It’s an easy gimmick – flashy offenses catch attention.
While most high school football teams have switched gears and taken to the increasingly common spread offense, Clover has tenaciously remained rooted in the classic Wing-T offense.
“It’s just a culture thing – the type of kids we get – it’s just a hard-nosed offense,” said Clover coach Chad Smith. “It’s an easy sell.”
Marty Woolbright brought the Wing-T to Clover in 1993 after seven years of success at Gilbert with the offense. The Wing-T offense has been a staple of the Blue Eagles program ever since.
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One word best summarizes the Wing-T: misdirection.
“One play sets up another,” said Woolbright in 1993, as he described his offense to former Herald sports editor Barry Byers. “Our mission is to take the aggression out of defensive teams with deception by using motion fakes and crisp ball-handling.”
Clover senior Wingback Willy Clark’s highlight demonstrates a perfectly executed Wing-t play:
Since Woolbright’s departure in 2002, the Blue Eagles have had four other coaches: Jet Turner (2003-2010), John Devine (2011-two games of 2012), John Barrett (remainder of 2012) and Smith (2013-present). Through five different head men, one aspect of Clover football remained constant – the wing offense.
Clover has experienced success with its unique way of moving the ball, winning the state championship in 2007 under Turner. But the Blue Eagles haven’t put together a winning campaign since 2010 – Turner’s last season at the school. The school’s football program seems to finally be putting the morale-crushing, murky sexual assault scandal that happened in 2012 – and set the program’s participation numbers way back – behind it for good.
Still, Clover only won a single game last season.
Is what once was a strength now inhibiting the Blue Eagles from success? Is it time for Clover to abandon its old-school offensive scheme?
No, not a chance, according to Smith.
He was hired in 2012 for the specific purpose of reinvigorating Clover’s wing offense. Smith – a former coach at Easley and Rocky Mount (N.C.) – is another longtime Wing-T veteran. As assistant coach to N.C. coaching legend B.W Holt at Rocky Mount, Smith helped lead the team to three conference titles in six seasons. At Easley, Smith turned around the program with the Wing-T, going 29-9 in his three years.
The beauty of the wing offense is its flexibility.
Whether it’s a double wing set up that former Clover coach Turner won the 2007 state title with, or Smith’s four-back Wing-T set up, or any other version of the scheme – the wing offense can be successful by making defenses think twice.
“Misdirection is a heavy item used,” said former Great Falls coach Kenneth Schofield, a firm believer in wing offenses. “It doesn’t matter what level of football you’re in, or what degree you’re playing at.”
If you put skill in space – it doesn’t matter if you’re Wing-T or spread (offense) – if you put skill in space, good things happen.
Former Great Falls coach and avid Wing-T supporter Kenneth Schofield
Having cycled through four years of players at Clover, Smith feels his Eagles have finally embraced his take on the Wing-T offense.
Clover returns 26 seniors and nine offensive starters. In Smith’s inaugural year, the Eagles program only mustered 36 players total on varsity, the aftermath of the troubles of the previous year.
This season, Clover’s program consists of 132 players on a freshman team, a junior-varsity team and a varsity team. This growth in the program has allowed Smith and his staff to teach wing fundamentals early, give kids valuable reps in practice and on the field, and foster expertise in the system.
83 Percent of Clover’s offensive yardage came on the ground last season.
It may be invisible to the average fan’s eye, but the wing offense appears all over the college and professional game. Clemson (especially under former coordinator Chad Morris), Auburn, and Baylor all used wing blocking schemes in their offenses. With the resurgence of the mobile quarterback in the NFL, Wing-T concepts are gradually becoming a staple of the game again.
“Any team that runs a gap scheme has its roots in the Wing-T. The Wing-T is not a new thing. Coaches understand it. It’s not a flashy offense,” said Smith. “If you turn on the TV on Sundays, a lot of the offense (blocking schemes) is based on Wing-T principles.”
Flashy or not, Clover and Smith plan to stick to their roots. After making some coaching staff adjustments – moving defensive coordinator, Chris Bunting, to running backs coach, hiring Steven Peeler as defensive coordinator – Smith feels confident that the Wing-T will show its perks and bring home wins for the Blue Eagles this season.
“If you buy in, then great things can happen,” he said. “We believe in our offensive philosophy and we’re going to stick to it.”
York standout Wally Wilmore will return to his natural positions this fall, but he’s not the only skill position threat that the talented Cougars possess.