Wing-T left gasping for breath

St. Petersburg’s Stevie Murph (34) and the Green Devils are among the few teams that haven’t embraced the spread offense.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

St. Petersburg’s Stevie Murph (34) and the Green Devils are among the few teams that haven’t embraced the spread offense.

It isn't pretty.

It isn't flashy.

It's still a favorite of smaller schools, and those further north, in other states, in regions far away, but is fading away in Tampa Bay.

If you want to say the Wing-T is on life support, then St. Petersburg coach Joe Fabrizio is the loyal guy sitting next to it in the hospital, peering over a magazine every so often to check its pulse.

Beep … beep … beep.

"It's like everything in football,'' he says. "It's cyclical. We may see it come back one day.''

Or we may not.

• • •

At the moment, high school football's sexy offense is the spread.

Quarterback in the shotgun.

Empty the backfield.

Line up five wide receivers.

Throw, throw, throw.

More and more, teams are abandoning more traditional offenses for something they think will work better.

"Everybody wants to put up big numbers,'' said Armwood offensive coordinator Chris Taylor. "I think some of it is people want to do the popular thing.''

And let's face it, in today's world of kids playing musical high schools, the better and more prolific the offense, the more exciting it is to play in it, the better chance of landing the best players.

Should that be the way it is?

No. But in many cases, it is.

Whatever the reasons, Northeast, long a bastion of the run-based, ball-control Wing-T, seems to be moving away from it.

Shorecrest turned its back on a successful and decades-long relationship with the offense, with minimal results so far (to be fair, the Chargers lost to Fort Meade, but who in Pinellas County doesn't? Answer: no one).

Even Jesuit and Armwood tweaked their power running attacks for a more open attack.

There are benefits to these changes, namely they make the defenses work harder, by having to cover more options. And most players love it.

Coaches from all those schools say they are merely adjusting to the talent at hand.

Fabrizio would rather adjust his players to his offense.

"Year in and year out, no matter who I have, I can run it with anybody,'' he said. "That's the best thing I can say about the offense.''

• • •

Whether or not that makes St. Petersburg as attractive a program as, say, the more wide-open Gibbs, Lakewood and Boca Ciega offenses remains to be seen.

But the Green Devils won their opener impressively, and looked good in their spring and fall games.

Fabrizio is one of three coaches in Pinellas County running the Wing-T, along with Osceola's George Palmer and Sam Roper at Seminole, where Fabrizio was a longtime offensive coordinator.

In Hillsborough County, Newsome runs the Wing-T, and if you want to go even older old school, East Bay rushed for 450 yards Friday out of the wishbone.

In Pasco, Mitchell coach Scott Schmitz scrapped the spread after his quarterback graduated and returned to the Wing-T, which provided him his greatest success at his previous job.

The Wing-T, which still enjoys great success at schools like Madison County and Jacksonville Bolles, is mocked as an offense the game has passed by.

That is the perception, and judging by the exodus in recent years, probably the reality.

But you can still win with it, Fabrizio says, as four of his kids scored last week and another ran for 100 yards.

"The kids, they want me to put some Madden plays in,'' he said, referring to the popular video game. "But we're going to stick with what we think works.''

As far as he is concerned, the Wing-T's vital signs are just fine.

Beep … beep … beep.

Wing-T left gasping for breath 09/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, September 11, 2008 2:33pm]

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