I got back into coaching this season. After a two-year hiatus, I decided to help a small middle school program that was on the skids get back on it's feet. After graduating about ten great eighth grade athletes which ran what anecdotally looked to be twins-open gun and a playlist which consisted of sweep right, sweep left, and go long, the former non-teaching staff was let go prior to Spring Practice. With no spring ball and no coach hired at the end of school, I knew what to expect.
It didn't make it any easier.
With a great plan on how thirty kids and a staff of two or three coaches could run an energetic, high-energy, up-tempo practice, I started out with fourteen kids... many of which obviously hadn't spent much time on the field last season. Worse, I found that many players had been urged to transfer to a bigger nearby middle school or just not to play. And with no one walking the halls during the last week or so of school to counteract it, it had worked. Another problem was that in a league where the biggest teams would two-platoon two sets of eighth graders and a seventh grader wouldn't see the field until it was out of hand.
I had pretty much given up on running the option at the middle school level - especially with no spring ball and no prior assessment of talent. But I knew that we would have to run something different and something that would run the clock in order to have a snowball's chance of winning at all. I had ideas in the back of my head of running some form of double option later in the season if the QB had some wheels but I needed something that was simple, effective, and might give us an edge. I had a decent QB that was tall and could throw a long ball, but there was only one other kid besides him that could catch reliably. And he was the best running back. I could sell-out and build a whole offense around these two... multiple sets with the fast kid here, there, everywhere, but I've been coaching too long to fall for that trap. What happens when the great athlete gets hurt or sick? What are you going to do then?
I decided to go back to my early coaching roots and run the Tight Double Wing ala Wyatt and Markham. It involves all the players - not just a select few - and makes all the players - even the QB - block. It involves the line like no other offense besides the option and you are teaching valuable skills to all positions that they can be used at the high school level. I was worried about not having at least one tight end that could catch as that had been how I had really hurt teams in the past running this offense on the freshman and high school level.
By our first game we had Power to motion (pulling both G and Tk), Power against motion (again pulling both G and Tk) , FB Wedge, and PlayPass. As the season progressed, we got better at those little by little... added the Counter Trey (pulling G and Tk), the Criss-Cross backfield action, and a couple of sprint-out passes from Trips. Towards the end of the season, I moved the QB and a WB to TE in order to get some play-action passing going on, and added a couple of unbalanced formations - without really adding any more blocking schemes or plays, We could turn our Powers and Down plays into quasi-options by having the QB keep instead of pitching and leading.
But we were outgunned and out manned in each and every game and in the end we always came up short. Way short. We didn't score many points or play much defense until the last two games, the first, where we put up 28 points in a 56-28 loss and the second, where we scored another 28 points in the second half after being deadlocked at zero at halftime. That was our only win... and it was the lowly FB wedge that broke it wide-open. The trick seemed to be running it with the WB motion and the QB faking to 1st the motion Wing and then the stationary WB second coming back around as well - sort of the old Wing-T three-way look. The entire defense was watching all the backfield faking while our quick FB followed the wall before breaking off and running past the surprised safety fifteen yards down the field. Our big WB kept pounding off tackle on the Powers and our fast WB broke a long TD run on a Counter-Trey. In the end, our FB had over 150 yards on four huge wedge plays - three for touchdowns. But it was the line - pulling and grinding the defense down with long, sustained drives that was the ultimate reason for our success.
How did it work? We went 1 - 7. Was it the offense? No. Was it being the smallest team in the league starting the greatest number of 6th graders and the fewest number of 8th graders? Probably. We were terrible on defense primarily due to me not wanting to beat up a small squad (21 by the end of the season) running Oklahoma drills every day... and having a deficit athletically - which always shows up more on defense. You can formation and block and trick your way past some of that on offense, but on defense, it's all reaction and shedding blocks and running to the ball and making the tackle. With a tackling bag we can practice shedding and then form tackling... knock the crap out of a bag that won't get injured will help. Doing a ton of power cleans in the off-season will also help with our aggressiveness and tackling.
The booster club is working on getting a two-man blocking sled and a big tackling bag. We're going to build two or three power clean stations and pull some big tractor tires in the offseason. And with some help, we'll be able to safely work the smaller kids more in practice with the proper instead of bigger kids and get them more involved by spot playing and on special teams.
We have around 250 kids in the middle school... leaving about 125 boys split between the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades... that's about 40 boys per class... and if we can get one-third of each class out... that would amount to about 13 boys per class with decent participation.... leading to about 35 to 40 boys out for football. If I can get that number of kids out and get an actual JV group about 3 games of their own... two-platoon 80% of our 8th and better 7th graders... then, we will start having sustained success.