throw the ball consistently. Their offensive style - and that of most Chester County teams - has reflected that view.
"Everybody wants to judge football by the pros," Hancock said. "The worst team in professional football is loaded with super athletes, super-duper athletes - the best in the country. The worst team is made up of all big-time all-stars from their high schools and colleges, so you are dealing with super athletes where you can do much more with the passing game. Some college teams maintain that kind of situation because that is the way they recruit. High schools don't normally have that many super athletes. There are too many things you have to do right to make the passing game really go, to go out and
throw as much as you see the pros throw."
Bernat's teams run out of the I-formation attack that has made the Owen J. Roberts tailback position the scholastic equivalent of the USC tailback by churning out 1,000-yard rushers year after year in both the Ches-Mont League and the Pioneer Athletic Conference.
"Not everybody is blessed with a great all-around quarterback," said Bernat, "About 99 percent of the time you get someone who is an adequate passer, has good footwork and can hand off. As far as our system, we emphasized the tailback, it became a matter of pride and the kids all worked for it."
Bernat noted that some of the great area quarterbacks directed primarily running offenses in high school.
"When Tom Shuman was at Pottstown, they were a running team," Bernat said, "but he had a strong arm and was a threat to throw. At Penn State, he wasn't an outstanding passer, but he was great for their system."
Don Strock, who spent most of his NFL career as a backup quarterback with the Miami Dolphins, orchestrated Bernat's grind-it-out offense at Roberts, despite his passing ability.
Bernat doesn't believe the county has produced any fewer outstanding quarterbacks than any other area, but that local teams just reacted differently to the scarcity of pure passers.
"I don't think (the number of top quarterbacks) is different from anywhere else, but I think the Ches-Mont League puts more emphasis on the running game," Bernat said.
The area has produced more outstanding running backs with the surname Joe or Miller in the past 30 years than it has top-shelf passers. Coatesville offered the Joe brothers - John, Jimmy, Billy and Abel. Ralph Miller rushed Downingtown to an unbeaten season in 1985. His younger brother Dwayne helped the Red Raiders to the last two league titles. Baby brother Tony, who some observers have said may be the best of the trio, gets his chance to shine this year at Coatesville. All of the area schools have turned out standout runners, and area coaches make every effort to take advantage of them.
Recently, West Chester East has been the lone exception. Last year, the Vikings were the only area team to gain more yards in the air than on the ground. Coatesville, Downingtown, Henderson, Unionville and Oxford gained most of their yardage on the ground.
Even in the Ches-Mont League's 12-team days there were few exceptions to the keep-the-ball-on-the-ground approach. Phoenixville passed frequently under the direction of Marty Moore, and was a notable exception to the Chester County style. Tony Romano was one of a series of Phantoms' passers. Another dramatic exception was Lance Viola, an outstanding quarterback at Spring-Ford, a district that straddles the border between Chester and Montgomery Counties. Phoenixville, Spring-Ford and Great Valley are all former Ches-Mont League schools now in the Pioneer Athletic Conference.
Joe Carroll, who coached at Chester before taking over at West Chester East three years ago, has noticed the Ches-Mont League's offensive style.
"I think out here there seems to more be a (philosophy of) controlled offense," Carroll said. "They seem to be, I guess the word is conservative, but it has been good to them. They've won a lot of games."
"My experience at Chester was more wide open. We had more explosive athletes, so I used their talents. (At East,) we don't have as much speed, but I'm not opposed to putting the ball in the air."
And the Vikings are attempting to recast the image of Chester County football. Carroll runs 7-on-7 passing drills every day. The Vikings threw the football frequently last season, but Carroll said it was by necessity more than choice. This year he hopes to balance his offense more, but he still
plans on passing frequently.
"Like anything you run, if you put the time into it, you can make it successful," Carroll said.
But success is why county teams have kept their feet and the football on the ground.
"In Delaware County and the city, we get a lot of people who think out in Chester County we play conservative football," Hancock said "You take a look at the last decade, not any one year, take a look at over a 10- or 15-year period and see what this conservative football does to most of those nonleague opponents who like to run around and do that kind of stuff (he waves his arm to make several passes). Last year, Downingtown and Coatesville could have beaten just about anyone in this area. Most years, we have been able to, too."