It was a little more than eight years ago when Stone Bridge Coach Mickey Thompson, then the head coach at Park View, would be in the gymnasium running, dodging, snapping the ball and spinning in an effort to work out every detail of the single-wing offense.
"We were younger then," joked assistant Matt Griffis, who moved to Stone Bridge with Thompson as the team's offensive coordinator when the school opened in 2000. "We had done the research, but we had to go into the gym ourselves so we could get all of the steps down, name the plays and figure out how it was all going to work so we could teach it."
In the years since, Thompson and his long-time staff -- four have been with him since Park View -- have had great success using the unconventional offense.
"We've been lucky," Thompson, who has won four region titles and been to the playoffs 11 times in 16 years, said with a sly smile.
Thompson's accomplishments are the result of more than simple good fortune. His teams have been stocked with talent, most notably at quarterback, which is what prompted the move to the single-wing from the more standard, power running I-formation he first used at Park View. The single-wing requires a quarterback who can run and throw equally well, and Thompson's first pupil at Park View was Nick Smith. Later, Thompson coached standout quarterbacks Michael O'Brien, Sean Ryan and Terrence Glenn at Stone Bridge.
This season Glenn leads the Bulldogs with 1,047 yards passing, a team-high 861 yards rushing and 22 total touchdowns.
"The first time I even heard about the single-wing was when I came to Stone Bridge as a freshman," Glenn said. "And it was definitely confusing at first. But once you get into it, into the system, it's not as complicated as it looks to an opposing team or even to the people in the stands. It's a real fun offense to run, and it fits my abilities very well. It's the perfect system for me."
It was Griffis who suggested that Thompson consider moving to the single-wing, an offense he had seen dominate at Giles High School in southwest Virginia when he was an assistant at nearby Radford. In Giles, where there is one high school in the county, every team from the pee wee leagues up runs a single-wing, so by the time players reach high school they are familiar with it.
"When I was at Radford [in 1994] we played Giles, and their offense was awesome," Griffis said. "I remember telling Mickey about it, and then we went back and actually found an old reel from when Park View had played Giles in the playoffs in 1981. Someone converted it over to VHS, and he watched it."
That's when Thompson, who said he was looking for a new and unique offensive scheme, began to study the single-wing. The coaching staff flew to Colorado for a single-wing symposium and also met every Tuesday night for months before taking to the gym floor to act out the offense.
"That's the first I heard about them trying to run it themselves, but I think I can picture it," Glenn said, laughing. "They're real fun. They do all the things that make players want to play for them."
Thompson's reputation for success has made him popular with far more than his own players. In 1999, ESPN documented Thompson and Park View for an educational piece on the single-wing titled "Still Running" that chronicled the development of the single-wing from the earliest days of football to the present. Thompson said he receives approximately 25 calls each offseason from teams around the country, particularly in the Midwest, seeking his advice on installing the offense in their program.
"He's a movie star," Louisa County Coach Mark Fischer said of Thompson before their teams met in last season's Virginia AA Region II Division 4 semifinal, admitting he became a single-wing convert after viewing the documentary in 2001. "And I'm one of his disciples."
Thompson and his staff have had to tweak their use of the offense over the years as defenses have found ways to counter it. Most recently that has included mixing in a five-wide, spread offense that is far removed from the tight single-wing set.
"The single-wing was the first offense in football," Thompson said. "That's how it started. There was no one under center. It was all direct snaps. But more and more, because of its success in the modern world of high school football, we've have to be more creative with it."
Potomac Falls, for example, switched to a single-wing the second half of this season after losing its first- and second-team quarterbacks to injury. The move allowed the Panthers to snap the ball directly into the hands of senior fullback Jay Branom, who rushed for an area-best 1,837 yards and 17 touchdowns this year, including 1,468 yards over the final six weeks.
"It's not nearly as unique anymore. Everyone runs a direct snap now," Griffis said. "But when Mickey first did it, no one was running it around here, so he was really putting himself out there. And I know he was scared to death it wasn't going to work. He'd had previous success with boys who just pounded you in the mouth and kicked your tail all the way down the field. This was much different.
"I think people respect him for trying it and admire what he's done as a winner and as a motivator."