Sussex Central rides Wing-T to state football finals

NEWARK — The Wing-T will be returning to Delaware Stadium on Saturday.

Sussex Central High brings its version of the unique offense into its matchup with Salesianum in the DIAA Division I football state championship game at 1 p.m.

The game will be played on Tubby Raymond Field — named after the legendary University of Delaware coach and one of the pioneers of the Wing-T. Raymond passed away almost a year ago at the age of 91 last December.

“I’m sure Tubby will be smiling somewhere watching the game,” said Sussex Central coach John Wells.

Wells has been running the Wing-T his entire coaching career.

He was first hired when he was 22 years old as a physical education teacher and was asked to coach football at Georgetown Middle School. He spent six years there before moving over to Sussex Central.

Now in his 23rd season as head coach, Wells’ Wing-T has some new wrinkles but is still the same base as what he learned from Chris Sizemore, who ran it at Georgetown Middle before him.

“That was one of the things I had to look at when I first took over,” Wells said. “Do I keep this offense? Or do I change it? My coaches and I have taken the Wing-T and put our own fingerprints on it. We still run the traditional core plays but have some things we’ve integrated into the offense.”

Wells would travel up to Newark in the offseason during the late 1990s to attend Raymond’s camps at the University of Delaware.

The camp was run by another Wing-T guru, Ted Kempski, a former UD quarterback and longtime offense coordinator. Kempski, coincidentally, was a star quarterback at Salesianum, Central’s opponent on Saturday, before attending Delaware.

“Those camps would have 700 or 800 kids all the way from Maine and North Carolina,” Wells said. “Tubby would always come out and speak to the kids.”

As more and more offenses have switched to the spread, Wells has preferred to adjust the Wing-T as opposed to switching to a new system.

The Golden Knights are versatile in what they can do. Quarterback Isaac Barnes can line up in the shotgun or under center depending on the game plan.

Central does throw the ball more than most traditional Wing-T teams. Barnes threw for a pair of touchdowns and 154 yards in a 21-20 semifinal victory over Dover High last week.

But the Golden Knights still show the famous Wing-T plays with buck sweeps, guard traps, play-action waggles and the counter criss-cross.

About a decade ago, numerous Delaware high schools were running the Wing-T. But this year, Salesianum coach Bill DiNardo said Sussex Central will be the only Wing-T his team will face this season.

“A Wing-T team presents a challenge where not only do we have to be really tough and really physical but we have to be smart,” DiNardo said. “We have to be where our plan tells us to be. If not, they’ll beat you up because they’ll beat you up with a lack of discipline.”

DiNardo agreed having a quarterback like Barnes makes the Golden Knights’ offense more difficult to defend.

“They’re very competent throwing the ball downfield,” DiNardo said. “They’re fearless throwing the ball. The kid does a great job and becomes an extra threat that we’ll have to defend.”

And since Georgetown Middle still runs the Wing-T, Barnes was ready to run the offense when he first got to Sussex Central.

“He’s been running the system since he was in middle school,” Wells said. “When a kid is in your program for that long and is a student of the game, you can do some exotic things. We can go shotgun, run base plays, we can sprint him out, we can run him. He’s a pretty talented kid and if you don’t have a kid like that at the helm then it would change a lot of your offense.”

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