September 30, 2009

Old school Wing-T gets a Nu Skool twist

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Dallas Jackson is the high school sports expert for RivalsHigh.com. Send him a question or comment at DallasJ@Yahoo-Inc.com and follow him at twitter.com/rivalshigh.

As he headed off the field three years ago - following a painful playoff loss in a game he still feels his Gainsville, Ga., squad was the better team - Bruce Miller ran through all of the standard coaching questions:

Did we have a good game plan?

Was my team mentally prepared to play?

Did I make the right adjustments during the game?

Then, he asked himself the toughest one of all: Am I running an offense that gave my team the best chance to win?

Miller, a staunch proponent of the Wing-T in his first 12 years at the school, realized the offense - born in the earliest days of the sport - may no longer be enough.

With that, a truly modern offense was born - one that mixes the principles of the old-school Wing-T with the new-age spread.

"Personally I like what we do now," Miller said. "We put people on islands. We throw out of the Wing-T principles and can run out of the spread.

"It's the best of both worlds."

It's good enough to make Gainsville the No. 55 team in the country in this week's RivalsHigh Top 100.

Is it good enough to start a new trend in coaching? Let's not move too quickly. But know this: Anyone who says the principles of the Wing-T made a comeback when the Miami Dolphins introduced their Wildcat offense last season hasn't been to too many high school games lately.

The Wing-T - and modern-day variations - have been behind the success of many high school programs for years.

Tom Harmon, head coach of Wayne (W.Va.) High, has accumulated a 117-34 record in his 13 years of running the Wing-T. After his first season, in which he went 0-10, the team has made the playoffs 11 consecutive seasons and has played for three state titles, winning one.

He says the Wing-T helps your team develop an identity.

"You have to establish early that this is what we are going to do," Harmon said. "One thing the Wing-T does is give you a sequential style of play. When one thing is stopped there is an answer."

The Wing-T is one of the most difficult offensive attacks in high school football to scheme against. All forms involve a very physical offensive front and a run-heavy misdirection offense that keeps defenders on their toes. The offense dates back to the beginnings of football and has spawned numerous forms varying from the single-wing to the split-back veer.

It became outdated with the growth of the passing game, largely disappearing from the high school game in the 1970s.

A few coaches, however, kept it alive - and won some big titles with it.

Joe Martin, now the Assistant Executive Director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, won the Texas 5A state title at Garland in 1999 with the Wing-T.

He can't understand why more teams don't use it today.

"Winning is winning," Martin said. "Would you rather win with the Wing-T or lose with the spread?"

WINNING TRADITION
Clay Totty, the head coach at Rison (Ark.) High, has won two state championships and has a state-record, 64-game conference winning streak.

And he's accomplished it all while using the split-back veer variation of the Wing-T offense.

A modern-day offense? Not at Rison. Totty says the old-school version is perfect for his program.

"We have a small school and our skill players are playing different sports each season," Totty said. "We can work with developing strong lineman all year long."

He says that selling the style to his kids is not a tough job because of the tradition.

"This is all our kids know," Totty said. "It is Rison tradition. It is all that their daddy's and granddaddy's knew."

Despite the success there are still detractors.

"You will have dads in the stands screaming, 'Throw the ball,'" Totty said. "But we all know those are the guys who married a Rison girl and don't know any better.

"The people who have been here their whole life tell us we threw too much if we go to the pass six times in a game."

- Dallas Jackson

He also does not buy in that the system is outdated.

"Winning never gets outdated," he said. "The Wing-T brings a physical style of play to your offense. And it toughens up your defense."

Harmon sees things the same way.

"We feel like we can block every player on the field. Every play," Harmon said. "That is the problem with the spread. It is teams trying to score without blocking anyone."

Harmon, however, does acknowledge that you need to be creative with the offense. He also says he has updated the offense.

"You can't just go and run the Delaware offense," he said. "You use the base set of plays, then run them out of as many formations as you can think of."

This mentality has led to people in the region referring to Harmon's style of offense as the "Wayne-T."

"One thing we do is mix it up," Harmon said. "We run trick plays. We run dives. We run stretch plays. Pass. Play-action. Throw with motion and against motion."

This definitely isn't your father's (or grandfather's) Wing-T.

That's OK with Miller - as long as he gets the right result.

He's still smarting from Gainesville's 41-6 loss three years ago.

"We were the better team, but we were not able to take advantage of it," Miller said. "Teams were putting nine or 10 men in the box and making it tough."

No more.

And, he admits, Miller has seen more energy from his kids with this new hybrid offense - not only on game day but also in practice.

"Kids see the spread and they want to play in it," Miller said. "They love coming to practice. We throw the ball all over the field instead of drill in blocking schemes."

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