Posted: Thursday, September 13th 2012 at 2:31pm
Boredom caused switch to wishbone for Trojans
By Jeff Hart Staff
GAINESVILLE -- The new-look North Hall wishbone offense was born out of one thought: Bob Christmas was bored.
After more than a dozen years of running the wing-T, the 12th- year head coach of the Trojans said he just wasn’t into it anymore.
“We had a couple of mediocre seasons the last two years and I was really starting to get bored with what we were doing,” he said. “The team feeds off the head coach a lot and I think (the players) could tell I wasn’t into as much and I saw that as a problem. I just decided we were going to switch and that everyone would just have to learn it.”
But why the wishbone, which on the surface doesn’t seem like much of a departure from the run-oriented wing-T, but it has its subtleties.
“I had run the wishbone before I was at Bainbridge so I knew the offense,” Christmas said. “We also had the biggest (offensive) line since I’ve been here coming back and a stable of running backs so I thought now was a good time to change things up.”
Christmas and the new offense will get it its first major test of the season Friday at home against Jefferson, a team that knocked off the Trojans last year. North Hall (2-0) is coming off a 55-7 win over Johnson while the Dragons (1-1) knocked off Jackson County 28-6.
How Christmas learned the wishbone offense is interesting in its own right. While coaching in Knoxville, Tenn., he befriended then-University of Tennessee defensive coordinator Ken Donahue, who had coached under Bear Bryant at Alabama.
“He heard I was running the wishbone and asked if I wanted a copy of Coach Bryant’s playbook. I think it was the last copy anybody had of Bear Bryant’s playbook and he just gave it to me. That really helped me understand how to run it,” he said.
Christmas said the differences between the wing-T and the wishbone are significant and that with the right personnel a wishbone offense has more options and more potency.
“You need a big line, a lot of backs, and a quarterback that is smart and can make quick decisions,” he said. “We had all that in place this year so I just thought the time was right.
“I like the offense because the quarterback can give it to the fullback, keep it, pitch, or pass out it each play. Instead of 11 guys having to remember a lot of intricate designs, they can just line up and run a play and just worry about blocking someone.”
Was he worried about changing offenses, especially one that requires just the right kind of personnel to operate effectively, in such a short period of time?
“Maybe at first, in the spring. They really struggled to grasp it and I was worried heading into the summer,” Christmas said. “But, in the summer they really started to understand how to run it effectively. I’m excited about what we’re doing now and I think the kids see that and they’re showing more excitement as well. It’s a tough offense to learn and run properly but we’re getting better each week.”
It really showed last week as the Trojans piled up 369 yards of offense in a 55-7 rout of Johnson. In the first two weeks they have racked up just shy of 600 yards rushing and 145 yards passing.
Brad Brown (13-80, 1 TD) and Andrew Smith have rotated in as quarterback while TJ Tate, Kevin Christmas, and Zac Little have gotten the bulk of the touches in the backfield.
Tate leads the team in carries, yards, and touchdowns so far but nine different players have all run the ball at least three times in the first two games. Smith has 103 yards while Christmas has 98 and Brown 80 yards rushing so far. Brown also has tossed three TD passes as they try to catch the defenses off-guard.
“That’s one of the benefits of the wishbone is that if you have a guy who can throw and some receivers, you can really set up a long pass play by making them key on the run,” Christmas said. “It’s not quite the thinking man’s offense like the spread, but the quarterback has to make the right reads and execute the play. Brad and Andrew are really good at putting the ball where it needs to be, whether it’s the fullback, halfback, or just keeping the ball.”
But little ground is gained without a solid unit up front and Christmas love’s this year’s group.
“They’ve got the potential to be the best line I’ve had at North Hall,” Christmas said. “We’re able to go two deep at every position and sometimes even more at other places.”
Patrick Chappell, Thomas Marchman, Matt Pratte, Dylan Truelove, Justin Bacus, Russell Gillespie, Cole Strickland and Scott Talley have all seen action so far. Tight ends Eric Gonter and Taylor Ryder have both seen action. Gonter has one catch for 39-yards and one touchdown.
Against Jefferson, Christmas said ball control will be the key. The Dragons feature senior quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, who threw for more than 1,800 yards last year, off the field as much as possible. He had 199 yards passing for one TD and ran for another TD last week against Jackson County.
“They are a very well coached team,” Christmas said. “They have a great QB and excellent skilled players all over the field. They are much better than they’re record.
“Our goal is to try and control the ball and the clock. We want to limit the time their quarterback has the ball. If we can do that, I like our chances.”
While the new wishbone attack has looked good early, how will it stand up to what is considered a tough Region 7-AAA with the likes of Dawson County, White County, Banks County, East Hall, and of course, Buford, which has won eight state titles and finished runner-up twice since the 2001 season?
“I believe this is an offense that can have a lot of success,” Christmas said. “It’s hard to prepare for it in just one week. We’re getting a little better each week and by the time we get to those games I expect us to be running at full speed.”
Of course, the ultimate question to Christmas now is, “are you still bored?”
“Not anymore. I’m having a blast this year,” he said.
JEFFERSON at NORTH HALL
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday
-- WHERE: The Brickyard, Gainesville
-- RADIO: 102.9 FM
-- JEFFERSON (1-1, 0-0 Region 8-AA): Defeated Jackson County 28-6 last week.
-- NORTH HALL (2-0, 0-0 Region 7-AAA): Defeated Johnson 55-7 last week.
-- HISTORY: Jefferson leads the series 8-2, including a 38-28 win in 2011.
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