and it ended up being a good run.”

And it’s those kinds of carries that North’s coaching staff hoped Corrigan could bring as a change-of-pace back. Through two games, he has 64 rushing yards on 14 carries with a touchdown. On defense, his impact is even greater: He’s tied for the team lead in total tackles with 14.

“I think he'd play every snap if we let him,” North head coach Robert Craft said. “He's built that way.  Certainly, defense is where he's become a leader, even as a sophomore, but he plays with kind of a revised energy on offense. I think it's just something different for him. He's a bruiser -- we like to use him as that.”

But Corrigan is not the only player for North that’s seeing time on both sides of the ball, and the Raiders are certainly not the only team in the county that’s finding different ways to utilize players. Despite the relatively high numbers that most teams in Forsyth have, coaches and players still see the ability to play multiple positions as valuable. Craft even calls it a necessity.

“We do have a large enrollment (but) we're still on the smaller end compared to other 7A schools, I would say,” he said. “To play in 7A football, we need a certain amount of guys to go both ways. To me, in year four here, I'm probably playing more guys both ways every year, which is OK.”

North saw a benefit of giving players reps on both sides of the ball just last season. When starting running back Bryson Trigg went down with a collarbone injury, defensive back Honus Wagner stepped into his spot and performed admirably until Trigg’s late-season return.

Sometimes, it’s just about getting the best players on the field. This year, more seasoned players like Nicky Dalmolin, Mason Butcher and Miles Hartsfield have seen time on both sides. Most of the time, though, it’s about development – underclassmen are the ones that usually see reps at multiple positions as coaches try to figure out who they are.

“You may have a guy who's a highlight player on one side of the ball, but for whatever reason, just physically or mentally, that's just not his makeup,” Craft said. “Maybe he just doesn't have the defensive mentality, or maybe he doesn't have the ball skills to play offensive skill positions. I think it's identifying what those guys do really well.”

That may be true, but for South Forsyth’s Colby Cruz, it’s completely possible to be two different players with different makeups. Cruz is one of the War Eagles’ standout receivers, with eight catches for 157 yards and a score so far, but in his senior year, he’s helped fill a hole in the secondary, totaling eight tackles over his first two games.

“It's like I have two different personalities,” Cruz said. “On offense I'm calm and cool, but on defense I'm more talkative and more aggressive. I find it funny.”

The benefits of being a two-way player extend beyond just coaches and their decisions. For the players, it can provide insight into the whole game of football. In Cruz’s case, playing as a receiver and a defensive back has aided him in identifying tendencies and learning to take advantage of them.

“When I'm on offense, I can see the defense more,” he said. “I can see the coverages, the zones they play, the formations they run. On defense, I can tell (where) the receiver's running from the movement of the movement of their hips and their helmet. It's pretty beneficial.”

But while there are certainly advantages to playing players both ways, teams need to exercise caution in how they do it, especially in the sometimes-dreadful heat of the season’s early months.

“It’s tiring but it's still fun getting to play both sides of the ball,” Cruz said. “We sub a lot, so I'll get subbed out for a couple of plays and when I feel normal, I just go out there.”

For players that could play at the next level, playing more than one positon can showcase the kinds of skills that a player can bring to a program. For Craft, though, he hopes keeping his players versatile can pay dividends sooner than that.

“They're seeing the full makeup of a kid,” Craft said. “They're seeing a well-developed player. They're going to take them and fit them on their team from a position standpoint however they (want).

“I always like doing it with as many guys as possible because I think it can be really good for a player's development. They just learn more football.”