Sports

Taking Offense by the Horn: Double-Wing Strategy Plan

When exciting football plays come to mind, they usually manifest themselves in the form of long-range Hail Mary’s or buzzer-beating fumble recoveries. No one would want to watch if Remember the Titans ended on an un-celebrated run up the middle. People want to see deep routes, they want to see excitement. IMG_3057

When exciting football plays come to mind, they usually manifest themselves in the form of long-range Hail Mary’s or buzzer-beating fumble recoveries. No one would want to watch if Remember the Titans ended on an un-celebrated run up the middle. People want to see deep routes, they want to see excitement.

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COACH TOM HORN, center, has directed the double-wing offense since he became the football coach of George Mason High School in Falls Church in 1997. (Photo: News-Press)

But regardless of what the masses may demand, Mason coach Tom Horn sticks to his principles: the double-wing offense. It’s a system that has confused Bull Run defenses for years and, with its constant motion and grind-it-out principles, has remained a staple of George Mason High School football for years.

The concept of the offense is simple, albeit slightly head-scratching. Horn says that teams using the double-wing offense concede that, in general, they are at a raw talent deficiency relative to their opponents. The system levels the playing field through a series of dizzying motions and power runs into the heart of the defense.

“It’s a very successful offense,” senior running back Ben Taylor said. “It’s more physical because it’s a power running game. You have two guys blocking one guy all the time at the point of attack and you definitely have the advantage.

The double wing started out as a formation but evolved into a system of offense, instilled into the playbook when Horn arrived in 1997. It allows a small school, like Mason, to create optimal blocking angles for undersized kids, using sheer toughness to gain yards.

“In 1997, we had fewer than 20 kids on the first day and everyone was playing both ways,” Horn said. “It’s a system where you don’t have to have a 6’8” tackle or a quarterback throwing 16-yard outs. You can coach toughness but you can’t really coach ball delivery or catching a football or being big. We can coach toughness, so we decided that we needed an offense that could do that.

“We’re usually at an athlete man-on-man disadvantage,” he continued. “We don’t want to put a 180-lb. guard against a 250-lb. kid head-to-head and say win the battle for four quarters. That’s unreasonable.”

Ball control is the name of the game for Mason and the double wing, pounding it up the middle play after play. Unlike most high schools, passes in Moore Cadillac Stadium are reserved for only the optimal situation. Horn would rather have his quarterback grind it out on the ground and eat up clock time than drop back unnecessarily.

“There aren’t six kids at George Mason who can throw and catch a football well,” Horn said. “Why would we throw it? Fans who want to see throwing want to see throwing done well. The ideal double-wing throws the ball when you have a chance to create a big play, not when you must throw the ball.”

The ideal goal is to cut the snap count down for an undermanned team, maximizing the offensive time on the field and shortening the game. In a typical game, there are usually around 135 snaps, but Mason aims to cut that down to 115.

Symmetry is another key to the offense. Mason lines up with two tight-ends, two wings, and more than a handful of ball carriers. In a good year, says Horn, 50 percent of the offensive load will be shouldered from one running spot and 25 percent from each of the other two.

“This offense lends itself to a small school where you may not have one athlete who can carry 40 times but you have three who can each carry it 15,” Horn said.

The Mustangs hit the offensive jackpot comes when things continue to go so well on the ground that passing never becomes an option. Mason will routinely go games at a time without throwing the ball.

“We can usually come up with a first down,” Horn said. “In a game of equally matched teams, the ideal double-wing is 90 percent runs and you throw when you have to.”

But in a year when camaraderie on the field is valued above all else, the unified concept of the double-wing takes center stage.

“All 11 people have to be involved on every play,” senior tackle Manuel Veiga-Diaz said. “No one can take a play off. You really have to dedicate yourself to understanding it. If you get one person taking a play off, that will mess everything up.”