The Games

Game 4? Take a Break or Zeeland West at Muskegon Mona Shores

It was always probably inevitable that I would enjoy football as much as I do, but there was a moment where I was most definitely on the fence. Rocket football is not a fun memory for me. I wasn’t big and I wasn’t good. I remember attempting to be an offensive and defensive lineman for a few years. I remember surviving practices and games by cutting people (cutting an opposing player’s legs out from under them at the snap of the ball) if I couldn’t do that it was ugly. So at one point I took a break from playing football. I continued to watch just not participate. My mother swears that I attended almost every game in my home town, so long the weather allowed, since I was three years old. She bought snowsuits for me not to play in but to tough out even the most extreme of cold on Friday nights. She’s certain that I didn’t miss a game from third grade on. I’m not sure if that streak is impressive or sad, but I continued said streak through the year after I graduated. I can only hope there’s a better streak out there and if there is I’d love to talk to that person (from a fan’s perspective that is). It wasn’t until my second year of college that I decided to take another break. I was still trying to decide what to do with my life and I wanted to try to find something better on a Friday night. The break didn’t last long I missed the atmosphere to much. So as it turned out what I wanted to do was to teach like all the people I respect and love so much. I started coaching in some capacity as a volunteer in 2007 or so, before even obtaining my degree. I’ve enjoyed football and I guess this is a much too long way of saying I’m taking another break. It’s just for this week but I’m going to go celebrate an old friend’s engagement instead. 

Before you leave thinking ugh I just wanted to read about football not some sappy story, have no fear. If I were to go to a game this week I’d definitely make the long trip up north to watch the defending division four state champion Zeeland West at Muskegon Mona Shores. I know my local crowd is thinking Watervliet plays Schoolcraft this week. Why would I drive so far when there’s a great game close by? I hear you and I went to that barn burner last year (best video I could find even though the game is toward the end of the clip and the commentator makes a bevy of errors in discussing it). Watervliet going for two and the win wasn’t much of a discussion amongst my family members who attended with me. Go for the win when you can is just what you do as the road team, no question. This year’s game should be a good one although it’ll be tough to top last years. 

I’m sticking with the state’s biggest matchup as the game I’d most like to watch. Zeeland runs the wing t which has been covered multiple times on this site. The fun thing about Zeeland is they will use false pulls. Meaning they will pull the guard to trap and the other guard in the opposite direction as a way to mess with the linebackers keys. Zeeland will also run through the trap, cross, keep, sequence at a lightening pace (if you are lost I wrote about the wing t previously on this site, just search it and it will hopefully help). Honestly they have been one of the fastest teams I’ve ever seen play the few times I’ve been able to see them in person. 

While Zeeland’s speed is fun to watch, I fell in love with the offense Muskegon Mona Shores uses. Back in the day the teams I played on used a system known as the veer. The veer is an option play where the first man outside of the hole (the spot designated for the running back to run through) is left unblocked. The quarterback reads that man and determines whether to give the ball to the back or pull it in the event the unblocked defender closes on the potential ball carrier. The quarterback continues down the line to read the also unblocked end man on the line of scrimmage. This defender must make the decision to either tackle the quarterback or stay with another offensive player serving as a pitch back (a player the quarterback has the option to lateral the ball to). It’s a great offense that utilizes angles for undersized linemen and emphasizes speed over power. It’s fun to watch veer teams use formations in an attempt to outflank their opponent or create an extra unaccounted for gap in the defense. It’s honestly the most entertaining thing ever for me and I’m not embarrassed to say it. I love outsmarting an opponent whether it’s an audible on the field as a skinny quarterback or using an unbalanced formation knowing what gap will be left as a more portly coach. 

The split back veer was my offense as a player a long time ago (also used by Portage Central last week to which I loved every minute of watching) and the principles of reading defenders instead of blocking them have really revolutionized the game. Several teams still run the old Bill Yeoman veer like the old Houston Cougars (if you follow the link you should know I grew up a big Joe Montana fan), but as all things it evolved. Now not to get into too much of a history lesson the split back veer eventually was ran out of the wishbone (three runningback forming the letter y behind the quarterback), which was eventually winged known to some as the broken bone. It went further and was double winged often called the flex bone just like the aforementioned Schoolcraft Eagles run. It evolved even further in the city of Muskegon where wings eventually lined up further from the ball and a spread look called the pistol was used. Tony Annese the current head coach of the Ferris State Bulldogs ran what he named the showgun offense with great success at Muskegon high school. Eventually he was called up to the college ranks and his old staff produced two notable head coaches Shane Fairfield who stayed at Muskegon (they also refer to their offense as the ski gun even though it’s the same thing they have done for years essentially) and Matt Koziak who went just a few miles down the road to Muskegon Mona Shores. Finally the connection! How do I know all of this well I attended a few talks on the showgun offense one of which by Tony Annese and two by Matt Koziak. They are wonderful presenters who answered a ton of questions and had several video related things I happily purchased. 

So this offense structure wise might not look like my old offensive formations but the offensive linemen splits are very wide and familiar. It can play like a spread offense with all the infuriating screen passes that go along with it. It also uses several wing motions similar to the flexbone (if you didn’t watch the flexbone link above think of Georgia Tech or one of the academies). The blocking scheme up front is just like the veer schemes of old and I love to watch it. Being a person who used to have to make decisions with the ball it’s fun to read keys along with the qb as the play develops. I’ll often times say aloud “give” or “keep” right as the play is under way. 

The creator of this wonderful offense refers to it as a hybrid. It is not full option or spread or even pistol. You would be wrong if you simply called it the pistol offense likened to the days of Colin Kaepernick at the University of Nevada (better breakdown of that offense here) and even into his time in the NFL

So you might say I’ve come full circle with my football thinking. As a rocket player I didn’t like blocking people and now as an adult I still selectively don’t like blocking people. So whether you go to Zeeland West taking on Muskegon Mona Shores or Schoolcraft against Watervliet watch how many people go unblocked. I think in either game the number will surprise you. Wow, this was a really long post that started with I’m taking the week off. Enjoy your football I’m taking a break. 

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The Games

Busy Week: Game 3 East Kentwood vs. Farmington Hills Harrison @ theBig House Saturday Aug. 27

The good people at the University of Michigan are allowing high school games to be played at the Big House to start the prep football season. I picked Saturday and I’ll leisurely get there around the afternoon before four o’clock when the second game of a triple header starts. The plan is to watch East Kentwood play Farmington Hills Harrison while walking around the stadium and taking it all in. I can only imagine that if I were to ever go to watch the Wolverines play the amount of human traffic would make it difficult to explore the grounds. I believe the stadium holds over a hundred thousand people and watching this high school game I’m hoping I’ll see a considerably smaller crowd. The game is of little interest to me, I don’t really follow the big schools and these are two very big schools. East Kentwood is one of the largest schools in Michigan with almost two thousand students going there. I’ve been to its campus once for a pole vault clinic and their facilities are immaculate. Honestly one of the nicest schools I’ve ever been to. I have no idea how good they are at football other than they beat Harrison in the season opener last year 35-28.

Farmington Hills Harrison however is the definition of a perennial power. They have only missed the playoffs five times since 1980 with thirteen state championships within that span. Serious athletes  have funneled through the Hawks program for decades now. 

A quick internet search helps with little things but not a ton for someone looking for the style of football these teams will play. With schools this large it’s best to think of them as small colleges. With inflated rosters and large coaching staffs they can do just about anything they want week to week and then some. I remember watching the Lakeshore Lancers (a big school for my area but still smaller than those mentioned) run a dizzying amount of formations and motion sequences in a playoff game not to long ago. The big schools have the luxury of coaching the same groups of players without many two way players, which opens up what they can do. In talking to some big level coaches there is a base set of plays that are established early in the lower levels, that are ever tally tweaked as they get older. What’s fun is being able to add to the playbook based on game planning each week. Thanks to some videos found on hudl (Kentwood and Harrison) you can see for yourself there’s a ton of offense shown by EK even though it’s mainly out of the spread. Without going super into it I also think Kentwood is sporting a 4-2-5 like defense that works like a 4-4 cover three against run heavy looks like the ones Harrison gave them last year. Harrison looks to be a power run team with a lot of I formations last year. Make no mistake both teams can show tons of different looks as we discussed earlier it’s just the way of class A ball. On defense Harrison shows a versatile 3-4 defense that acts like an old school fifty against power looks. The 3-4 is trending this offseason as a lot of colleges are using its multiplicity to get more athletes on the field. Although three down linemen can be scary for most of us and if you don’t have the athletes on the back end then forget it. Just ask 2015 Indiana University how they felt about stopping the run with the 3-4. 

This ended up being way longer than I anticipated. I honestly am attending this game solely to explore the Big House, but as a bonus I get to stop off at one of my favorite restaurants Joe’s Crab Shack. I love that place and usually I can only go when my family makes are small pilgrimage to Detroit to watch the state championships in November. If you’re around and feeling like a seafood adventure don’t be afraid to hit me up. 

The Games

Game 2 Friday Aug. 26 Portage Central @ Mattawan

I can’t lie I don’t know a whole lot about Mattawan or Portage Central, but I picked this game for Friday because it’s close and I love eating at Chinn Chinn’s. The last time I went to a Mattawan game was several years ago (2012 regional final game they lost to Caledonia). I remember only a handful of observations from that day. One of which was how nonchalant the fans sitting around us where in regards to the action on the field. The second was just how big some of these division two players looked. It’s a pretty high level of football. Seemingly not a ton has changed for Mattawan since then although they have a new head coach. The old one was fired and is now at Paw Paw after their coach left this past offseason. But Mattawan hired their defensive coordinator to be their new head guy and it looks like more of the same for them. Ryan Brown’s wildcats went 5-4 last year running the same stuff they’ve come accustomed to there. I will say though after watching some of their highlights from last year they looked a lot more open on offense then their Power T ways of old. I say Power T only because from what I remember and have seen it looks like more double teams with lead blockers then pulling linemen with backfield deception (old Mattawan Power T highlights of a kid who played for WMU). Not that they don’t do both, but true Wing T teams almost never break the T. We used to think that if we forced a team to break the T then we were winning. Last years highlights show a lot of broken T formations for Mattawan which puts them more in the category of a Power T team in my eyes. (A side note it is really difficult to find videos of teams out there so most of what I’m saying probably should be generalized. I don’t have a film vault I jut have YouTube sadly.) I’m excited to see the different formations thrown out there by the wildcats in order to gain an advantage while maintaining their offensive identity. You can’t run the traditional trap, cross, keep series of Wing T options with two backs away from a powered away wing and that limits the amount of formation options they have. It also helps me play a little game I call “tecmo bowl” where I pick your play based on the formation. 

Portage Central on the other hand is way different and pretty good. They’ve beaten Mattawan the last three in a row, including a real lopsided affair last year 49-7. Central has only lost five games in the last three years, one of which being a game six point loss to Muskegon in the 2013 state semifinal game. I couldn’t find a ton of videos of them out there but from what I’ve seen people from my neck of the woods would love their split back offense. I stopped watching I started gushing over the old school veer looks, a new age pistol option, some power sweep plays, and I legit stopped watching after seeing an old school toss play that made me reminisce of days of old. I didn’t need to see any more. I never got to be a head coach but I had plenty of ideas of what it would look like and no joke it could have easily resembled the guys in blue and gold from Portage (I don’t know if it’s gold or not but I know most schools that sport yellow like to refer to their color as gold. Just saying.). According to mlive, they are losing a ton of seniors from last year including the Kalamazoo offensive player of the year. With the schemes they are running on offense being so close to my heart I can’t imagine them not being entertaining to watch.

Even if the games a dud though the day should be awesome because I’m eating at Chinn Chinn’s before hand! I’m not the food snob I wish I was but I get a different dish every time I go there and I’ve never been dissatisfied with my meal. It’s a pretty popular place so if you’re hoping to get a seat you’d better get there early so you can make the start of the game. 

The Games

Game 1 Thursday Aug. 25 Saugatuck @ Constantine

Blake Dunn versus the world is what it can look like if you’ve watched a Saugatuck sporting event in the last few years. He is in my opinion the best athlete is southwest Michigan. This past spring “Dunn won the 100 and 300 meter hurdles in Division 4 state-record times, going 14.33 seconds and 38.31, respectively. It was the third consecutive year that has won the 300 hurdles, and he captured the 110 after placing second in the event a year ago” mlive. Dunn is an all state athlete in football, basketball, and is committed to playing baseball for Western Michigan University. Like I said the best athlete around. 

On the other side Constantine is loaded with great athletes. I watched running back Anthony Evilsizor win the conference in the 800 meter dash just a breath off of the state record (physically the biggest middle distance runner I may have ever seen). Constantine was a failed two point conversion away from a trip to the state semifinals last year in a season that had an extremely uncharacteristic start for them. Constantine has made the playoffs every year since 1999, I think, but last year that streak was in jeopardy when they found themselves at 4-4 needing a win at Hartford (they did win 21-6). In the playoffs they then avenged losses to rival Schoolcraft in overtime and Watervliet with a final drive that was magical to say the least. Constantine held the ball and ate the final quarter in the district final converting several fourth and short plays. I watched it live and it was awesome. 

Both teams run Michigan’s own Wing T offense. Constantine is die hard with it while Saugatuck has branched away from it ever so slightly, mainly because of Super Dunn. When the SAC brought in a lot of the schools from the old KVA to create a mega conference, this was the matchup Saugatuck was supposedly clamoring for. In last years matchup it was one big offensive play after another. Neither team could stop the other and in the end, in my opinion I thought Saugatuck wore down the bigger linemen for Constantine. Not that it mattered much in the grand scheme of things it was just an observation that I thought helped keep the game entertainingly close. In the end Saugatuck forced a fumble on the last play of the game as the Constantine quarterback attempted to stretch it across the goal line. Fantastically exciting and I can’t fathom why this year’s game would be any different. 

I’m looking forward to seeing Dunn through the air versus Constantine over the top of a heap of bodies. BEFORE the game starts I’ll be eating a big ole steak at the Rock at Big Fish Lake in Marcellus. If your around don’t be afraid to stop by and say hi. 

Thoughts on Football

Wing T

If you live in Michigan it’s likely you have seen the tight packed offense with a line of running backs all looking the same as the other. A mirage of ball carriers with forearms pressed together methodically running down the sidelines and up hashes. No one cheers until one of the three potential ball carriers breaks form and exposes the ball or better yet it’s discovered the sneaky carrier had been under a pile of bodies all along while officials sort out the chaos. Depending on your facial expression when reading this you either ran the Wing T in high school or you were beaten by the well disciplined machine that’s a Michigan staple. In the very entertaining book “Blood, Sweat, and Chalk” Tim Layden traces the origin of the Full T to Hillsdale College where it took form based off the effective trap blocking schemes of the single wing. The basics of the offense come from a backfield action of a short fullback trap, to cross, to quarterback keep sequence. The linemen most often take defenders and spectators to the ball as the guard pull almost always designates what gap the play was designed to attack. Ball hiding wizards gain an advantage of forcing defenses to play assignment football while at the same time being able to adapt to personnel. Teams like the Constantine Falcons can play a more power based form of the T where big bodies can both pull and trap but worse yet help piles fall forward. The kind of three yard blast plays that nightmares are made of. Elsewhere teams like Zeeland West can run the Michigan T at lightning speeds where they barely have time for the traditional fakes T teams are known for. New wrinkles are being added all the time like how the Edwardsburg Eddies read defenders but from the same flow of plays that define the Wing T. The T has branched out so far as to have a basis in the unique offense being run by Gus Malzahn at Auburn. 
Hopefully you haven’t been able to tell in my tone that I am not a big fan of the robotics of the offense but I respect it. I have spent a good portion of my life on the opposite sidelines listening to my dad on how to slow down this form of attack. We aren’t alone the tons football clinics being run each offseason in Michigan often have a speaker focusing on “stopping the Full T” and the room is always full. My family and our penchant for making adjustments a part of our game plan is what I’ve always enjoyed most about coaching football. If you have a way to slow the T then you need to be able to do so while showing different looks so that the offense doesn’t have the ability to t off on you knowing where you’ll be. Alignment shouldn’t change assignment and with that in mind there are multiple looks you can give a Full T team so long as all the potential ball carriers have a person designated to tackle them. Kids need to know they won’t have a clue as to who has the ball and so tackling the person they are assigned to is crucial. When the fullback scampers for forty out of a pile of people running in the opposite direction it is instant disappoint for me. It’s like watching a small child drop their ice cream cone. I can’t stand it. We liked to use a six man front where defensive tackles have the fullback directly behind the quarterback. We would love for them to be able to hip pocket and run with the pulling guard but most T teams have a very deep alignment with their linemen. Sometimes they are almost an entire yard off the ball! Irregardless the defensive tackles need to be able to trap the trapper, a process by which the player attacks the offensive guard coming to trap them, while the other attempts to fight across the centers face. Help with the full back should come from an inside linebacker wherever he may be positioned. Defensive ends have the back farthest from them on the cross. If they are unblocked they should trap the trapper to the ball. Once again there should be help from an inside linebacker with the cross back. We position our outside linebackers in a spot where they can squeeze any outside runs underneath them without getting their outside arm and leg pinned by the tight end. The outside linebacker and secondary players on the same side have the quarterback. Everyone off the ball must start the play by keying in on offensive linemen. Linebackers are looking for a guards pull to take them to the ball and secondary plays are slow playing through tight ends waiting for a pass attempt. Wing T teams seldom pass the ball, but their run heavy style often lulls secondary players to sleep. It is important to fill the box as best you can, we like to take a secondary player off the field and add a linebacker. We have put this new linebacker in multiple spots but after watching several games where Wing T teams play each other we noticed the most popular way of add in the linebacker is tucked in behind the original two inside. This backer can slow play through the guards and hopefully prevent big plays. The linebacker can also play as a nose guard at times which helps to give your defense multiple looks. 

If you’re in Michigan tucked into a crowded stands full of family and neighbors there is a good chance you’ll have to sit through a Friday night trying to figure out who has the ball. Find the guard and hopefully it’ll help.