Fab 5 Plus 1

September 20th, 2004

Last week I wrote about my first season as a youth football coach. This time I want to spend some time with my second season coaching, the 2002 campaign. I made some significant changes to my offense from the double wing I ran in 2000. However I did stay true to the old-school direct snap mentality.

I was blessed with a talented bunch in 2000. I surmised that I probably would not be as fortunate in following seasons, so I went about simplifying and streamlining my playbook. I put a lot of time thinking about and studying details from all the direct snap offenses I could get my hands on: books, e-mail discussions with other coaches, information found on the Internet, etc.

One of my priorities was to work on the blocking we used in 2000. I was pleased with it but there were things about it that I found a little too much for the youth player. I wanted to find a way for them to not have to make little decisions at the line of scrimmage before the ball was snapped. Depending on the defense we encountered, there were a few “if-then” statements the players had to determine in order to execute the play properly. We could encounter 4-man, 6-man, or some other type of defense on a weekly basis. Then we’d have work with our players for that specific defense.

With the help of my good friend, Coach Eric Strutz, from Richmond Illinois, he taught me the details of his blocking scheme he was using. I noticed that his playbook did not have defensive alignments for their plays. When I asked him about this I received an eye-popping education. What he was using was exactly what I was looking for, a blocking scheme where the offensive line did the same thing regardless of the defensive alignment. Their assignments may vary depending on the play but only slightly. It stressed angle blocking and aggressiveness. The concept was to down block on the play side and reach block on the back side. Pulling could be accomplished in either direction. Coupled with an unbalanced line this provided a powerful blocking scheme. It is relevant to point out that this scheme is very similar to the severe angle blocking (SAB) scheme.

With the way our league was set up we didn’t have room for a great deal of plays and practice time was quite limited to two nights per week equating to 4 hours. Also the roster was new each season. The players were placed into a general pool and the league organizers sort out the players into teams and coaches were assigned to a team. As a coach you have no idea who your players will be. Basically we began at ground zero each season. With such a minimal approach to the league our philosophy needed to reflect this minimalist approach as well.

I ultimately chose a new formation as well. I decided on the single wing formation that season. This included eliminating the split end position from my 2000 offenses. We continued to only use right formation. With the ball placed in the middle of of the field each play we were not handcuffed with hash mark ball placement. I also reduced my play selection to the bare minimum. I settled on the basic five single wing plays just about every single wing coach will require to make the single wing the single wing: off-tackle, sweep, optional running pass, interior fullback play, and wingback counter/reverse. I also had one additional play, a play where the blocking back had an opportunity to carry the ball.


An interesting formation detail I looked into as well was the placement of the wingback in our single wing. Eric Strutz’s formation was developed around the structure of legendary single wing coach John Aldrich’s Y-formation where the wingback is placed in between the outside tackle and tight end. I chose not use this alignment because I felt it was important to have my wingback on the flank just outside the tight end. I felt it was important for us because would help us a little more on this position’s assignments. Also we were not going to use a spin series where I felt the Y-formation alignment was more designed for. Maybe I was incorrect but it made sense to me.


One of my assistant coaches was a co-worker of mine who was a former offensive linemen in high school and a new comer to the coaching ranks. He immediately took charge of our linemen, stressing perfect 3-point stances and alignment in addition to good old-fashioned shoulder blocking techniques. With only a six play offensive attack, we were going to really work on solid fundamentals, techniques, and perfecting the details through considerable repetition.



We presented the offense to the players and their parents as Pop Warner’s offense, since this was a Pop Warner league. I reminded them that I didn’t have a son playing so I had no prejudices, that we were going to work on fundamentals and play everyone. We emphasized that with all things being equal with our opponents we were going to be the team with the best fundamentals, that we were going to be a little different and we’d embrace this as part of our identity as a team.


We had enough players for two offenses, Purple Wing and Black Wing, and we alternated them by series. Again we ran a no-huddle offense that we practiced a great deal so our team would outnumber our opponents in the number of plays we ran on offense. As the season wore on I asked the players what they thought had become our bread-and-butter play. The consensus was the fullback wedge play was our signature play, the play that we went to when we needed a key play. The sweep, off-tackle and blocking back keeper plays were successful as well. We didn’t a great deal of success with the wingback counter/reverse outside a couple of touchdowns. We didn’t pass very often either so we relied a great deal on the other four plays.


One of the interesting plays we used effectively was the buck lateral play in which the blocking back took a hand-off from the fullback and headed around end. This was very similar to our 2000 play in which our fullback/blocking back ran a spin and kept the football. I did not consider our new play as part of the buck lateral series, per se. To me it was part of our two play wedge series because it was such a formidable complimentary play to the powerful fullback wedge play. We often used this for extra point attempts and for picking up important first downs.


Our scoring in 2002 was lower than in 2000. However, we were much better at longer, sustained drives allowing our team to control the game pace and run a lot of plays. This was a team of grinders. Once again we lost only two games to the same team, although a different one than in 2000. We finished with four wins, and finished second, all our players had the opportunity to learn solid football fundamentals, learned how perform within a team concept and great deal of fun too.

Once again if you would like a copy of the full playbook, please click here. You can also see clips from this team here.

Snap & Go!
adam_wesoloski at yahoo.com

Rookie Season

September 12th, 2004

I am going through a bit of coaching withdrawls. I truly enjoy reading the trials and tribulations all the direct snap coaches are going through this time of year. In searching for an article for this week’s edition of Direct Snap I felt writing about my first coaching experience in 2000.

About 1998 I became very interested in researching the single wing and I was constantly searching the Internet looking for information on the offense. I was on a reference material hunt about this great offense, and having grown up in Menominee, MI, home of Coach Ken Hofer’s single wing, I wanted to learn more. In someways it became an obsession.

After collecting other direct snap books through inter-library loan, trading video tapes, bookmarking websites, I came to the realization that I needed an outlet for my newly acquired knowledge. In the summer of 2000, I threw my application into the local Pop Warner coaching circles in Green Bay, WI. To my surprise I was chosen as a head coach. I was expecting/hoping for an offensive coordinator position at best. I did not have a son playing, he was two years old at the time, nor did I play high school football, but I wanted to give coaching a try. I felt like it was my responsibilty to show the Green Bay area that the single wing was alive.

This became more than a hobby of researching the single wing, it became the responsibilty of a whole team of young players. I needed to figure out which version of a direct snap offense I wanted to use. After e-mailing back and forth with a few new coaching friends across the country I decided to give the direct snap, double wing with an unbalanced line offense a go. I figured I wanted to spread the work load around, so two wingbacks seemed the way to go. With the help of a coaching colleague and the Tierney and Gray book, The New Doublewing Attack, my 10 play offense was ready to go.


My assistants were on board with everything I had in store. They must have thought I was a little crazy with some of the contrarian techniques, strategies and ideas I had in in my plans. However, the important thing was they were sold and we put into motion our plan.

I have to admit the offense created a great deal of havoc over the course of the season. I was approached many times about the offense, because most football people in the area were aware of Menominee’s single wing (it is 1 hour north of Green Bay and often play area teams) and asked where I was from. I admitted my background with a wry smile.

That season we scored 144 points, averaging 28 points in our 5 victories. We rotated our tailbacks and wingbacks every series to, not only get them playing time, but not to get them banged up. Eight players scored touchdowns that season. Our no-huddle, warp speed game plan worked to our advantage all season as well. The linemen enjoyed pulling and it worked well for the team. Ironically the coaching staff needed the convincing, not the players.

The backbone of the offense was the wingback reverses, both directions, off-tackles as well as sweeping. Studying video I could see defenses consistently following the initial flow of the tailback, long enough to set up the hand-off to the wingback heading the opposite direction.





To counter this attack we complimented these plays with our fullback/blocking back blast play up the middle. The short snap deceived the deffense and the running back was immediately into the second level. To assist in the dedception of this play the tailback and wingback would execute their normal reverse techniques.


Of course we had a few other plays but the plays above were our core. We really didn’t have a lot of success with straight power plays with our tailbacks for the first 6 games. There were probably a number of reasons - inexperienced coaching, execution, etc. I conducted an interesting experiment for the final game. I decided I wanted the tailback off-tackle plays to be more potent and I changed the blocking slightly. In our original designs, we only pulled one lineman on off-tackle plays. On that day I pulled both guards for off-tackle plays and was pleasantly surprised at how much better this worked.

We lost 2 games in 2000. Both were to the same team. They were tough, well-coached and had some very talented players. We gave them fits in each game. Studying the videotape from the original game, I decided we really needed to keep the ball away from their offfense. I wanted to really control the game. For our second meeting with them I added a few plays I wanted to surprise them with. I wanted to incorporate a spin series of some sort. With our alignment and a league rule prohibitting motion I settled on a pseudo-spin series with a direct snap to our fullback/blocking back, who then turned his back to the line of scrimmage and either handed off to a wingback or kept the ball himself and ran off-tackle to the long side of the line. I say pseudo because it really was not a full spin, it was more like a half spin because the fullback/blocking back had to briefly wait with back to the defense for the wingback to take the hand-off.

The big play was the fullback keeper though. We were fortunate to have a very physical 9-year old who could withstand the contact of older players and could cope with significant load of carries. By this point in the season teams were very alert to our wingback reverses. This influenced my decision to concentrate on our blast and new spin plays.


My strategy worked even though we lost the game, 6-0. We completely controlled the time of possession and kept their offense off the field. Our players rose to the occassion and played their hearts out. It was a cat-and-mouse game from start to finish. By the fourth quarter, we consistently set their defense up with inside blast plays over and over and suddenly slip in the fullback spin keeper play and make a big run. It was my most satisfying game to coach that season, by far.

The lessons I learned in 2000 helped me develop my offense for my next season on the grid iron. I learned that less is definitely more. We began the season with 10 plays, and added 3 spin plays for 13 total. The players learned them without trouble, but I learned you really do not need that many at all. We probably relied on 7 at most . I vowed to conitunue to whittle my offense down to the bare essentials and practice those selected few plays repeatedly so we could concentrate on the vital minutae that could make these plays as powerful as they could be. Simplicity is the key to design.

Second lesson was I did not need to have the lonely split end in a run based offense. I utilized this position with 3 minimum play players. Watching them perform I noticed a great deal of improvement over the course of the season. This led me to believe that evey player can be taught the fundamentals of interior blocking. These players, who early in the season, were a little afraid and weaker physically, made some key blocks by the end of the season as their confidence grew through coaching and repetition. I decided I did not need a split end for minimum play kids anymore. I would become a true unbalanced line with four linemen in tight right of the snapper.

I also learned that I really need to use the fullback/blocking back position to perform all kick out blocks. I was using the guards which worked fairly well, but it is a little difficult for these players to pull and find heir intended target.

Next, I learned that I could freely play all the players on offense and defense. I developed a customized substitution pattern with particular players or positions. We had 23 players. We had two players at each position (3 at split end). So I could switch players by quarter or series, depending on the players or positions involved. For example, our two snappers alternated by quarter. This way the could get into a good rhythm. Our wingbacks also had significant roles on defense. Offensively I rotated them by series in order to keep them fresh.

I came to believe that at the 8-11 year old level, the players need to experience all phases of football - offense, defense, and special teams. I did not want to pigeon-hole them to a single phase of the game. This was about learning the fundamentals of the game.

If anyone would like a copy of the full playbook in .PDF format, please click here. You can also see clips from this team here and here.

Snap & Go!
adam_wesoloski at yahoo.com

By Hugh Wyatt

Ernie Nevers may be the only man in sports history to play pro football, pro baseball and pro basketball - and all in the same year (1927) at that.

Despite the passage of all the years, Nevers may still be the most illustrious figure in Stanford’s long and glorious sports history.

His number - number 1, what else? - is the only Stanford number ever to be retired.

He won 11 letters in four sports in his three years at The Farm.

In the Rose Bowl game, he outgained all four of Notre Dame’s famed Four Horsemen.

He played professional football against Red Grange and pitched against Babe Ruth.

For months, he was listed as Missing in Action in the South Pacific in World War II.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in its first class.

And yet, possibly because he was a private man, reserved and self-effacing, he is not as well-known as he ought to be.

Ernie Nevers was born in Willow River, Minnesota, on June 11, 1903. After his family moved to Santa Rosa, California, Nevers played as a senior on his high school’s very first football team. When it turned out that he knew more football than the coach, he designed the offense, putting himself at fullback.

“You see, I wanted every chance to carry the ball and kick,” Nevers explained later. Although Ernie Nevers is still regarded as perhaps the greatest athlete ever to attend Stanford, Stanford landed him only after an epic recruiting struggle with its archrival, the University of California.

The story that has since become legend was that while he was visiting the Cal campus, Nevers was “kidnaped” by Stanford zealots, spirited away to a secluded spot somewhere on the coast and - in the pleasant company of a good-looking young female - kept hidden from Cal people until he finally decided to attend Stanford. The young lady must have been very persuasive.

Years later, Nevers admitted that Cal had been his first choice. “Brick Muller (a Cal All-American from the early 1920s) had been an idol of mine, and I got to know him,” he said. “So I was all set to go to Cal, but at the last minute I picked Stanford. But if I had gone to Cal I probably would have stayed a lineman and nobody would have given me much of a chance. I was a terrible tackle. I did much better as a fullback.”

Indeed he did. At 6-1, 205, he was a big man by the standards of his day; as a fullback, he was gigantic. Called “Swede” and “Big Dog” by his teammates, he truly did everything - he ran, passed, punted and tackled. He was noted for his fearless, reckless style of play, and on occasion, when the action got especially ferocious, he would toss his helmet aside and fling himself into the action bareheaded.

Asked to compare him to the legendary Jim Thorpe, whom he had also coached, Pop Warner, Nevers’ coach, said, “I consider Nevers the better player because he gave everything he had in every game.”

Warner wrote, in his autobiography, “In an era of great ones - Red Grange of Illinois, George Gipp and the Four Horsemen from Notre Dame, Elmer Oliphant and Chris Cagle of Army, or even Jim Thorpe of Carlisle - Nevers always stood a bit taller when trying to compare others to him.”

Nevers’ most legendary performance was in the 1925 Rose Bowl against Knute Rockne and Notre Dame and the legendary Four Horsemen. He almost didn’t play at all. He’d broken his left ankle before the opening game of the season, and his right ankle in the next-to-last game. He was on crutches until two days before the Rose Bowl. And then, ankles supported by braces fashioned from inner tubes by coach Warner and wrapped so tightly that he had little feeling in his legs, he headed out to battle.

“You’ll probably last ten minutes,” Warner predicted pessimistically.

But Nevers played all 60 minutes, and outgained all four of Horsemen all by himself. Nevers carried the ball 34 times for 117 yards, handling the ball on every offensive play.

On defense, he intercepted a pass and was in on 80 percent of Stanford’s tackles.

So amazing was his performance that the two interceptions he threw - both returned by Elmer Layden for touchdowns - were forgiven.

Although Stanford lost, 27-10, Irish coach Knute Rockne was in awe of Nevers’ performance. “Nevers could do everything,” Rockne recalled later. “He tore our line to shreds, ran the ends, forward-passed and kicked. True, we held him on the 1-yard line for four downs, but by that time he was exhausted.”

So impressed was Rockne that day that later, when Nevers was playing as a pro with the Chicago Cardinals, Rockne would often take his players to Chicago just to watch Nevers play.

At Stanford, he earned 11 letters - in football, baseball, basketball and track - in three years. On at least one occasion, he competed in a track meet in his baseball uniform, then hurried over to the diamond to play a baseball game.

He once pitched 37 consecutive scoreless innings - a record that still stands at a school with an illustrious baseball history. In 1925, in a three-game series with Cal, he pitched the full nine innings in two of the games, and in the final game, with the count three-and-two, hit a grand slam home run to win the series for Stanford.

While in college, he also had some bit parts in Hollywood productions during the offseasons, working with a couple of USC football players named Ward Bond and Marion “Duke” Morrison. Bond would become a well-known actor, and Morrison would become fairly well-known himself as a guy named John Wayne.

In his first year as a pro football player, 1926, Nevers played for a travelling team called the Duluth Eskimos (later to become the Detroit Lions), playing 29 games in 117 days - including one stretch of five games in eight days. 27 of the 29 games on the road. There were 16 men on the Eskimos roster.

“Sometimes we used take two showers after games,” Nevers recalled once. “The first one would be with our uniforms on. Then we’d beat them like rugs to get some of the water out, throw them into our bags, get dressed and catch a train.”

Nevers missed just 27 minutes of action in the entire 29-game schedule - when doctors ordered him to sit out a game after he was diagnosed with appendicitis. But with Duluth trailing 6-0, Nevers couldn’t stand to watch. Disregarding doctor’s orders, he inserted himself into the game, and threw a 62-yard TD pass and kicked the extra point to give the Eskimos a 7-6 win.

His major-league baseball career was a short one. Playing for the woeful St. Louis Browns, he did gain a measure of fame as a result of Babe Ruth’s hitting two of his record-setting 60 home runs off him in 1927.

The Babe, not one to flatter anyone unnecessarily, said to him, “You’ve got good speed, kid. For my sake, I hope you stick to football.”

He once hit a double off the great Walter Johnson, but Nevers modestly said, “I think he grooved it for me.”

After his football playing career ended in 1932, Nevers began a coaching career, but at the outbreak of World War II, although too old to be drafted, he enlisted in the Marine Corps.

While serving in the Pacific, he and his battalion were reported missing for several months. When they were finally found on an otherwise-deserted island, several had died, and Nevers, suffering from beri-beri, weighed only 110 pounds. Despite the rescue, however, all was not happiness - while he was away in the service, his wife died of pnuemonia.

Following the war, Nevers was involved in starting Chicago’s franchise in the All-American Football League, and spent most of the rest of his working life in a variety of positions for Bay Area beer, wine and liquor distributors.

Nevers was modest and private, and declined most requests for interviews. He kept few football mementos in his home, and reportedly never talked about sports with his family. Around the news media, he seemed embarrassed to talk about himself, and when he did so, it was often in a humorous, self-deprecating way.

Asked to recall his Rose Bowl performance, Nevers chose to dwell on the interceptions he threw. “A total of 150 yards and two touchdowns in two tries,” he once said, “makes the passing combination of Layden of Notre Dame and Nevers of Stanford the best in Rose Bowl history.”

Nevers lived in Tiburon, north of San Francisco, for much of his life and once invited Bob Murphy, then the sports information director at Stanford, to bring a tape recorder over his house to discuss his athletic career in detail for a possible book.

“We rambled on for a few hours,” Murphy recalled. “He talked about everything - the Four Horsemen, Pop Warner taping up his ankles with inner tubes, the home runs he served up to Babe Ruth. But here’s the sad part of the story. I transcribed the tape, but to this day, I don’t know what I did with it. I may have it buried somewhere, but I haven’t been able to find it.”

In 1951, Ernie Nevers was inducted into the College Hall of Fame, and in 1963 he was a charter inductee in the Pro Football of Fame.

He died on May 3, 1976.

“He loved doing things for kids,” recalled Murphy, his long-time friend. “He loved presenting the Pop Warner awards at their annual banquet. He had such great reverence for Warner, and loved to represent his memory at functions. Ernie really was a humble individual and a perfect gentleman.”

Copyright 2001 Hugh Wyatt. All rights reserved. www.coachwyatt.com