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Offense: Installing the Air Raid at the High School Level

Written by: Shea Townsend

Offensive Coordinator at Swansboro High School

About: Coach Townsend has been the OC at Swansboro high school for the past 7 seasons and has produced record-breaking offensive numbers in the passing game at Swansboro. Before arriving at Swansboro, he coached at Richlands High School and worked for the ECU Football Team under Skip Holtz and Ruffin McNeil from 2008-2012.


Phone: 910-308-3759

Twitter: @sheatownsend311

Installing the Air Raid at the High School level

I first fell in love with the Air Raid offense on November 1st, 2008 while watching Texas Tech take on the #1 ranked Texas Longhorns. I was working for the ECU football team at the time and we were on an away trip to play UCF. Mike leach called the play “6” which in the Air Raid world is Four Verticals.  With time expiring and trailing Texas by 1, Graham Harrell hit Michael Crabtree on a back-shoulder fade and he scored to stun the world. I can vividly remember the whole ECU team who at the time was in their hotel rooms resting for the game the next day flood the hotel hallways going crazy and from that moment I wanted to know everything there was to know about this offense. 

My name is Shea Townsend I have been the offensive coordinator at Swansboro High School in North Carolina for the past 7 seasons and I spent one season at Richlands High School before that. I was working for the ECU football team when Coach Ruffin Mcneil was hired in 2010 and brought over most of that same Texas Tech staff I previously had watched coach against Texas in 2008.   I was so excited because I now had the opportunity to be around the staff that mastered this offense. I started out working under Dennis Simmons (currently at Oklahoma) the receivers coach at the time and tried to learn everything I could from him about Air Raid receiver drills. The last spring I was at ECU, I moved over to work under Lincoln Riley (OC and Quarterbacks coach) and tried to soak up everything I could from him; sometimes he even let me run the QB drills.

Why run the Air Raid System?

When I came to Swansboro I quickly found out that football was not the main focus in the school. They had traditionally been a dominant soccer school and the majority of the kids in the town grew up playing soccer. We didn’t have a big offensive line and we only had about 21 players.  Also during that time, we just entered a 3A conference with the likes of Havelock, West Craven, and Jacksonville, who easily tripled our depth. Coach Laspada, who is our head coach, handed over the reins to me to be the offensive coordinator and I knew right away if we lined up and tried to run right at teams in this conference, we wouldn’t gain a yard. We had to find a way to get our best athletes in space and give them a chance to work some magic. We went 8-2 that year and finished 2nd in the conference behind Havelock. If you are a coach and you are overmatched in your league you should consider the Air Raid. It allows you to compete with teams you shouldn’t compete with because it’s a system designed to exploit the holes in the Defense and force the defense to cover the whole field. It allows you to focus on what you are best at and not what the defense is doing. If you are in Eastern or Coastal NC like Swansboro, most defenses around here are used to covering the Wing T, Triple Option, or Wishbone. It can work to your advantage because defenses don’t practice coverages or how to defend a pass very often.  The Air Raid gets everyone involved, and if you are having trouble getting your athletes in the school to come out and play, you can sell them on how the Air Raid gets everyone involved.  The Air Raid isn’t like the Power-I or a traditional offense where one person gets to have all the fun. In most cases, you have 8 different players catching passes and more than one guy scoring the touchdowns.

With that being said, it’s something you have to be consumed with and want to sell out to. You can’t dabble in it because it needs thousands of reps to get good at it.

First Steps to Installing

Understand that simplicity is the key to this offense, especially at the high school level. Like other effective high school offenses, you need to get really good at a small number of plays. I would recommend installing 4 maybe 5 dropback concepts, 4 quick game concepts, and about 4 run plays. The beauty in the Air Raid is you can take a concept like mesh, run it the same way out of different formations, and use motions and it can look like 8 different plays to the defense. Essentially, don’t have 50 plays in your playbook. Instead have a small amount, and get creative with them. The player’s responsibilities don’t really change but to the defense, it’s a lot to process.

Here is an example of Mesh and an easy way to use Z motion to throw the defense off, the Z is still getting to his original landmark on the field.

Choosing what plays to focus on. Here are my recommendations.


Mesh – Mesh is the Air Raid bread and butter play.  Every Air Raid coach I have ever met thinks highly of this play. It allows you to stretch the field vertically and horizontally and allows your players to sit in open grass or run vs man coverage.

6 (4 Verts)– You could run this play every play of the game because if run correctly, it has an answer for everything the defense throws at you.

Shallow cross- This is a great play because you switch things up by progressing from the outside of the field to the opposite side.  You are reading more of shallow grass in between the hashes first.

Y CROSS- Cross is a great 3rd and down play that puts the safeties in a bind and exploits the middle of the field.


Quick Screen- A perimeter screen that gets the ball out quickly and gets your outside guys in space with blockers.

Y- STICK– This is a great first down play to get easy yards and has high completion percentages.

Y- Corner– A complimentary route to stick that is a great man beater.

Slant/ Shoot– A very quick concept that allows your slant guy to sit if he needs to for an easy completion and this play really puts the corners in a bind.


When choosing your run plays it’s always a good idea to throw some draws in there especially if teams start to drop more players into coverage. You will need an inside run as well as an outside run. A lot of Air Raid guys love Dart as well as GT counter (Oklahoma’s main run is GT Counter)

Planning Practice

Now that you and your staff have come up with what plays you want to run its time to get good at them. In the Air Raid it’s more important to plan your practices than it is to GamePlan because you’re not really scheming against a certain defense. Your guys just know to run vs man or sit vs zone.





These are the drills I would recommend researching and drilling everyday to build consistency and muscle memory.

Randy Larry – This is a drill where your quarterback is throwing every route in a concept at a rapid pace back to back to back. It is still important to make the QB go through his progressions even if you are on your 4th or 5th read.

Routes on Air- This is a Drill where you have 4 maybe 5 QBs or 1 QB and 4 coaches if you are like us throwing every route in a concept at the same time. These drills get your players tons of reps on all your plays its also a good idea to have the skill positions rotate so they know every route no matter if they are playing  X,Y,Z,H, OR F.

Practice Schedule

Like we said before you want to get lots of reps so when you do these drills plan out your week where you practice just one dropback one quick, and one run each day.


  • Dropback- 6
  • Quick – Stick
  • Run- Dart
  • MESH


  • Dropback- Cross
  • Quick- Corner
  • Run- Outside Zone
  • MESH


  • Dropback- Shallow
  • Quick- screen game
  • Run- Inside zone
  • MESH


  • Dropback- Sail
  • Quick- Slant/ Shoot
  • Run- GT Counter
  • MESH



Once you have installed your system and created a practice schedule, its nice to organize your plays for the situation and where you are on the field so play-calling is easy. Your QB should know the offense as good as you do so he can check and make pre-snap reads. It’s very important for your receivers to be able to recognize man or zone pre-snap so they don’t have to think too much while they are running. Use tempo and motion to confuse the Defense. Don’t be afraid to get your back involved in the passing game. Most of the time he is your best player so get him in space. We have actually made our back the 2nd read in some of our progressions to make sure he gets his touches. And most importantly, score a lot of points because sometimes your best defense is a good offense.


I hope this helps you guys understand more about this offense and how to simplify it so you can run it efficiently at the high school level.  It is a proven system that works but takes a lot of time and reps to get good at it. Your players will go through drills and play’s at first and not look very good but don’t get discouraged. Keep repping it and eventually, they will hit that “ MAGIC REP” and from that point forward they will know it. I’m still learning every day and by no means know everything about this offense, but I was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to see it done first hand by Coaches that do. Thank you guys if you have any questions feel free to contact me anytime!

7 comments on “Offense: Installing the Air Raid at the High School Level

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