Bonney Lake High School’s Chris Brown was one of the top quarterbacks in the state last season. But what first-year coach Jason Silbaugh had him work on most during the offseason was more mundane than throwing a football.
He had Brown practice handing the ball to a running back.
Brown threw for almost 3,000 yards in nine games last year. He led the state with 417 attempts. And he had two of the area’s best receivers in Zach Zaragoza and Kaleb Zahnow.
Don’t expect those kind of numbers this season. Bonney Lake’s typically pass-first offense went away when Silbaugh was hired off the Lakes High staff to replace Chad Barrett.
For now – and as a foundation for the future – Silbaugh is intent on establishing the Panthers’ run game.
“I’m not going to lie, I was kind of mad when he came in,” Brown said. “But as he kept explaining his offensive scheme and how it has worked for him in the past, we decided we have to get on the bus with Coach Silbaugh, roll with him and trust that his plays are going to work.”
For the past three years in the SPSL, Bonney Lake football was seen by many as one-dimensional. Brown dropped back to throw an estimated 75 percent of the time – even more frequently than Skyline’s Max Browne, considered the state’s top quarterback – which made it easier for defensive coordinators to plan.
Silbaugh would know. He coordinated the Lakes defense the past eight seasons, including a unit that corralled Brown and company in a 62-14 Lancers’ victory last season.
Though football has evolved into a quarterback-oriented game, Silbaugh prefers variety.
“Being a (defense) guy, I know that it’s much harder for defenses when you give them two things to worry about instead of one,” Silbaugh said. “My belief is that you have got to be able to run the ball to be successful. You can’t just chuck it. There are very few Skylines in the world that can throw the ball all over the place and win games.”
Initially, Silbaugh view was a hard sell. Brown, the SPSL 3A quarterback of the year in 2011, has started since he was a ninth grader. He was named ESPN’s high school player of the week after he threw for 394 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns against Decatur last year.
Brown is used to shouldering the load – he threw more than 60 times in three games last year. But in Bonney Lake’s 28-21 victory overt Sumner earlier this season, he dropped back less, an estimated 45 percent.
“To say that it hasn’t affected him would be a lie, and I know that,” Silbaugh said. “But in the past, you watch him and their success solely rode on his shoulders. I’m trying to get the pressure off of him. I told him, ‘You don’t have to be the only reason we win or lose a game.’ ”
Brown said the change was awkward the first couple of weeks at practice. He said the Panthers weren’t used to running the ball so often and players were having a difficult time adjusting.
“At first, we thought that we really didn’t have a choice,” Brown said. “Whether we liked it or not, he was our head coach.”
“I was pretty honest with him,” Silbaugh said. “I told him we weren’t going to be passing 60 times a game. He kind of struggled with that at first and just like any kid, he was like, ‘Oh, this and that.’ But when I started talking to him about the system, he understood it and he bought in.”
Bonney Lake’s win over Sumner, featured the running game as much as the aerial attack. The Panthers accumulated 200 yards in the air and 200 yards on the ground.
“I like it a lot because it means I get more carries,” said senior running back EJ Harris. “We have a quarterback who is very good, but it’s really important that we get the ball to the running backs so that we can set up everything else.”
Silbaugh’s new schemes have taken more time to develop than he hoped. Bonney Lake is 1-3 heading into league play with losses to Lincoln, Mountain View and Union.
Silbaugh said his team has committed plenty of mistakes during the growing process. But he also said this season’s non-conference schedule was tough. He thinks his team will benefit when it plays its first league game tonight at Peninsula.
“We are going to start getting better,” Zahnow said. “We are still getting used to everything, but we are going to play a lot better in league.”
Does it matter if the passing stats aren’t as staggering as in years past? Brown doesn’t think so.
“Our numbers won’t be as good, but I want what is best for the team,” Brown said. “The change has been a little hard on us, and we aren’t picking up on it so easy. But in the next couple weeks, as we continue to get the handle on it, I think it will be really good for us.”