South Brunswick football community transitioning to spread offense under new coach

Scott Jacobs

Chip Kelly, the former University of Oregon, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers football coach, introduced the wider football public to the spread offense during the first half of the 2010s.

Kelly went 46-7 as Oregon’s head coach from 2009-2012 and the spread proliferated across collegiate football. Even after Kelly got fired at both National Football League stops, his revolution continued. The spread’s core principle, use the width of the field to open up the vertical part of the field, quickly became the guiding principle for the average NFL offense.

Over the past few years, the spread has even trickled down to high school football, previously one of the most traditional institutions in America.

In New Jersey, the spread is now as common as the old school option attacks. And under new coach John Viotto, South Brunswick High School is fast becoming the latest convert.

Only Viotto is taking the revolution a step further. The 2007 South Brunswick graduate is implementing the spread at every level of football in the Monmouth Junction community, from the youngest Pop Warner teams on up.

Viotto spent the last four years as a varsity assistant coach at nearby rival North Brunswick Township High School, and he saw the fruits of the spread offense first hand.

Using Chip Kelly tactics and a bunch of basketball style athletes, the Raiders transformed from a 1-9 team in 2016 into a 10-2 club in 2018, which reached the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional playoff championship game. North Brunswick lost to Sayreville War Memorial High School, 6-0, in the title game

After the 2018 campaign, South Brunswick’s coach, Joe Goerge, stepped down after seven seasons, a 63-17 record and three NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group 5 sectional playoff championships—2012, 2015 and 2017. Viotto saw the opening online and immediately applied. After three interviews, he landed the position.

South Brunswick’s administration liked Viotto’s community ties and head coaching experience. Viotto has been the head boys’ track and field coach at North Brunswick for the past six years.

“They saw I had high level organization skills and have dealt with any type of issue under the sun,” Viotto said. 

Viotto loves coaching track at North Brunswick. But football is his favorite sport and South Brunswick is his alma mater.

“This is my dream job,” he said.

Naturally, the new coach wasted no time implementing his vision for a successful football community. The high school Vikings started doing extra conditioning and running the spread when minicamp opened on June 10, and they have been going five days a week ever since. On the night of July 8, Viotto met with his Pop Warner coaches and introduced them to the spread playbook and drills.

“The pop warner and middle school communities are all in and very supportive,” Viotto said. “I’m excited to help support them.”

Building a football community is a long-term process. Developing a varsity team is Viotto’s more immediate challenge.

Goerge ran a spread attack at South Brunswick in 2016, and his players loved it. But then the veteran coach switched back to his favored triple option attack.

South Brunswick’s incumbent starting quarterback, Gage Katzenell-Hall, point guarded the spread on the freshmen team a few years back. Even after earning the varsity starting job in 2018, Katzenell-Hall missed the fun, uptempo offense. He is stoked to run it again.

“I like to throw the ball,” Katzenell-Hall said.

Viotto prefers the spread because defenses have to defend “five guys instead of two,” he said. Katzenell-Hall thinks the Vikings already have at least four electric skill players in Majid Howard-Baker, Ezequiel Johnson, De’Jhon Thomas and Jelani Devonish-Wynter.

“Those are the fast guys,” he said.

“I think we can go undefeated,” he added.

The NJSIAA, the governing body of scholastic sports in New Jersey, allows high school teams to start practicing in pads on Aug. 12. South Brunswick will open official practices on that date.