Wing-T offense catching on with area football teams

It has become the smorgasbord of high school football offenses, offering something for just about everybody.

Unlike other formations, where one or two players on the offensive side of the ball become the focal points of the attack, the Wing-T offense gets virtually all 11 players on the unit involved.

“From the backs to the linemen, everybody on the offense has a job to do to make the play work,” said veteran Portage coach Gary Gouse, who has lined up the Mustangs in a Wing-T formation since he took over as the team’s head coach 22 years ago.

During his days as a Portage assistant coach under Corky McCabe back in the early 1980s, Gouse picked up a lot about the Wing-T from its originator, former University of Delaware coach Tubby Raymond.

“I learned everything about it from Tubby Raymond,” Gouse said. “When Corky McCabe was the head coach and I was the assistant, we went down there [Delaware] a lot to learn what [the Wing-T] was all about.”

Several high schools in the Mirror coverage area primarily use the Wing-T offensive formation, and with great success.

The offense enables multiple skill players to handle the football, and often enables them to rack up impressive numbers.

“We’ve had two times where we’ve had 1,000-yard rushers in our backfield, and that’s hard to do,” Gouse said. “You have a right halfback, a left halfback, a fullback and a quarterback, and they all have a chance to carry the ball.”

Portage, which sports a 4-1 record this year, uses a variety of different Wing-T formations, including what Gouse calls a “regular look” – with a tight end, wingback and two other backs – and an “X look”, with two wings and one other back in the backfield.

“We have so many [different formations], but those are an example of two of them,” Gouse said.

Portage junior halfback Caleb Kephart (56 carries, 569 yards for a 10.2 average and nine touchdowns), and sophomore fullback Luke Dividock (51 carries, 483 yards, 9.5 average, four touchdowns) are among the top rushers in the area this season.

If he is fleet afoot, a fullback can be an essential element in the Wing-T formation. Juniata Valley, another area school that utilizes the Wing-T offense, boasts the Mirror region’s fourth-leading rusher in senior fullback Jesse Claar, who has ran for 652 yards on 136 carries – a 4.8 average – and 12 touchdowns this season.

“You have to have a good solid fullback,” said Juniata Valley coach Mike Smith, whose team has run out of the Wing-T formation in all of his 10 years as the Hornets’ head coach. “Everything starts with the fullback. Our wingbacks have to have a lot of speed. Our formation is a flex formation, where we slap a wingback between the tackle and end. We’ve been using that formation for years, and it has been a very good formation for us.”

Tussey Mountain, which leads the Mirror region in scoring with a 40.5 points-per-game average, is another proponent of the Wing-T offense. The Titans host Juniata Valley Friday night.

Tussey Mountain coach Josh Smith likes the flexibility that the Wing-T offense affords a team.

“If you have a smaller team – especially one with smaller linemen who have speed – you can take advantage of that speed,” Smith said. “If you have a bigger line, you can run a power offense. We’re a small school that has tough but generally smaller kids. [The Wing-T] helps a lot of the smaller schools that don’t have the larger-size personnel that some of the bigger schools running offenses like the pro set have.”

Tussey boasts a pair of talented backs in senior Darrin Sipes, who is also a sprinting standout on the school’s track and field team, and junior Daniel Taylor. Sipes is third among area rushers with 727 yards on 61 carries for an 11.9 average and nine touchdowns, while Taylor is ninth with 555 yards on 47 tries for an 11.8 average and 11 touchdowns.

The Wing-T emphasizes a misdirection-type attack involving trap blocking, and linemen play an important role in it by learning to block from angles.

“Your guard play has to be good,” said Huntingdon coach Mike Hudy, who installed the offense this year. “There are a lot of traps and counters.”

When run effectively, the Wing-T can leave opposing defenses in a quandary.

“I’ve had [opposing coaches] tell me that they didn’t know where the ball is in our offense,” Hudy said. “I think it’s a great high school offense.”

Huntingdon, like Central Cambria – another area Wing-T team – has made marked strides from a year ago. Huntingdon won one game all of last year, but has already won three this season. Central Cambria is off to a 5-1 start under first-year coach Bill Corrente – a former Portage assistant who is a long-time Wing-T devotee – after winning just two games all of last year.

The Wing-T also allows a passing quarterback with talent plenty of room to ply his trade as well. Juniata Valley senior Caleb Taylor is third among area passers with 847 yards on 53 of 97 completions for eight touchdowns, and Tussey Mountain junior Quinn Barnett, Central Cambria junior Will Seymour, and Huntingdon sophomore Hudson Speck are also among the area passing leaders.

“It opens up the play-action passing game,” Smith said of the Wing-T, pointing out that Taylor threw for over 1,000 yards last year. “We’ve had good success with it.”