By Robert Anderson
Laughter. It's not exactly been a sound heard around Patrick Henry's football program in recent years.
Fourth-year head coach Bob Gray has been doing some chuckling this year, though.
Patrick Henry has installed the single-wing offense, the antiquated formation made famous in Virginia prep football by Giles High School, and so far Gray is enjoying the reaction from his peers.
"I've got coaching friends or people that were here before that are starting to hear that we're doing this, and it's hilarious," Gray said.
The Patriots will unveil the set at 7 tonight in their season opener against Bassett (1-0). Gray was somewhat secretive about his intentions before practice began, although PH has lined up in the single wing in its two preseason scrimmages.
"Bassett found out about this Friday night when we traded film," Gray said. "They called me Sunday and said: 'Coach, are you really doing that?' That's the reason I was not giving anybody any secrets ahead of time."
For 25 of his 28 years in the business -- which has included head-coaching stops at Fieldale-Collinsville and Staunton River -- Gray has used the multiple-I formation as his base offense.
Enter the single wing, in which there is no quarterback directly behind center and no wide receivers. PH will line up with two tight ends, a tailback, a fullback, a wingback and a blocking back.
Who says an old coaching dog can't learn new tricks?
"What got me excited about it was, when we first put tape on it, was how excited the coaches got," Gray said. "They were ready to do something different. I've actually tried to run it before, but I never committed to it. We're committed to it now."
Gray erased the old PH offense from the drawing board when Jeremy Haymore joined the Patriots' staff this summer after a two-year stint as the head coach at Appomattox County. Haymore, a former head coach at Eastern Montgomery and an ex-player under Gray at Staunton River, has been studying the single wing for much of the last decade.
"If he's not here, we are not in the single wing," Gray said. "He was the selling point. I'm not too big to admit that.
"It's a change for me every day in practice. Sometimes we have to stop and redraw. We have some discussions in here that some people would call heated."
Haymore, who coached against Giles when he was at EastMont from 2004-05, said retired Spartans coach Steve Ragsdale was a valuable source of help with the nuances of the offense.
"I got a chance to talk with Coach Ragsdale for several hours," Ragsdale said. "He was able to tell me things you couldn't get out of a book."
The single wing features shotgun snaps to multiple backs and is built on deception. Just ask PH players who saw it last year when the Patriots scrimmaged Appomattox.
"The first play went 15 yards down the field and we didn't know what was going on," PH lineman Kyle Smith said.
That sort of confusion is what the Patriots are banking on, particularly since opponents will have all of four practice days to get ready.
"I don't even know where the ball's going and I know the plays," lineman Larry Gunter said. "I can't wait to see how people are going to hold up against it."
While Gray tried to keep a lid on the news that PH might run the single wing, the version the Patriots are using is not a secret.
"We're going to take the ball and try to keep it from you," Gray said. "You've seen Giles run the buck lateral series. You've seen Giles run the power series. We're a power team. I don't know if we'll be successful at it, but we're going to take the ball and say, 'Here we come.'
"It's old-school football. We're not a spread team. We're not going to hide it."
"A lot of people get caught up in the fancy part of it, but it's still 4 yards and get up and do it again," he said.
Senior Darren Thomas was PH's quarterback for the last three years. When he started practice in July, Thomas had been moved to wingback. Junior Terrell Wilson will handle many of the snaps this year as the tailback.
"It gives our kids more chances to be playmakers," Gray said. "Right now, Darren's making plays."
Perhaps PH has needed a fresh approach. The Patriots haven't finished over .500 since 2000 and have changed coaches three times since then. Gray might have to live with some ballhandling miscues to get a payoff at the back end.
"We've seen some good things out of it," Gray said. "We've seen some bad snaps out of it. We're going to find out Friday night."