One turn off of Hwy. 176 can take you deep into football’s past.
Just behind Spartanburg Christian Academy, you’ll find a couple dozen players who are practitioners of an offensive scheme that dates back to Pop Warner days.
No, not their days as Pop Warner players. THE Pop Warner. Glenn Scobey Warner, to be exact – legendary football mind and inventor of what might be the first evolution that was a true departure from the T formation, and what’s almost certainly the first to incorporate a shotgun snap.
The Single Wing.
Originally called the Carlisle Formation and designed to take advantage of the athleticism of Jim Thorpe, the formation dominated football from the 1910s through the 1930s. Then, it largely vanished.
The Warriors are bringing it back. Spartanburg Christian uses all the misdirection. All the tricks. All the imbalance on the line and the uncertainty of which of the two H-backs lined up at quarterback will eventually take the snap.
None of that window-dressing matters much in the grand scheme of the offense. It’s about one thing – getting one more body at the point of attack than the defense has. And the Warriors are getting good at it.
“We’re not going to spread you out a lot,” SCA coach Sean Rogers said. “We’re going to pack you in, and we feel like we can put enough men at the point of attack that we can pop through there, and if we can get through that first line, a lot of times there might only be one or two others that we have to make miss or break a tackle to make a big play.”
The offense isn’t a chase for those big plays, though. It’s a way to shorten the game, to control the line of scrimmage, and to level the field, in many ways.
“Obviously, as coaches you’ve got to be adaptable,” Rogers said. “You’ve got to find something that works for your kids. I’ve always felt like you can do one of two things: you can be hard-headed about your system and try to force your kids to play it, or you can find something that plays to your strengths in your program. When we made the shift to it, we felt like it fit what we were striving to do not only personnel-wise, but also just a mentality. We talked to our kids about having a sense of toughness, about having an identity in that, and that’s what we’ve done.”
That toughness has bled into all aspects of the program, from offensive schemes down to the way the Warriors tackle.
“I think a lot of that is just the mindset that we’re going to play a tough brand of football, we’re going to do it as effectively and efficiently as we can, and they’ve embraced it,” Rogers said.
With fake handoffs, double handoffs, reverses, play-action passes, the Single Wing LOOKS confusing. That’s what it’s designed to do. At its heart, though, it’s simple. The Warriors have condensed it down to just a few looks.
“We’re kind of stubborn about the plays we try to run,” Rogers said. “We got incredible help from a coach who runs this, Coach Mark Teague. He’s just an incredible coach who loves kids and loves the game. He actually came up and spent a couple days with us and talked with us as coaches, and looked at the film with us. For us, it’s been saying that we’re going to be really good at three or four plays. I can show you times we’ve run the same plays six, seven, eight times in a row.“
Sometimes that takes a lot of patience.
“There’s going to be times the defense makes a play and it might go for two yards. It might go two yards three or four times in a row. And the fifth one, it might go for 42. We have a couple of kids who, if we are in the right play and if we block it, and our receivers are blocking downfield, there could be a huge play at any time.”
Because of that explosive possibility, Spartanburg Christian sees some defenses that are a little unconventional, to say the least.
We don’t ever know what we’re going to see defensively,” Rogers said. “We have to prepare for a lot. We might see a 9-2 look. We might see a 4-4 stack. We’ve seen about everything. Honestly, it kind of uses athleticism against the defense. We play teams who might have more kids. They might be more athletic than us. But it almost becomes a negative because they might overplay something, might help us set up an angle on a block or what have you. It’s just one of those things that’s difficult for other teams to prepare for. It’s not something you see a lot in today’s games. Hopefully they get a little impatient, lose a little discipline, overplay something, and all of a sudden we’ve gone counter on it. We’re trying to outman them as best we can, but hopefully sometimes we can frustrate them enough that they get a little out of character.”
Make no mistake, the Warriors DO have the athletes to run the offense. Asante Jenkins led the team with more than 1,200 yards last season. Ethan Linder is a solid receiver and a tremendous downfield blocker. Rogers calls Elijah Wylie “the quintessential Spartanburg Christian football player – he might be 180 pounds, and 179 of it is heart”. Sam Tate, Grant Coates, and Sam Faulkner will man the trenches.
But there just aren’t as many of the Warriors as the vast majority of opponents they’ll face. That, too, was a reason behind the move to the Single Wing.
“I’m going to dress 21 kids on Friday night,” Rogers said. “Most teams will recognize more than that on Senior Night. For us, it’s just one of those things where we’ve got to shorten the game, take care of the football, and not get behind the chains in order to be successful. And we’ve embraced that. Credit my assistant coaches, the guys I work with, for embracing it from the very beginning. And the kids saw it as an opportunity. Kids want structure, and guidance, and they want to be challenged to be better. That’s a big part of what we’re trying to do. And this is a physical offense, and there’s something to be said for imposing your will on somebody else. There are very few places where it’s socially acceptable to hit another person. This is one of them. Embrace it, do it within the rules, and do it the right way. This is something we saw that we could be successful with, and have fun doing it.”