by Cliff Mehrtens

Throwing the football has never been as popular, or prolific, as it is this season at Lake Norman area high schools.

Passing is no longer just a passing fancy.

Halfway into the season, five area quarterbacks have passed for more than 1,000 yards, including three who blew past it long ago. Davidson Day’s Will Grier has 2,408 yards and 26 touchdowns. East Lincoln’s Garrett Young has 1,887 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s thrown 163 passes without an interception. SouthLake Christian’s Randy Schroeder has 1,723 yards, 16 touchdowns and one interception.

Ten or 15 years ago, those would have been impressive statistics for an entire season.

Grier, Young and Schroeder are North Carolina’s top three yardage leaders, and Grier‘s 2,408 yards ranks second nationally, according to statistics compiled by Hopewell’s Tijuan Sifford has 1,253 passing yards and Hough’s Josh Stilley has 1,082 at the midway point.

Several factors have added to the influx of prep passing, according to area coaches and players. It’s the trickle-down effect of wide-open passing in college and the NFL. High school 7-on-7 passing competitions are more prevalent than a decade ago. Quarterbacks throw year-round. It’s trendy. And, if you’ve got a strong passer and several good receivers, voilà! You’re a passing threat.

East Lincoln coach Mike Byus said he’s been using the “Spread” offense since 1991. It was originally designed to move receivers, and therefore defenders, away from offensive linemen. The less-crowded space provided running room for backs. The Spread has since morphed into a pass-first attack for teams who now line up four or five receivers on each play.

If you have a quarterback who can quickly read coverage and accurately throw the ball, the yards can pile up quickly.

“That is the reason we are doing it this year,” Byus said. “Some years we are running, some years we are passing, but most years we want to be balanced.”

Young, a senior, began the season with five straight games of 300 or more passing yards, twice setting the Lincoln County record for yards in a game (352). He has a five-touchdown game, and twice has thrown for four scores in a game.

“You’re into the game more with an offense like this,” Young said. “And if you’ve got a bunch of good athletes, it makes more sense than just relying on one kid to run the ball.”

Davidson Day coach Chad Grier said passing is often the option for a new or small-school team that isn’t rife with large linemen. It helps that the Patriots’ quarterback Will Grier, the coach’s son, is one of the state’s top college recruits.

“The bottom line is that in high school football, a kid who can spin it becomes a great equalizer when you are playing against bigger, older kids,” Chad Grier said. “If you have a kid who can throw it and make plays with his legs, you can keep defensive coaches up late at night throughout the fall.”

Will Grier this season has three of Mecklenburg County’s 10 highest passing games in history. He’s 154-of-193 passing, an amazing 79.8 completion percentage.

He was 30-of-34 for 505 yards and eight touchdowns against Monroe Parkwood. He has a six-touchdown game, two four-touchdown games and three times has eclipsed 460 passing yards.

“When you have as many good receivers as we do, my job is to get them the ball in space,” Will Grier said. “We play fast and do a lot of different things. It’s a fun offense to play.”

SouthLake Christian coach Geoff “Bub” O’Donnell said many of today’s offensive philosophies mirror societal norms.

“Twenty years ago, we lived a much slower-paced existence,” O’Donnell said. “We were more patient and willing to wait for delayed gratification. Taking small chunks of yards using efficient running plays made sense to that generation.  We want it all quick today, on and off the field.”

Hopewell coach David Johnson uses a wide-open attack with Sifford, a senior who set a school record with 472 passing yards..

SouthLake’s Schroeder, a senior, He has a 474-yard game and two or more touchdown passes in every game this season.

“The fact that we throw year-round as a team has definitely prepared us for the season,” Schroeder said. “7-on-7s are competitive, fun, and a good judge of how good a team’s passing game is.”