Friday, November 28, 2008

Single wing offense alive and well

Note: Single Wing Sentinel in Newsday

John Jeansonne
2:22 PM EST, November 24, 2008

Football archeologists well understand that the game's latest contrivance, the Wildcat formation, merely is a mutation of the old single wing. But when coach Chris Stevens of Manhattan's Xavier High School started poking though the mists of antiquity two years ago, ultimately deciding to revive the beast in its original form, he discovered the existence of "a cult of single wingers, and once you're in the cult, they're dying to give you stuff."

It has been a half-century since the heyday of the single wing, an offense in which the "quarterback" mostly blocked while the direct snap -- shotgun-style -- went to a "tailback" to pass, hand off or kick; or to a "fullback" who would mix straight-ahead power with spinning moves meant to hide the ball's whereabouts.

A disappointing end to the 2005 seasons and the prospect of graduating key players in his Wing-T offense had sent Stevens, who was 41 years old at the time and "had only heard of the single wing" but never seen it in use, scouting around for an alternative.

He studied the shotgun and spread offenses -- themselves with roots in the single wing because they also depend on the direct snap -- and spent "about $800 on materials, the last $120 of my own money," before unearthing a three-pack of DVDs by an Illinois high school coach named Mike Rude, a highly decorated practitioner of the single wing.
On the college level, the offense last had been employed in 1993, by Division III Denison of Ohio; at the Division I level, it had its farewell season in 1967 at Princeton and, among major powers, in 1959 at UCLA. NFL teams had discarded the single wing entirely 12 years earlier, with the Pittsburgh Steelers last to move on to the T-formation.

But it turned out that the single wing had -- and still has -- pockets of devout followers on the high school level throughout the nation. On Long Island, Glen Cove's Peter Kopecky has been using it since 2002, though he said he has evolved into a system closer to the University of Florida's spread offense.

Kopecky stumbled into the cult literally "by going online" and not only found Web sites dedicated to the single wing but an annual gathering of single wing coaches in Pennsylvania called the Single Wing Conclave. "So I went," Kopecky said. And, if effect, joined a very exclusive club.

Adam Wesoloski, who runs the Web site, noted in an e-mail that the high school in his hometown of Menominee, Mich., has been running the single wing since 1966 and has won three state titles with it -- including the last two years. There is a National Single Wing Symposium for coaches each July and a Single Wing Sentinel which tabulates stories ("The Offense That Would Not Die," one article proclaims) on single wing activity throughout the country.

At Xavier High, Chris Stevens' unveiling of the single wing might have struck his young players as something from outer space, except "it was outer space for me, too," he said.

Only football followers of a certain age recall that the single wing, invented by Pop Warner in 1906 and the staple of pro, college and high school teams for roughly 50 years, placed the "quarterback" closest of the four backs to the line of scrimmage, behind a tackle, with a wingback outside one end. Of the two deep backs, the tailback functioned primarily as the modern quarterback does in the spread or shotgun, and the fullback usually as the running back in those formations.

This year's fad, the Wildcat, "is more single wing than spread or shotgun," Stevens said, "because when they go to the Wildcat, they're putting a running back at the quarterback spot" and most likely sticking to the ground game.

The beauty to the single wing, he has found, is having different backs capable of handling the ball and therefore "a lot of deception, with great blocking angles, a mass of power blocking at the point of attack." Furthermore, whether the direct snap goes to the tailback or fullback, either is theoretically a passing threat as well as a danger on the run.

Whether the Wildcat could actually morph back into the old single wing on the pro and college level, Stevens isn't sure. "I'm not there yet," he said. "But if we could marry the quality spread game with the power of the single wing, we'd make a lot of defensive coordinators cry."

Last year, only its second full season with the single wing, Xavier was 10-1, led the state in rushing, led the Catholic league in scoring, won its division and won its traditional big Thanksgiving Day game against Fordham Prep. "This year, we've eclipsed last year's numbers," he said, "with 465 points in 10 games."

Already, Stevens has had "guys who e-mailed back-and-forth about the single wing coming to our games to see us run it. I'm a newcomer, but I'm making a mark with it. I'm happy to be executing it, and the cult will bring me along."

(For those who want to experience Xavier's "Back to the Future" offense against Fordham this Turkey Day, the game will be televised by MSG at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.)
Newsday Inc.


Never has the game circled around to its beginnings?Pop Warner, meet Ricky Williams; Ricky, Pop?the way it has this fall

ON THE third Sunday in September, a high school Football player named Jeremy Gallon was at home in Apopka, Fla., doing what America does on Sunday afternoons: watching the NFL on television. Right there in Gallon's house the Miami Dolphins dismantled the New England Patriots 38--13, ending the Patriots' 21-game regular-season winning streak. But that was just a piece of the story. Six times in the game the Dolphins lined up with running back Ronnie Brown in the position normally occupied by a shotgun quarterback. Brown ran, passed and handed off to fellow running back Ricky Williams.
The Patriots played as if they had never seen such Football and, in fact, they had not. But Gallon had. Eighteen months earlier, just before the start of spring Football practice at Apopka High, a large suburban school 15 miles northwest of Orlando, head coach Rick Darlington had laid out the offense that the Blue Darters would be running in the coming season. There would be no quarterback per se. (Darlington almost certainly didn't say per se, because he is the kind of guy who describes his 45-minute drive to work from the edge of the Ocala National Forest to Apopka like so: "Quiet. No traffic jams. Maybe an opossum in the road.") There would be a running back who would receive shotgun snaps and just take off with the ball. Another running back would line up next to him, and sometimes he would get the snap. There would be many play fakes and many ballcarriers, but few passes. It was like nothing any of the Apopka players had ever seen. "I didn't get it at all," recalls Gallon, who would be inserted into the starting backfield and receive most of the center snaps. "It was just weird."

Darlington, 43, is a Football coach to his bones. If you cut him open, you would hit a thick layer of pigskin. His first job was working with the Lakeland (Fla.) High junior varsity team when he was still in high school, and he has coached every autumn since. He won the Florida 6A (largest) state title at Apopka in 2001 and later coached three years at perennial national power Valdosta High in southern Georgia before returning to Apopka in '06. Darlington's teams have run offenses ranging from the triple option to the shotgun spread passing game, depending on the talents of his players. Here in the spring of '07, he found himself without the type of accurate passer who might play quarterback in most systems, but with a number of very good running backs. So he settled on a dinosaur.

The coach explained to his players that they were climbing into a time machine; the offense was called the single wing, and its roots were at least a century deep. Jim Thorpe once played the position that Gallon would play for Apopka: single wing tailback. Darlington played films of teams running the single wing. "He showed us guys wearing leather helmets," says Gallon, then a sophomore. ("It was some old stuff," says Darlington, "but I don't know about leather helmets. They probably looked like leather helmets to these kids.") In the 2007 season Apopka went 12--2, scored 38.5 points per game and reached the Florida 6A semifinals. Gallon rushed for more than 1,600 yards. This year the Darters are 9--2 and in the playoffs again. The time machine has worked.

Football is often hailed as a game of innovation, the product of so-called geniuses creating new and brilliant ways to play a child's game. There is truth in this, but innovation is often just imitation in spiffy new uniforms and safer helmets. In the spring of 2008 NFL Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, just retired from his second stint as coach of the Washington Redskins , was discussing his legendary Counter Trey, the foundation of the power running game that helped the Redskins win three Super Bowls from 1982 to '91. "We stole it," said Gibbs. "We saw some film on Nebraska, and Tom Osborne was doing some really innovative things with his line up front, and we were watching it and thought, God, that's good stuff. So we stole it. We all steal things. You can talk to me all day, and I'll never say I was the first guy to do anything. Because sure as heck there's some coach out there who did it first." The spread offense is hailed as the ultimate in modern Football, yet in 1952 recently retired TCU coach Leo (Dutch) Meyer wrote a book titled Spread Formation Football, in which the first sentence is, "Spread formations are not new to Football."

Every coach at every level accepts that he is walking in someone else's footsteps. But seldom has the game circled around to its beginnings?Pop Warner, meet Ricky Williams; Ricky, Pop?as it has this fall. With 2:32 left in the first quarter of the Dolphins' win over the Patriots, Brown took a snap from center and ran over right guard for the first of his team-record four rushing touchdowns. Gallon stared at his television in disbelief. "Pretty amazing," he would say later. "An NFL team running the same stuff we run." In Union, Maine, Todd Bross, 42, a single wing proselytizer who organizes an annual spring conclave of single wing coaches at Kings College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., leaped off his couch, and by nightfall the Internet single wing forum that Bross moderates was buzzing with affirmation that the prehistoric beast had finally been reborn at the highest level of the sport.

The single wing was hatched within a decade of the turn of the last century, and more than 100 years later it is experiencing a renaissance on every level from youth Football to the NFL, where this season at least seven teams have used some variation of the old-school package (while calling it the Wildcat, a name whose ownership is in dispute). College Football is on board as well, and has been for more than a decade. The Florida offense that 2007 Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow operates for coach Urban Meyer is, in the words of Patriots coach and Football history aficionado Bill Belichick, "the perfect blend of single wing running and spread passing." And simply by speaking those words?single wing?Belichick dismisses a taboo, because coaches have long concocted strategic aliases like "quarterback run game" to avoid a name that might make them seem out of touch. In fact, they are on the cutting edge.


The best place to trace the single wing's first run through Football history is an unlikely one: the 800-square-foot office over the garage of Ed Racely's stately house on a waterfront bluff on Cape Cod. Racely, age 80, worked a long and profitable career as the co-owner of a road-building business, but way before that he was a little boy with a passion for Football. He played guard in a single wing offense in high school in Walthill, Neb., and growing up, he wrote to famous Football coaches like Wallace Wade at Duke and Gen. Robert Neyland at Tennessee, requesting copies of game programs. Racely never stopped collecting: He now owns thousands of DVDs, VHS tapes and even 16-millimeter films (with five projectors), documenting the evolution of the single wing. "People ask me all the time who started the single wing," Racely says. "I tell them it was President Theodore Roosevelt."

The line is delivered like a joke, but this much is accurate: In 1905 Roosevelt advocated for college Football rule changes designed to make the game safer by outlawing dangerous mass-momentum, closed-formation plays like the flying wedge. These rule changes gave rise to the game of modern Football, including the forward pass, the single wing and all the formations that succeeded it.

Glenn Scobey (Pop) Warner coached at Carlisle (Pa.) Indian School from 1907 to '14. In 1908 Warner published a correspondence course for coaches, and in 1912 and '27 he wrote books outlining his Football philosophy. In the '27 edition, under the chapter heading Formation A, Warner wrote, "This formation has been referred to as the 'Carlisle formation,' because it was first used by the Indians.... I have used this formation or variations of it ever since pushing and pulling the runner was prohibited in 1906." The book includes diagrams depicting what clearly came to be known as the single wing: an unbalanced line (a guard, two tackles and an end on one side of the center; a guard and end on the other); a tailback lined up in a shotgun position; next to him a fullback; up at the line of scrimmage behind the guard, a blocking back; and outside the strongside end, a single wingback, who later became the source of the formation's name.

The single wing relied on slick backfield ball handling (including mind-boggling 360-degree spins and fakes by the backs) and precise pulling and blocking on the offensive line. It would be the dominant formation in Football for nearly half a century, employed by such legendary coaches as Knute Rockne of Notre Dame (who tweaked it with his famous box formation, in which the four backs shifted into a square, largely to confuse defenses), Fritz Crisler of Michigan and Carl Snavely of North Carolina. Single wing tailbacks would be the glamour players in the sport. Because of strict substitution rules and a conservative strategy that often involved punting before fourth down, single wing tailbacks were run, pass and kick athletes. Thorpe was a single wing tailback. So were George Gipp of Notre Dame, Ernie Nevers of Stanford, Nile Kinnick of Iowa and Tom Harmon of Michigan. Belichick's father, Steve, was a single wing fullback at Case Western Reserve, and Belichick played in the single wing in junior high and against it in prep school. "You found a guy back then who could do all three things and stay on the field," says Belichick. "And the guys who could do those things became your All-America, Heisman Trophy single wing tailbacks."

The last of them was Princeton's Dick Kazmaier in 1951. On Racely's big screen, Kazmaier comes to life in a 13--7 victory over Penn at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, the Tigers' 16th consecutive victory in a streak that would reach 24 games a year later. Four years earlier Michigan had won the national championship with a single wing backfield so dazzling in its deception that it had been nicknamed the Mad Magicians, and Princeton was similarly remarkable. The cameraman often lost sight of the ball.

The last NFL team to run the single wing was the Pittsburgh Steelers under head coach Jock Sutherland in the late 1940s. In the ensuing years successful college single wing tailbacks were forced to choose a position in the NFL. Paul Hornung arrived in Green Bay from Notre Dame in 1957 and became a running back (albeit one who threw frequent option passes). Billy Kilmer, one of the last single wing tailbacks in major college Football, came to the 49ers from UCLA in '61 and eventually became a quarterback with the Saints and Redskins.

When the single wing died, it was the T formation that initially replaced it, followed by the I formation and the various two-back pro-style offenses. The passing game matured. Rules were altered to allow more frequent substitutions. The single wing became a novelty. Princeton continued running it through the '60s. "It was so different, it gave us an edge," says Cosmo Iacavazzi, a fullback on the 1964 Ivy League championship team, stating a theme that would be echoed much later.

The last outpost of the college single wing was Denison University in Granville, Ohio, where Keith Piper ran it until 1992. Journalists would occasionally pass through Piper's domain and chronicle the antique, as if witnessing living history. One of the last was SI's Rick Telander, to whom Piper said in '82, "The thing that people don't understand about the single wing is that it was never caught up with or overrun. It works. But Football is like men's fashions. Coaches don't run the single wing, because they don't want to be out of style."


A cold rain falls intermittently from low clouds on an early November Saturday at Windsor Locks--Suffield High in northern Connecticut. On the muddy field the Housatonic-Wamogo Mountaineers line up unmistakably in Pop Warner's Carlisle formation. The snap goes directly to sophomore left halfback Tanner Brissett, who turns his back to the line of scrimmage (a half-spin, in single wing parlance) and fakes to senior right halfback Will Kennedy as Kennedy runs into the middle of the line, just left of the center. Almost simultaneously, senior wingback Sam Schwartz scoots past as if running a reverse around the left edge. Brissett fakes to him also, then turns to the line of scrimmage and runs off tackle, untouched, 70 yards for a touchdown. You can almost imagine what Michigan's Mad Magicians might have looked like and, by God, maybe Keith Piper had a point.

"The defense can't figure out who has the ball," says Kennedy. "There have been times when I've run straight into the line with the ball and the whole defense is running away from me to tackle somebody who doesn't even have the ball."

The coach at Housatonic-Wamogo is Deron Bayer, 43, a former college player at Western Connecticut State. He was hired as an assistant in 1997 to help coach a program that annually dresses fewer than 35 players, and he promptly logged into his school's fledgling Internet system seeking an offense that might work with such a small squad. "The search engine was Hotbot, that's how long ago it was," says Bayer. His search led him to the single wing and eventually to Bross's initial conclave in 2001, which 11 high school coaches attended. At the conclusion they took a group picture in an unbalanced-right single wing formation straight from the pages of Pop Warner's book. Bayer installed his offense two years ago and, like Darlington, showed his players vintage films. "We watched tapes," says Kennedy, "but you could hear a projector running in the sound."

From the time that Kazmaier left Princeton through the late '90s, the single wing was kept on life support by a small cadre of devotees like Ken Hofer of Menominee High in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which won three state championships, the most recent in 2007; George Rykovich of Manitou Springs High in Colorado, who won two state championships; and Mark Bliss, who has won four state titles at Conway Springs High in Kansas. They had their bibles, most notably the late Ken Keuffel's Winning Single Wing Football and John Aldrich's Single Wing Offense with the Spinning Fullback. But in the last decade the single wing seems to have suddenly found a second life, fueled by Internet message boards on which coaches exchange ideas and tales from the trenches, making neophytes like Bayer feel at home. At the last Wilkes-Barre conclave, in the spring of 2008, there were 138 coaches in attendance. A summer symposium organized by the National Single Wing Coaches' Association that started in '96 with four coaches now annually draws more than 100.

There are four primary reasons for the single wing's resurgence at the high school level:

a It does not require a skilled quarterback, which is the toughest position to fill on any team.

a Its complex double teams, trap blocks and backfield deception allow teams that would otherwise be overmatched physically to be competitive.

a By snapping to a player who can run with the ball, the offense forces the defense to account for an extra threat (instead of dismissing the traditional quarterback as a handoff machine).

a Even with its growing popularity, the single wing is still relatively rare, which means defenses simply do not see it frequently enough to defend against it comfortably. It is an annoyance, a disruption to the fastidiously organized practice and video regimen that fuels every week in a Football season at all levels of the game.

Unsurprisingly, these same virtues appeal to teams at higher levels. (This is the place for a disclaimer that is designed to fend off the admonitions of purists: There is single wing Football, and there is pure single wing Football, which involves tight?rather than spread?formations, spinning fullbacks and old-fashioned shoulder blocking. But any offense that begins with a direct snap to a player who is a threat to run with it owes a debt to the single wing.)

As the single wing reestablished a foothold in the high school game, it resurfaced at the college level, where running quarterbacks have always been a staple, whether in the single wing, T formation or wishbone. But it was a form known as the Wildcat that climbed from high school all the way to the NFL.

The Wildcat was born at Springdale (Ark.) High in the fall of 2001. Springdale coach Gus Malzahn, then 35 and in his 11th year of high school coaching, had a speedy flanker named Dusty Johnson, who had been a junior high quarterback. "We were just trying to think of ways to get him the ball," says Malzahn, now the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. "We put him in the shotgun and ran the speed sweep, reverse, quarterback power. Had some pretty good success with it. People started asking me if I had any background in the single wing. I didn't know what they meant."

At Springdale, Malzahn called the formation Heavy. He was hired as offensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2006 and installed the formation there, with future NFL running backs Darren McFadden at quarterback and Felix Jones at wingback. Here the name Wildcat emerged, says Malzahn, because Arkansas already had a similar formation in place and it was called Wildcat. It later became the Wild Hog, for obvious reasons.

At least one coach disputes Malzahn's story by claiming prior ownership of the name, and his case is compelling. Hugh Wyatt is an energetic, entrepreneurial 70-year-old Yale graduate who has coached high school Football for 32 years (he is currently coaching in Ocean Shores, Wash.) and has developed a wide following through clinics and the sale of DVDs explaining his double wing offense. In December 1998 Wyatt wrote an article for Scholastic Coach and Athletic Director magazine, describing a direct-snap, double wing formation similar to what Malzahn would install three years later at Springdale. In his article Wyatt suggested to coaches looking for a curveball, You might want to take a look at our "Wildcat" package, and he went on to explain that it was named for the mascot at La Center (Wash.) High, where he was employed at the time. "I believe Gus Malzahn has a selective memory," says Wyatt.

Nonplussed, Malzahn says, "I'm sure I saw it somewhere, but I can't remember where."

After one season at Arkansas, Malzahn left for Tulsa and was replaced by David Lee, who subsequently joined the Dolphins as quarterbacks coach at the start of this season. He took the Wildcat with him, and after Miami opened the season with two losses, offensive coordinator Dan Henning put the formation into the game plan against the Patriots in Foxborough. "It had never come up before that week," says Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington. "The fact is, we needed some offensive energy, and that gave it to us."

It gave them something else: a simple mathematical edge that every offense seeks. Belichick, the closet single wing historian who was beaten that day, explains, "When you put a quarterback under center, you lose a blocker, you lose a gap. You basically play with 10 men on offense. When the quarterback is one of the runners, whether it's single wing or veer or wishbone, the defense runs out of people to defend you."

While the Dolphins' Wildcat has been hailed as the return of the single wing, it's more accurate to call it a culmination rather than a conception. NFL teams have been direct snapping for the better part of a decade, with the likes of LaDainian Tomlinson and Kevin Faulk. Belichick recalls that Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger ran off-tackle from the shotgun five years ago in his rookie season. Hines Ward has also taken snaps for the Steelers.

Clearly the growth has ramped up this season. The Baltimore Ravens have put second-year quarterback and 2006 Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith in the shotgun and run a version of the zone-read option. The Kansas City Chiefs scored on Nov. 2 when tailback Jamaal Charles took a direct snap and pitched on a reverse to wideout Mark Bradley, who then threw a 37-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Tyler Thigpen, who was flanked wide right. "Pretty exciting," says Thigpen. "When I got deep, I looked back and I was thinking, Is he throwing the ball to me? As long as I'm out there and some sort of threat, the defense can't just all-out blitz every play."

NFL defenses were clearly caught flat-footed by the Wildcat. "We knew this stuff was out there," says Belichick. "But until somebody shows it, you're not going to spend practice time preparing for it. Now we will, absolutely." In the mongoose-snake game between offensive and defensive evolution, the first defensive response has been to load up the line of scrimmage because the Wildcat backs are run-first marginal passers. The offensive response is obvious: create a pass threat.

The Atlanta Falcons have run several direct-snap plays to running back Jerious Norwood, who played some high school quarterback in Mississippi. "You can hear the defenses just checking off like crazy, getting ready for the run," Norwood says. "But I can throw it." Imagine the threat if he could throw it like Falcons starter Matt Ryan.


In the winter of 2001, 36-year-old Urban Meyer scored his first head coaching job, at Bowling Green University. He looked at his roster, looked at the increasingly stout competition in the Mid-American Conference and concluded that he would need an edge. He borrowed the rudiments of his passing game from Scott Linehan, who was then offensive coordinator at Louisville. But Meyer still needed a running game, and he wanted to make his quarterback a viable part of it.

It was not an entirely novel concept. Back in 1991 Rich Rodriguez, then a 28-year-old, second-year head coach at Glenville State (an NAIA college in Glenville, W.Va.), had already pushed in that direction. While trying to operate a run-and-shoot offense, he put battered transfer quarterback Jed Drenning in a protective shotgun for an October game against Wingate University, which had beaten Glenville 63--0 the previous year. This time the loss was only 17--15, and soon Rodriguez was tinkering with running plays from the shotgun (including the now ubiquitous shotgun option, which came about when Drenning dropped a snap and ran with the ball). "Whatever incarnation of Rich's offense exists today," says Drenning, "it was born that day when we played Wingate."

But while Meyer and Rodriguez would eventually become confidants, Meyer's most direct inspiration for his ground game came from Kansas State, where coach Bill Snyder had made a direct-snap running back out of quarterback Michael Bishop and contended for the 1998 national title. "I went out to visit Kansas State and saw what they were doing with the quarterback, and I came away from there amazed," says Meyer. "That stuff really impacted me."

Snyder's innovation was a matter of survival on his own practice field. He had hired a group of hungry, aggressive defensive coaches at K-State who would later become head coaches, including Bob Stoops (Oklahoma), Mike Stoops (Arizona) and Jim Leavitt (South Florida). They developed a sellout, eight-in-the-box defense that was as difficult to run against all week as it was on Saturday. "We had to get better against our own defense, and the answer was pretty simple," says Snyder, who retired in 2005. "We had to involve the quarterback in the running game. We ran the same plays, but we gave ourselves the option of running them with the quarterback as the ballcarrier."

Translation: single wing. Simple math.

Meyer incorporated Snyder's principles?"Call it whatever you want," says Belichick, "but it's single wing Football"?and took Utah to a BCS bowl after the 2004 season and Florida to the national championship with Tebow as a freshman in '06. Media members fell over themselves proclaiming Meyer's offense the ultimate modern "spread" game, but the quarterback running game was pure throwback. Tebow took direct snaps and ran off tackle, just like George Gipp. Single wing groupies everywhere went wild when Tebow threw a jump pass?running toward the line of scrimmage as if to carry off tackle, then leaping into the air and tossing?for a touchdown against LSU. Dick Kazmaier used to throw jump passes. You could see them right there in Ed Racely's Cape Cod garage, and here was Tebow doing the same thing.

To more universal appreciation, Tebow won the Heisman Trophy a year ago, passing for 32 touchdowns and running for 23, and he is contending again this year. He is a true double threat and, at 6'2 1/2" and 238 pounds, a durable one.

The professional game has evolved significantly in many ways, but the quarterback position truly has not. The ideal NFL quarterback remains an accurate thrower who can make decisions under pressure and, if rushed, buy time in the pocket. For all its advancement, the league has not yet produced a player who is equally dangerous as a runner and passer. (Michael Vick? Vince Young? Please.) But with the influx of single wing--based offensive packages, the door is open. And at lower levels of the game, the position has continued to slide closer to the Tebow model than the statuesque Tom Brady version. "The single wing type stuff is going to become more the norm in the future," says Chan Gailey, Chiefs offensive coordinator. "Over the next 10 or 15 years, it's going to evolve because the runner-thrower is the kind of quarterback that the college game is producing now. You don't find a ton of 6'3", 6'4", drop-back, stand-up passers. They're not in college, so we're not getting them up here."

When Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was head coach of the Dolphins in 2007, he noticed a sea change in the quarterback position at all levels of the sport. "I saw little kids playing Pop Warner?seven, eight, nine years old, doing the belly-read option from a shotgun," says Cameron. "I was absolutely floored by the stuff they were doing so young."

The elephant in the room is the madness of exposing a $10 million-a-year quarterback to an NFL bruising. "The hitting really is at a much higher level than college," says Pennington. "I don't think you would last very long [in a single wing]."

Says Cameron, "It's one thing to have Darren McFadden back there, but your quarterback? I don't know about that. Maybe Tebow can do it in this league."

The voices of the NFL cannot speak quickly enough in swatting aside the concept of running from the quarterback position. Yet coaches keep trying, whether in Lou Holtz's failed attempt to run the outside veer option with the New York Jets three decades ago or the Tennessee Titans' halfhearted attempt to incorporate Young's feet into their offense, along with his arm. There is no debating the potential value of a quarterback who can throw and run and also survive. There is only the issue of how to do it and with whom?

"There aren't many players who can run and throw," says Belichick. "Tebow, obviously, is a special one. But you've got major questions because if you're going to run him 15 times a game, how long will he last before they break him in half? But he is obviously special, and it's going to be very interesting to see what happens when he comes into this league. Do you just run your regular offense and let him scramble when he scrambles? Do you put in a few plays just for him? Or do you really build an entire new offense around him?"

Correction. Entire old offense.

"I've run straight into the line with the ball," says Kennedy, "and the WHOLE DEFENSE IS RUNNING AWAY FROM ME."

A quarterback running the single wing in the NFL? "I don't know about that," says Cam Cameron. "MAYBE TEBOW CAN DO IT."


ORIGINAL RECIPE The old-school single wing featured an unbalanced line, with both tackles lined up on the right side of the center. The goal was to concentrate the force of the blocking in one place, clearing the way for the backs?especially snap-taking, slick, triple-threat tailbacks like Princeton's Kazmaier (42).

MODERN CATS In the Wildcat, the NFL's take on the single wing, the ball is snapped directly to a primary running threat (like Miami's Brown, 23). This makes the defense account for an extra player by cutting out the quarterback. Wingbacks in motion add deception. Reflecting the times, today's formation is more spread out.



WING NUTS Read Rick Telander's prescient 1982 story on Denison University, which was at the time the last bastion of single wing college Football.


Single-wing offense lands Housatonic in Sports Illustrated


FALLS VILLAGE — The phone call arrived about three weeks ago. “Hi,” said the message on the answering machine in the Housatonic football coaches’ office. “This is Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated. I heard you run the single wing and would like to talk to you about it.”

It didn’t take the Mountaineers’ head coach, Deron Bayer, long to call back. For one thing, Housy rarely gets a splash in a nationwide magazine like Sports Illustrated. Second, SI was calling about Bayer’s favorite subject.

“I am a single-wing fanatic,” he admitted. “I will talk about it to anybody anytime.”

The call led to the Housatonic/Wamogo football co-op, which runs the single-wing attack Bayer installed before last season, being featured this week in a lengthy SI article on the rebirth of the 100-year-old single wing at all levels of football.

How did the Mountaineers wind up on the pages of a magazine read by more than 23 million Americans? The Internet, of course. Layden, who lives in Connecticut, came across a Web site listing single-wing teams. Housy and Kennedy are the only ones running a pure single wing in the state.

Layden mentioned to Bayer during their conversation that he was flying down to see Apopka, Fla.’s single-wing team.

Bayer replied that he knew the Apopka coach, Rick Darlington, from a conclave of single-wing coaches held annually in Pennsyvlania. And he noted that Housy was playing at Windsor Locks that weekend.

So after deplaning at Bradley Field, Layden stopped in at the Windsor Locks-Housy game, where he jotted down notes. Three Mountaineers, Will Kennedy, Tanner Brissett and Sam Schwartz, got mentioned in the article, which included a picture.

“I’m thrilled that this happened to our program,” said Bayer. “I’m even more thrilled for our players who got mentioned.”

The Single Wing Sentinel Makes The Denver Post

Akron's old-school approach wins football titles
By Chris Dempsey
The Denver Post

The "Single-Wing Sentinel" is an online pat-on-the-back website for coaches and teams who constantly run through opponents using the offense. On, there is already a congratulatory hug for Akron, listed among several teams around the nation that have beaten opponents senseless with the single wing.

The kudos comes with good reason.

Akron (12-0) goes into Saturday's Class 1A state title game against Wray having won back-to-back state titles and is on a 38-game winning streak. The Rams are poster children to all those who swear nothing but the single wing will do.

Akron's coach is Brian Christensen. As a prep, he ran the offense under then-coach Carl Rice. Rice is now the school's principal and an assistant on Christensen's staff. Christensen has not changed a decades-old tradition of Akron single-wing teams, and is softspoken about why the offense has been so successful.
"You look at college and high school levels, and everyone is running some form of something," Christensen said. "I think it really comes down to the kids executing well and being disciplined and those kinds of things."

At its base, the single wing, designed by Glenn "Pop" Warner, features four backs — one of those a "wingback" — in various locations behind the center. The quarterback is asked to block, and in fact is called a "blocking back" in many cases. The ball is shotgun-snapped into the backfield and the mayhem begins.

"One coach said it looked like a rugby formation, people going here, going there," Rice said. "But specifically as I have learned it, it's a bunch formation and it actually makes you defend the whole field in one way or another."

No matter how it's viewed, there is no doubt it has been the catalyst for some big offensive numbers.

Akron has churned out nearly 3,800 yards of offense this season and has averaged 39 points per game. Of that total, 3,040

Akron's practice makes just about perfect in the single wing offense, which spreads opponents horizontally, then attacks a "crack" in the defense. (John Leyba, The Denver Post )yards and 45 touchdowns have come on the ground. Dalton Jefferson (1,263 yards, 15 touchdowns) and Logan Davisson (875 yards, eight touchdowns) are the biggest beneficiaries.
"It spreads you horizontally," Rice said. "And if it does that, there's going to be a crack somewhere. It does allow you to put a lot of people at the point of attack. It is, I think, hard to follow the ball. It gives you a lot of opportunity to attack instead of being attacked."

And, adds Yuma coach Keith Gille: "Where Akron takes it to the next level is, they stay extremely low and are extremely dedicated and disciplined when running it."

The flip side to Akron's offensive success has been the dominance of its defense, and dominance might be an understatement. The Rams shut out seven teams this season and have yet to be scored on through three rounds of the playoffs. The last time a team scored on Akron was Yuma on Oct. 17. Akron has intercepted 23 passes and recovered 13 fumbles.

Gille, a Pomona graduate who coached at Pomona and Chatfield before taking the head coaching job at Yuma, called Akron "probably the best defense I've ever seen in high school football."

It's coordinated by Rice.

"He does amazing things with that defense," Gille said. "We led the state in offense with 400 yards per game, and we ran the ball for 100 yards and threw for 60. But we were 2-for-16 passing with three interceptions, and one of those completions was on a fake punt. And watching film, they had everybody covered up. So it's not also that they swarm real well to the ball and they tackle real well, but they cover real well and they have great defensive backfield speed. Those same kids play on offense. They are an amazing, amazing unit."

Gille has ties to the game left and right. His team played both finalists in the regular season as a member of the North Central Conference, beating Wray 13-12 and losing to Akron 40-8.

In Akron's three-year, 38-game winning streak, Gille's team also has the distinction of being Akron's first opponent in the run, and to this point, its last win as well.

"They are both terrific teams with great coaching staffs with very talented players," Gille said. "I hope it's a good game."

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cardinals end Owls' reign as 3A champs

By Patrick Sheltra - The Hutchinson News

CONWAY SPRINGS - On its roster are 68 boys who call themselves Cardinals every week when they suit up for Conway Springs' football team, but it took just one bird to rearrange the pecking order in Class 3A.

Jaydan Bird, who pledged earlier this summer to play for the University of Oklahoma, ran for 187 yards and two scores on 26 carries as Conway Springs - itself the dominant team in Class 3A earlier this decade - dethroned defending state champion Garden Plain 45-25 at Shinn Field.

The Owls, who had won 25 straight games and had played in the last two state title games, were without star running back Daniel Capul, who was injured in last week's comeback against Scott City. But Garden Plain coach Todd Puetz didn't use his absence as a reason why his team lost.

"I think when one of your best players is out that always makes a difference," Puetz said, "but that's not an excuse for us."

Unless Capul himself could've cured the Owls' sloppiness and turnover woes, it's very likely the Owls would've met a similar fate. Garden Plain was penalized nine times for 52 yards and committed three turnovers to Conway's zero.

The roof began to cave in on Garden Plain in a 16-second span in the second quarter.

After the Owls got to within 14-13 on Antonio Dowdy's 35-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Jacob Puetz, Bird started and finished the Cardinals' ensuing possession with an 80-yard touchdown run.

On the ensuing kickoff, Dowdy misplayed a high kick and tried fielding the ball after it bounced. He couldn't come up with it, but Konnor Fitts did at the Owl 17. Garden Plain's defense held, but Dustin Green's 30-yard field goal with 2 minutes, 49 seconds left in the half extended the lead to 25-13.

The Owls' reign as kings of Class 3A unofficially came to an end in the third quarter when it started the half with a pair of three-and-outs, an interception and a fumble.

Meanwhile, Conway Springs scored touchdowns on its opening three drives, getting a 35-yard run by Corey Sones and a pair of scores by Brill on runs of 22 and 16 yards for a 45-13 lead. Brill finished with 165 yards and three scores on 17 carries and was often the beneficiary of a crunching Bird block.

Most of Conway Springs' 439 rushing yards came on a simple play out of its single-wing formation in which it ran around right end and often had to beat just one man to get to daylight.

"They started keying on certain backs," Bird said, "and once they did that, we knew we could have them overpursue and we'd run to the outside."

Another historical footnote to this game was that it was Garden Plain which ended the Cardinals' 62-game winning streak on this very same field in 2005. But gaining revenge didn't serve as motivation for head coach Lelin George.

"We never looked at it like that," George said. "Garden Plain is a tremendous ball team and we're just glad we were able to come out on top tonight."

Ole Miss ends LSU dominance, 31-13

BATON ROUGE, La. – Houston Nutt showed once again he knows how to win in Tiger Stadium — which will certainly enhance his popularity at his new school.

Jevan Snead threw two touchdown passes, Markeith Summers ran for a 13-yard score out of the "Wild Rebel" formation and Mississippi won its fourth straight game with a 31-13 triumph over No. 18 LSU on Saturday.

Ole Miss (7-4, 4-3 Southeastern Conference) snapped a six-game losing streak against LSU (7-4, 3-4) with its first win in the long rivalry since 2001.

It also gave the Rebels the inside track to second-place in the SEC West, which could result in a Cotton Bowl bid.

Snead was 16-of-25 for 274 yards. His scoring passes went for 34 and 25 yards, both to Mike Wallace.

Ole Miss was dominant on defense as well, knocking LSU starting quarterback Jarrett Lee out of the game and holding the Tigers to only one touchdown. The Rebels committed to shutting down LSU's powerful running game, holding the Tigers to 37 yards on 29 carries. They dared LSU's young quarterbacks to throw and the Tigers could not answer the challenge. Ole Miss had four sacks.

Lee was 4-of-12 for 49 yards and one interception before he was sidelined with a right ankle injury late in the first half. Jefferson came on to lead LSU on its only touchdown drive. He wound up 10-of-20 for 129 yards, one TD and one interception. He was sacked three times, the final time when LSU tried to pass on fourth-and-23 in the fourth quarter.

Only one season after its second BCS national championship of this decade, LSU has now lost four games for the first time since 2002, when the Tigers were 8-5 under former coach Nick Saban, now the coach of top-ranked Alabama.

While there will be no national championship this season for the Tigers, LSU took time on its 2008 home finale to honor its first consensus national championship squad, which starred All-American Billy Cannon in 1958. Between the first and second quarters, Cannon, who also won the 1959 Heisman Trophy and who'll be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame this year, was honored on the field. He saluted an appreciative crowd while his retired No. 20 was unveiled from the facade of an upper deck.

Sitting in the suite just below Cannon's number was Y.A. Tittle, who played for LSU in the mid-1940s before a Hall of Fame career in the NFL.

Cannon and Tittle had been part of memorable contests between these rivals from neighboring states, who were playing for the 97th time in what has been newly named the Magnolia Bowl. The only people celebrating at the end of this one were the Ole Miss fans dressed in red near the tunnel to the visitors' locker room.

They hailed Nutt, who last year nearly derailed LSU's national title campaign when he coached Arkansas to a triple-overtime upset victory in Tiger Stadium.

This one wasn't nearly as dramatic. Ole Miss scored first for the 10th time in 11 games and never trailed.

The Rebels needed only one possession to take a 7-0 lead. LSU got crossed up in pass coverage on third-and-17, leaving Wallace wide open over the middle for his 34-yard TD.

Colt David's 46-yard field goal made it 7-3. But Ole Miss struck back when Nutt called for a fake punt on fourth-and-4. Upback Jason Cook cut off the long snap and passed to Kendrick Lewis for a 33-yard gain to the LSU 5. Soon after, Brandon Bolden's 3-yard run made it 14-3.

The Rebels went 81 yards in five plays on their next drive, which was capped by Snead's pinpoint loft down the sideline to Wallace in the end zone.

Lee's injury occurred on LSU's next series. He was backpedaling under pressure when he lofted a first-down pass to Brandon LaFell just before being brought down hard by Ole Miss defensive tackle Jerry Peria. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Peria landed on top of Lee and the quarterback's right leg appeared to fold awkwardly under him.

Jordan came on in relief and threw his 9-yard TD pass to Terrance Toliver four plays later, pulling LSU to 21-10 before halftime. David's 52-yard field goal on the opening series of the second half made it 21-13 and the momentum appeared to be shifting, but Nutt has this Ole Miss squad playing with too much confidence to fold.

Snead recognized another breakdown in LSU coverage and hit a wide open Lionel Breaux down the left sideline for 39-yards to the Tigers 16. Three plays later, the single wing formation known at Ole Miss as the "Wild Rebel" produced points when Summers took a handoff from Dexter McCluster and ran around the left end to make it 28-13.

Running by committee, Ole Miss finished with 102 yards rushing, led by Cordera Eason with 60.

Call of the 'Wild'

Reiss diagrams Wildcat and why it works
(Boston Globe) The Globe's Mike Reiss shows us the X's and O'S of the Wildcat package and why the Dolphins experienced so much success with it vs. the Patriots. (By Chris Forsberg,

By Jim McCabe
Globe Staff / November 23, 2008

Alongside teammates, Man-Afraid-of-a-Bear would stand beneath his leather helmet on those fall Saturdays, staring into the eyes of his opposition. Whether or not his Native American name spoke to a truism about his persona was never determined, but this much can be believed about the man whom school officials called Samuel McLean: He had no fear of an unconventional form of offensive football.

That's because in Glenn Scobey "Pop" Warner the young men from Pennsylvania's Carlisle Indian Industrial School trusted.

As for Pop? Well, this new rule they had come up with the previous year - the one that made it OK to actually throw the football forward - wasn't exactly the game he had played, but he would adjust. Thus, as he gathered his players for the 1907 season, the coach tried to explain the nuances of the forward pass.

"It may be basketball," Warner told them, "but it's in the rules, so let's try it."

The Indians did just that, settling into an offensive formation that confounded foes and tickled fans. The center wasn't really in the middle - two line men were to his left, four to his right - and the quarterback was lined up behind the tackle. What's more, the ball would be snapped to a tailback, or a fullback, and then there was that guy set out to the right, the one they called a wingback, who might come back and get a handoff or maybe he'd catch a pass.

No one had ever seen anything quite like it.

"These spectacular new-fangled plays," is how a New York Times correspondent described the Indians and their single-wing exploits in a 26-6 thrashing of Penn that stretched their record to 6-0. Two weeks later in Cambridge, Carlisle stunned Harvard, then followed up with a win at Minnesota. With quarterback Frank Mount Pleasant handing off to Jim Thorpe, the Indians dazzled Amos Alonzo Stagg's University of Chicago, 18-4, to close out a 9-1 campaign.

Thanks in large part to Warner, football had changed forever.

"The game today," Warner told a meeting of NCAA football coaches in 1911, "is much better than the old game."

And the game today in Miami, between the Patriots and Dolphins? If the 137-year-old icon were alive, Pop might just smile at some Dolphins plays with unbalanced lines and direct snaps and offer: "With so much change in the world, it's nice to see that some things have remained the same."

Nice to see you again
When the Dolphins visited the Patriots Sept. 21, it was stunning enough that they hung up a 38-13 victory. It was downright stupefying as to how they went about it. Running back Ronnie Brown scored on three runs and threw for another touchdown off direct snaps while quarterback Chad Pennington wandered aimlessly. A press box attendee or two may have been tempted to write about "spectacular new-fangled plays."

The only thing is, on closer examination, they weren't so new. The Dolphins had merely reinvented the wheel with their so-called "Wildcat" offense, bringing back elements of Warner's famed single wing.

Immediately, a buzz swept the football landscape, but there was a clear distinction among intrigued fans. The ESPN generation thought it was cool to run plays that had never been run before, while a good many others knew better and felt as if they had stumbled into a college sweetheart who still was radiant.

"The first thing I asked when I heard they ran those plays was, 'What did they do with the quarterback?' " asked Princeton legend Dick Kazmaier, who more than 50 years ago was to the single wing offense what Frank Sinatra was to crooning. "I guess they put him at flanker to keep him out of the play."

OK, that part was a bit of a letdown, because in the true single wing, the quarterback was hard-nosed and frothing for action. But no matter that Pennington went wide with instructions to stay out of the way; Kazmaier was tickled to hear that remnants of a formation that cemented his legend had been brought back.

He wasn't alone, either, because throughout the football world people felt an attachment to what Miami had done. Houston Nutt celebrated down in Mississippi. Gus Malzahn offered a toast in Tulsa. And a onetime Division 3 assistant coach out in Ohio was treated to an unexpected reminder of a dear friend.

Jack Hire served as an assistant coach for Keith Piper, whose distinguished coaching career at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, stretched from 1954-92. While Piper's career included an impressive 200 wins, he won fame for employing the single wing throughout the '60s, '70s, '80s and into the '90s.

"Of course, me and the assistant coaches would get out the single-wing film and laugh at it," said Hire, who played at Denison for Piper and remains director of university communications. "But we would have to stop laughing so often, because we realized these kids were so young, they didn't know it was an old-fashioned offense; they thought it was new. Coach Piper used to say, 'As long as they don't ask their grandfathers, I'm OK.' "

Pulling the switch
Their grandfathers may have told them about the great Kazmaier, who in 1951 closed out a brilliant Princeton career by winning the Heisman Trophy. His teams had gone undefeated his junior and senior campaigns.

By 1962, however, the single wing had gone the way of the leather helmet, except at Denison.

"There was a really good tailback at Ohio State who didn't want to play behind Paul Warfield," said Hire. "Coach Piper said, 'If we get Tony Hall, I'm switching to the single wing.' "

The only thing is, on closer examination, they weren't so new. The Dolphins had merely reinvented the wheel with their so-called "Wildcat" offense, bringing back elements of Warner's famed single wing.

Immediately, a buzz swept the football landscape, but there was a clear distinction among intrigued fans. The ESPN generation thought it was cool to run plays that had never been run before, while a good many others knew better and felt as if they had stumbled into a college sweetheart who still was radiant.

"The first thing I asked when I heard they ran those plays was, 'What did they do with the quarterback?' " asked Princeton legend Dick Kazmaier, who more than 50 years ago was to the single wing offense what Frank Sinatra was to crooning. "I guess they put him at flanker to keep him out of the play."

OK, that part was a bit of a letdown, because in the true single wing, the quarterback was hard-nosed and frothing for action. But no matter that Pennington went wide with instructions to stay out of the way; Kazmaier was tickled to hear that remnants of a formation that cemented his legend had been brought back.

He wasn't alone, either, because throughout the football world people felt an attachment to what Miami had done. Houston Nutt celebrated down in Mississippi. Gus Malzahn offered a toast in Tulsa. And a onetime Division 3 assistant coach out in Ohio was treated to an unexpected reminder of a dear friend.

Jack Hire served as an assistant coach for Keith Piper, whose distinguished coaching career at Denison University in Granville, Ohio, stretched from 1954-92. While Piper's career included an impressive 200 wins, he won fame for employing the single wing throughout the '60s, '70s, '80s and into the '90s.

"Of course, me and the assistant coaches would get out the single-wing film and laugh at it," said Hire, who played at Denison for Piper and remains director of university communications. "But we would have to stop laughing so often, because we realized these kids were so young, they didn't know it was an old-fashioned offense; they thought it was new. Coach Piper used to say, 'As long as they don't ask their grandfathers, I'm OK.' "

Pulling the switch
Their grandfathers may have told them about the great Kazmaier, who in 1951 closed out a brilliant Princeton career by winning the Heisman Trophy. His teams had gone undefeated his junior and senior campaigns.

By 1962, however, the single wing had gone the way of the leather helmet, except at Denison.

"There was a really good tailback at Ohio State who didn't want to play behind Paul Warfield," said Hire. "Coach Piper said, 'If we get Tony Hall, I'm switching to the single wing.' "

Hall transferred to Denison, and Piper, nine years into his coaching career, switched. It wasn't easy, said Hire, because very few of the players had ever been in that offense and many of the coaches hadn't, either.

Piper's fascination with it had stemmed from his boyhood days in Niles, Ohio, where the nearby football power was Massillon High School, coached by Paul Brown, a single-wing devotee. Hire said that what Piper loved about the single wing was what Brown loved and what Warner loved before all of them - intricate blocking schemes and talented backs who could fake and give the appearance of having the ball to always keep defenses guessing.

"There are intrinsic advantages to being different," said Hire. "Keith's thing was to riddle the defense, to break the rules."

Hog wild over it
Amazing this fascination we have with attaching the word "genius" to men who draw up football plays when at the very core of the exercise is a premise that even grade-school touch-footballers understand.

"It all starts with finding ways to get the ball in your best players' hands in the quickest amount of time," said Malzahn, who is right there in a connect-the-dots exercise that explains how the Wildcat offense landed in Miami.

A former coach at Springdale (Ark.) High School, Malzahn earned a reputation as a sort of offensive guru, a guy who favored a style of play that prompted him to write a book, "The Hurry-Up No-Huddle: An Offensive Philosophy."

The book helps explain why Malzahn was hired as Nutt's offensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2006. He incorporated into the playbook direct snaps and unbalanced lines - but in no way does he want the word "invent" mentioned in the same sentence with his name.

"We had Darren McFadden [now with the Raiders] and Felix Jones [with Dallas, though injured] and when you have talents like that, you come up with ways to have them in the game at the same time," said Malzahn, who moved to Tulsa in 2007 and was replaced as offensive coordinator by David Lee, a former Vanderbilt quarterback who had been an Arkansas assistant years earlier.

Lee, like Malzahn, wanted to exploit the talents of McFadden and Jones, so he maintained the Wildcat offense - though, for the sake of accuracy, understand that this was Arkansas.

"It was the 'Wild Hog' offense,' " said Nutt, laughing.

But, make no mistake, there's a clear line of distinction between the Wildcat and the single wing.

"Single-wing folks wouldn't recognize the Wildcat as their offense, but they'd recognize elements of it," said Hire.

To Kazmaier, the difference rests with the level of commitment. "We ran a single-wing offense, all game, every game," he said, whereas the Wildcat is a formation thrown in a few times a game to change the pace and give teams different looks.

The Fish get hooked
So intrigued is the football audience by this unconventional offense that a two-minute clip of Lee explaining the intricacies of the Arkansas Wild Hog offense has landed on YouTube, and folks are even digging into the Sports Illustrated vault to reread a superb 1982 article by Rick Telander on Piper and Denison's out-of-vogue but highly entertaining offense. All of it hits on an aspect of the story that coaches unanimously agree is at the heart of the matter.

"The fun factor, it's a key element," said Nutt, who is now at Mississippi. "It creates enthusiasm. Players start believing in it and when it produces big plays, they really start having fun with it."

Nutt had intended to remain connected to Lee, but something happened on the way to Oxford. Lee, who had spent 2003-06 on the Cowboys' staff, got calls from his former bosses in Dallas who were now working with the Dolphins - Bill Parcells as executive vice president, Tony Sparano as coach. The story goes that Lee introduced a few of old Wild Hog plays during preseason practices.

"He told me he was trying to talk [offensive coordinator] Dan Henning into a few of the plays," said Nutt. "David really believes in it."

Apparently, it took two lackluster weeks of offense to strengthen Lee's case. In losing to the Jets and Cardinals to start the season, the Dolphins gained just 513 yards, 121 of them coming off of 41 rushes, a dismal 2.95-yard average. Coming off a 1-15 campaign, the Dolphins needed some answers, so Henning figured what the heck. He gave Lee's Wildcat offense the green light for Week 3 in New England.

Miami ran six plays out of the Wildcat that day, four of them resulting in touchdowns. In all, the plays accounted for 119 yards, and while it remains the team's most productive game with the quirky formation, there have been other highlights:

In a 21-19 win over Seattle, Ricky Williams had a 51-yard touchdown run on a direct snap and Brown scampered 16 yards for another score.

Eleven Wildcat plays totaled 49 yards and a touchdown in a win over San Diego.

In a loss to Houston, the Dolphins scored on a 53-yard flea-flicker.

Not everyone is a fan
Coincidence or not, the Dolphins have won six of eight games since they adopted the Wildcat, although no one would dispute the fact that it has been held in check at times. Against Baltimore, the Dolphins ran five Wildcat plays for a mere 4 yards, and against Denver the numbers were more stifling - five plays for minus-4 yards.

Such snippets have opened the door for critics. Former All-Pro Warren Sapp mouthed off, calling the Wildcat disrespectful (though, truth be told, has anyone from Abkhazia to Zimbabwe ever cared what Warren Sapp thinks?). San Diego defensive back Quentin Jammer is a more credible source, given that he saw the Wildcat offense for 11 plays the week after it was put into motion against New England.

"Gimmicky," said Jammer. "As long as you play your responsibilities, you're going to be fine."

The Ravens' Ray Lewis was equally unimpressed.

"It's still football," he huffed. "There's one football on the field; there's only one person who's going to touch the football. All we've got to do is find the football. That's the bottom line."

Points well taken, but there's a longer line of advocates coming into the fold, and plentiful are the NFL teams who've run plays out of the formation, including the Raiders with McFadden and the Chiefs with Larry Johnson.

Chicago's offensive coordinator, Ron Turner, acknowledged that he had similar plays drawn up for the preseason but was reluctant to put them into play for vanity reasons.

"I just wish we had done it before, because now people will say we're copying," said Turner.

Ah, coach, don't fret, because ol' Pop did not secure a copyright more than a hundred years ago. Instead, he left it right there for all to share.

If they dare.

Rams roll to third consecutive title

Akron 37, Wray 8
By Neil H. Devlin
The Denver Post
Updated: 11/23/2008 12:13:48 AM MST

AKRON — What would it have taken to handle Akron's Rams, a silver bullet or a stake through their hearts?

"I don't know," chuckled Rams senior Dalton Jefferson, the most valuable player of Saturday's Class 1A championship game. "We're just a family."

And what a family it is. With yet another one-sided outcome, 37-8 over salty Wray, Akron rolled to its third consecutive title, 39th victory in a row and fifth championship during the reign of coach Brian Christensen.

Long known for their exceptional prowess executing the single-wing offense, which rolled to 386 yards on the ground, the Rams should also be recognized for their defense — they have 20 shutouts during the streak and allowed only 40 points in 2008, 93 over
two seasons.
In fact, Wray, which ended 12-1, had only two possessions in the second half.

"They're Akron and that's what they do," Wray coach Levi Kramer said.

At a crowded Akron field, the Rams (13-0) roared to a 17-0 first-quarter lead as Jefferson compiled 112 of his 272 yards rushing. Logan Davisson capped Akron's first drive on a 1-yard plunge before Jefferson ran it in from 64 yards on the Rams' second series.

Then Wray, which was game but inefficient, botched the kickoff that led to a Byron Guy 29-yard field goal.

The only point in which the Eagles could have made a move was early in the second quarter. Kelly Siegrest capped an 83-yard drive with a 1-yard scoring run, and Wray converted a two-point pass to creep within 17-8 before the Eagles forced the Rams into their only punt of the day.

However, quarterback Brady Buck was picked off by the Rams' Alec Vasquez and the Eagles had another miscue, roughing the kicker on a 45-yard field-goal attempt.

The mistakes — Wray had four of them in an earlier 26-0 loss — were fatal, Kramer said, then Akron flexed its muscles in playing keep-away in the second half, when the Rams ran 36 plays to the Eagles' 14.

Throughout the contest, offensive linemen such as Bruce Hall, Brennen Hottinger, Kade Leavell, Kendall Monasmith and Benj Vigil controlled the line of scrimmage and created enough seams for Jefferson and Davisson to operate.

On defense, Logan Merrill joined a stone wall of a line as well as an active secondary, notably Branden Woods, in holding Wray at bay.

And this was an Akron defense that missed all-stater Joe McKay (broken leg) for half of the season.

"I'm just blessed," Christen- sen said.

Akron has just 120 students enrolled but played as if it had a well-trained army.

"The defense has been great," Christensen said. He played at Akron in the 1980s under Carl Rice, who is given credit for maintaining the single-wing. Rice now is the Akron principal and was defensive coordinator on Christensen's staff.

Dalton Jefferson capped his schoolboy career and Akron's three-year run in style. The senior ran 31 times for 272 yards and two touchdowns as Akron downed Wray 37-8 and won its third consecutive state title and 39th game in succession.


Wray 0 8 0 0 — 8
Akron 17 7 7 6 — 37

A — Davisson 1 run (Guy kick). A — Jefferson 64 run (Guy kick). A — FG Guy 29. W — Siegrist 1 run (Jones pass from Buck). A — Davisson 14 run (Guy kick). A — Jefferson 4 run (Guy kick). A — Davisson 35 run (kick failed).

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICSRushing — Wray, Buck 16-58, J. Beckman 13-52, Siegrist 3-5, Reinick 2-4. Akron, Jefferson 31-272, Davisson 20-93, Hottinger 1-8, Crumley 2-6, Merritt 1-6.

Passing — Wray, Buck 3-11-1-64. Akron, Friedly 2-8-0-16.

Receiving — Wray, Reinick 1-39, Fecht 1-13, Cure 1-12. Akron, B. Guy 1-11, Davisson 1-5.

First downs 10 20
Rushes-yards 34-117 54-386
Att.-comp.-int. 11-3-0 8-2-0
Passing yards 64 16
Punts-avg. 4-29.3 1-54
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 2-20 9-70