High School Football

The evolution of the regional high school running game shows the ground attack lives on

Gerry Kundert was a Mira Loma High School football coach from the 1960s through the mid-1980s. He died in 2017.
Gerry Kundert was a Mira Loma High School football coach from the 1960s through the mid-1980s. He died in 2017. Sacramento Bee file

Football can be a copycat deal at all levels, right on down to the high school ranks.

If it works there, why not borrow, duplicate and steal here, right? It has been a fascinating development.

In the 1970s, the wishbone option rushing attack was the focal point for college heavies such as the Oklahoma Sooners. The same was true locally for the Cordova Lancers, who devoured all comers with speed and power in leading the nation in victories in going 102-6-1.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, the wing-T became fashionable, the it-thing on the regional gridiron front, where smaller lineman could angle block behemoths in the trenches and backs of all sizes could dart or churn away for yards.

The wing-T came of age at Mira Loma in the 1960s when coaches Don Brown and Gerry Kundert picked it up from the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens of the college ranks. The Mira Loma coaches installed the deception-based scheme to offer a decidedly different look of those who relied on 3 yards and a crush of humanity, and it worked wonders right into the early 1980s.

Nevada Union brought the wing-T element to Grass Valley in the late ’80s, first under coach Randy Blankenship and then Dave Humphers, rolling to multiple league and Sac-Joaquin Section championships. It seemed the entire area adopted this concept, including Elk Grove in the late 1990s with coaches Ed Lombardi and Dave Hoskins, with the addition of a passing element.

Escalon and Oakdale still run the wing-T and credit the offense for why the school trophy cases are so bloated.

Most everyone bought into the wing-T years ago except Grant, where coach Mike Alberghini proved that ferocity and speed could blow up any offense. And the throwback coach showed that a balanced offense with skill players would be the driving force behind seven section banners and some of the area’s all-time best teams, including the area’s first CIF State football crown, in 2008.

In the mid 2000s, Folsom found out the hard way, amid bruises and crushing 56-7 playoff losses, that it could not smash-mouth enough teams to stretch the season to Thanksgiving week.

So coaches Troy Taylor and Kris Richardson installed the spread offense, an effort to get speedy guys in open space. The spread was taking college football and prep football by storm and Folsom welcomed change.

The spread is Folsom’s trademark. The Bulldogs have owned this decade unlike any in regional history, storming to seven section and four CIF state championships, last losing a league game in 2011.

Wing-T still works

Not many teams employ the wing-T anymore, though it remains fixed at Inderkum and Placer.

Terry Stark has won 227 games, most coming at Inderkum, with this concept, having learned it from his mentor Kundert while quarterbacking Mira Loma in the late 1970s.

The unbeaten and No. 2-ranked Tigers live to run but can also pass with quarterback J.J. Ray, making it a viable section championship contender again.

Placer is inching closer to its eighth consecutive league championship and 12th successive playoff berth under coach Joey Montoya, thanks in large part to the wing-T. Placer rolled Rio Linda 24-7 on Friday with wing-T bruiser Hans Grassman.

Montoya and Stark are loyal to what they know.

“We believe in it,” Montoya said of the wing-T. “It’s who we are. It’s our identity.”

Other schemes

No. 6 Elk Grove has its best team in years because it has the right quarterback to run an offense that coach John Heffernan used to elevate Burbank to a perennial playoff power – the triple-option. Elk Grove’s option success resembles Cordova’s 1970s offense, and it can be as dazzling as it is devastating.

Carter Harris, all of 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds, leads the Thundering Herd attack at quarterback. He went for 184 yards on just six carries in a recent win over Pleasnt Grove.

“It’s what I’ve always run, and when you have a guy like Carter, it can be really effective and exciting,” Heffernan said. “He’s fantastic.”

Some teams lean on the run-heavy veer.

Coach Bob Ladouceur installed it at De La Salle in 1979 to give a sad-sack program that had no winning seasons since the school opened in Concord in 1965.

Ladouceur went a state-record best 399-24-2 with the veer before stepping down as head coach in 2012.

Now with a deep passing game element blended into the veer, De La Salle still towers, having gone 390-5-2 against Northern California teams since 1984, punctuated by a 305-game unbeaten streak against teams north of Fresno since 1992, with two ties.

Fear the veer indeed.

The veer is what Jesuit coach Marlon Blanton has used at Jesuit to keep the Marauders a playoff regular. He is a one-time De La Salle player and assistant coach.

And the veer is what T.J. Ewing used to start a program from scratch at Monterey Trail in the Elk Grove Unified School District in 2004, despite a humbling 1-19 start

The veer has landed the Mustangs in three section Division I title games, including last season when Monterey Trail went 12-1. Ranked fifth by The Bee, the Mustangs are 6-1 this season.

Even small schools run like the wind amid championship seasons, including Bear River, Bradshaw Christian, East Nicolaus and Rio Linda, each proof that old-school values never age.

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Joe Davidson has covered sports for The Sacramento Bee since 1988 and is award-winning authority on high school sports, specializing in going behind the scenes. Davidson was a high school athlete in Oregon, where he participated in football and track.
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