From old school to ultramodern
When he strolled into the seminar at the age of 23, Camron Wyatt couldn't help but notice: "Everyone was so old."
The greenhorn football coach joined a group of graying men that day to learn the Single Wing offense, a system predicated on running and blocking and the brainchild of Glenn "Pop" Warner.
But this was about 30 years ago, when smash-mouth football was king - before wide receivers doubled as sprinters, before the prototypical quarterback was 6-foot-5.
The Single Wing is almost nonexistent now, giving way to sexier offenses from the professional to high school ranks.
With the 2011 prep football playoffs beginning today, the Kenai Peninsula is a microcosm of the progression of offenses.
Soldotna and Nikiski run the Wing-T, Skyview and Kenai Central use the spread and Homer goes with the Single Wing.
"With all three playoff teams, it's going to be really fun," Kenai Central coach John Marquez said of the Kards, Stars and Mariners, "because each is so different."
The Single Wing was originated by Warner in 1907, but it wasn't until the early 1950s when teams started running the Wing-T. The University of Delaware found success with the scheme under coach Dave Nelson, who is widely known as "the father of the Wing-T."
Delaware's success paved the way for other run-first programs.
The spread, meanwhile, stems all the way back to the late 1920s, but it has become more popular - and complex - in the modern era. Schools such as the University of Oregon have run the spread with relentless aggression, going no-huddle to move the ball up and down the field.
Perhaps Wyatt put the evolution of offensive schemes best.
"The Single Wing is like a grandfather," Wyatt said. "The Wing-T is the son, and the spread is the grandson."
Homer's offense has stood the test of time.
The football team is on the cusp of its best campaign in school history thanks in part to its success in the Single Wing, needing a win to advance to the medium-schools state championship.
And the coach behind it still remembers that seminar three decades ago, when he was the youngest man in the building.
"Someone there said that when I learned the Single Wing I would have success because, ‘We will all be dead,'" Wyatt said.
Here's a closer look at the schemes each central Kenai Peninsula playoff team rode into the playoffs:
Homer Mariners: Single Wing
Old school. Smash-mouth. In-your-face.
It's all appropriate when describing the Single Wing, which requires the "quarterback" to throw more blocks than passes.
Wyatt implemented the system when he took over as head coach five years ago because he believes it matches Homer's personnel.
"We are at the end of the road and the resources in our program aren't quite like others," Wyatt said. "That affects every aspect of our program - the interest level in our program, the type of athletes we can get into our program.
"We don't have kids who can travel and go to camps and get one-on-one coaching from colleges, so it fits us perfectly."
There are variations of the Single Wing, but Homer runs what is called "unbalanced power" as a base formation.
Since the Mariners favor the right side, they line up two players left of the center and four to the right - all on the line of scrimmage.
Behind and outside the right end is a "wing back," and behind one of the tackles on the right side is a "blocking back," the closest thing to a quarterback in the scheme.
Standing side-by-side in the backfield behind center are the tailback and fullback. There are no wide receivers.
The ball is snapped to the blocking back, fullback or tailback depending on the play, a dynamic designed to create confusion for the defense.
The offensive line's job, meanwhile, is simple.
"If someone is in front of you, you block them," Wyatt said. "We don't have any fancy rules."
In addition to unbalanced power, Homer runs "spin" and "spread" variations of the Single Wing. It's common for Wyatt to use all three looks during single drives, keeping defenses guessing.
"It's like a chess match," the coach said.
The Mariners average 275.4 yards rushing per game, led by Dyllan Day, who has 817 yards and 13 touchdowns on 88 carries. Those figures are through seven games because stats weren't reported from Homer's Week 8 win over Houston.
It's natural to compare the Single Wing to the Wing-T - which both Nikiski and SoHi use - because both systems are based on physical, run-first football.
But Wyatt said Single Wing blocking schemes are simpler because they require only one or two moves from each lineman as opposed to the three or four required in the Wing-T.
That makes the learning curve less severe for novice athletes.
"The Single Wing allows them to learn an offense fairly quickly that's based on hard work," Wyatt said. "We chose it because the format and the formations are easy, so it helps the kids who have limited football experience."
The Mariners run the ball more than 90 percent of the time, using 10-plus play drives en route to the end zone.
Occasionally the team breaks big plays, but that's not what Homer football is about.
"It gives kids a sense of pride when they play football that way because they know they don't have to be the biggest or strongest or fastest," Wyatt said. "The guy next to them is going to stick by them. Our kids are happy getting three-and-a-half yards per carry."
Kenai Central Kardinals: Spread attack
When John Marquez joined Kenai Central at the beginning of the season, the school received more than a new coach.
The Kards received a new offense.
Marquez deviated from the school's traditional power running game and implemented a spread attack, using four wide receivers with the quarterback in the shotgun.
"For defenses, it makes it a little more difficult to defend when you have guys on the outside who can catch and can do some more things," Marquez said. "They can't pack the box. If they pack the box against the spread, then you throw the football."
Having the proper personnel is vital to succeeding in the spread, the coach said.
For Kenai Central, it starts with quarterback AJ Hull.
Hull is a good fit in the system because he can run and throw with efficiency. The senior finished the regular season with 751 passing yards and 742 rushing yards.
"A lot of it comes down to players," Marquez said. "You would like to have a quarterback who is mobile, who can run, so you are not one-dimensional."
The Kards' base spread formation puts Hull in the shotgun with a running back to his right. There are five down-linemen, with two receivers flanked to each side of the line. The outside receivers are on the line of scrimmage, while the players in the slot begin off the line.
About midway through the season, however, Kenai Central began to incorporate a power game while continuing with the spread.
The move was designed to keep opposing coaches off-balance when preparing for the Kards.
Marquez used the I-Formation and split-back looks in losses to Homer and SoHi in the last two weeks of the regular season.
"Not only do you have to prepare for the spread, but we are going to run the ball," Marquez said. "The other thing is, late in the year when you go against Homer and SoHi, you want to control the ball."
Nikiski and Soldotna: Wing-T
A blowout loss in the playoffs brought the Wing-T to SoHi.
The Stars were pummeled by Service during the postseason in 2002, when current head coach Galen Brantley Jr. was an assistant.
After the game, Brantley Jr. remembers, then-head coach Sarge Truesdell was compelled to change the system.
"We got beat up and he decided he wanted to run it," Brantley Jr. said of the Wing-T.
Ten years later, SoHi is a powerhouse.
The Stars have won 19 straight games and won the small-schools state title in 2010.
Brantley Jr., who took the head job in 2007, gives much of the credit to the scheme, which is similar to the Single Wing in that it's predicated on running the ball with misdirection and powerful blocking.
"How you move the ball, to me, is vitally important. It says everything about your team, your character," Brantley Jr. said. "I think with a running football team, it creates an attitude, a physicalness that carries over to the defensive side of the football.
"I think that's the reason we are still doing it. We love the physicalness of the offense. Our kids have obviously bought in."
SoHi's base formation puts a tight end on the right side of the line with a wing back lined up outside and behind him. The quarterback is under center and shadowed by two running backs. The running backs line up side-by-side, with one directly behind the quarterback. There also is a split end on the far left side of the line of scrimmage.
But, Brantley Jr. said, only partially kidding, "There are 1,000 ways to line up 11 guys."
The run-first tactic gives SoHi's backs lofty numbers.
Auston Tennis finished the regular season with 1,046 rushing yards, including 20 touchdowns. Jared Duncan added 558 yards and eight touchdowns, while Reid Schmelzenbach posted 378 yards and five scores.
But since defenses must key on the run, the Wing-T also sets up the passing game.
Quarterback Noah Fowler was efficient all season, tossing 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions. He threw 55 passes, meaning one in every five tosses went for a touchdown.
"We don't try to do too much," Brantley Jr. said. "We try to beat people with execution - not fancy plays."
Meanwhile, Nikiski implores a similar attack.
The Bulldogs had three running backs finish the season with more than 600 yards, combining for 38 touchdowns.
Kaden Spurgeon tallied 864 yards, Stephen Hartley added 836 and Josh Brown posted 644.
Throw in quarterback Colton Anderson's 10 touchdown passes and two interceptions, and the Bulldogs built a multidimensional offense.
Nikiski assistant Scott Anderson was the head coach when the team won small-schools titles in 2000 and 2001 using the Wing-T. Current coach Ted Riddall joined the team in 2002 with a Wing-T pedigree.
Riddall said the system suits undersized linemen because it prevents them from having to block head-to-head.
"The reason we started running it was because we've always had smaller linemen," Riddall said. "Getting to down-block, you get to utilize that speed and athleticism."
What's made the Bulldogs so good this season - the team has racked up more than 2,500 rushing yards - is the fact they have a beefy line.
One of the linemen, Riddall said, exceeds 270 pounds.
"You get a guy like that coming at you and it can be very hard to stop," Riddall said.