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Speake's football seniors have seen their scoring average increase every year since they were freshmen in 2004. The Wing-T formation has the Bobcats averaging 39.9 points a game this year. Seniors are, from left, first row, Jesse Crowe, Cary Logan and T.J. Green. In the second row are Zach Taylor, Chase Atkins and Corey Taylor.
Daily photo illustration by Gary Cosby Jr. and Laura Taylor
Speake's football seniors have seen their scoring average increase every year since they were freshmen in 2004. The Wing-T formation has the Bobcats averaging 39.9 points a game this year. Seniors are, from left, first row, Jesse Crowe, Cary Logan and T.J. Green. In the second row are Zach Taylor, Chase Atkins and Corey Taylor.

Wing-T flying high
7-1 Speake posting nearly 40 points a game this season

By Brooke Milam · 340-2460

SPEAKE — Two seasons ago, Speake High football coach Heath Grimes took a huge leap of faith.

Grimes saw his team competing, but not winning, and he decided to make a major change for a squad that won just five games in 2004 and 2005 combined.

"We played some decent football, but we weren't scoring enough points to win games," said Grimes, who is now in his fifth season as the school's head coach.

Grimes believed the solution was a new offense — saying goodbye to the I-set and bringing in the Wing-T.

"I was scared to death because I knew we could be good, and I didn't want to take a step back or do anything to set us back," Grimes said.

In its first test as a Wing-T team, Speake faced Tanner, a quality 2A opponent with a string of postseason successes, in a fall jamboree game in 2006. The Bobcats won, and Grimes and his players haven't second-guessed the decision since.

"They'll tell you they're very proud of their offense," Grimes said. "They love the Wing-T."

And why shouldn't they?

After falling in the second week of the season 19-0 to Hazlewood, the fourth-ranked team in Class 1A, Speake has rolled up 48.3 points a game in the six games since — all wins. Even with the shutout, the No. 10-ranked Bobcats are averaging 39.9 points a game on their way to a 7-1 record.

They already have clinched a spot in the 1A state playoffs and likely will face Donoho at home Nov. 9.

After installing the Wing-T, Speake scored 30.8 points a game last season. That's a marked improvement over 2004, when the Bobcats managed 7.5 points a game and 2005, when the figure was 13.5.

The Wing-T isn't common among Class 1A teams.

In fact, Grimes said his team hasn’t faced another Wing-T team all season.

But for the Bobcats, it has been the right choice, and it just seems to keep getting better.

“It’s just now really started to click in the last couple of weeks,” said senior quarterback T.J. Green. “Scoring a lot of points — we’ve learned that in the playoffs you’ll have to score more, so you don’t want to be satisfied with just winning.”

Speake has found success in the Wing-T by using many of the same players who suffered through some tough times in previous years.

Green has started at quarterback since the second half of his freshman season, while senior receiver Zach Vick is also a four-year starter.

Senior Zack Taylor is a former offensive lineman and tailback now playing fullback in the new system, and he also was a key component in the Bobcats’ offense long before the point totals began to skyrocket.

“I was happy when we changed to the Wing-T,” Taylor said, grinning widely. “I get to score a little bit more.”

Fortunately for Speake, everyone is scoring a little more — of the Bobcats’ 47 touchdowns this season, 11 different players have at least one.

Grimes said his fullbacks — which include Taylor, senior Chase Atkins and sophomore Joe Hyde — get twice as many carries as the other backs in Speake’s offense.

Taylor has 510 yards on 62 carries this season with seven touchdowns, while Atkins has 52 attempts for 301 yards and three scores. Sophomore wingback Tyler Gillespie has 40 carries for 308 yards and four touchdowns, and junior Dez Polk’s 53 carries for 725 yards rushing and 10 rushing touchdowns lead the Bobcats.

Green has completed 32 of 66 passes for 663 yards and six touchdowns this season, including three scoring tosses to leading receiver Vick. Vick has 19 catches for 436 yards this season.

The Bobcats have found other ways to score as well. Vick has returned four interceptions for touchdowns this season. The Alabama High School Athletic Association lists the state record in a season as six.

Polk has scored 90 points this season, and his totals include three punt and kickoff returns for touchdowns.

There’s no talk of a successful offense without a good offensive line, and Speake regularly lines up a larger offensive front than its opposition. What was thought to be a trouble spot in the preseason has turned into a strength for the Bobcats.

“We’ve had some big boys step into place,” senior tight end/tackle Corey Taylor said. “Coach got on us there for a few weeks, and we stepped it up.”

Grimes said his starting line includes offensive tackles K.C. Orr at 6-foot-3, 240 pounds and Terrence Williams (6-2, 245), guards Jesse Crowe (6-1, 210) and Demetrae Griffin (6-1, 265), center Ben Hjelm (5-11, 165), and Taylor (6-2, 190) at tight end.

“That’s big,” Grimes said. “They’re also more physical and stronger than most of the teams we play.”

Grimes said his ideal mark is at least 400 yards rushing per week — a goal the Bobcats have met the past two weeks in wins over Phillips-Bear Creek and Shoals Christian.

Four of Speake’s five starting linemen play both ways, and the players agree that the defense could hold up even without a high-scoring offense.

Veteran coach Rory Carpenter came on in 2006 as defensive coordinator, and so far this season, the Bobcats’ first-team defense has given up no more than 14 points before halftime in any contest.

“The defense is largely responsible for a lot of this,” Grimes said. “They force a lot of three-and-out, and we have a lot more opportunities to have the ball because of that.”

And Speake has made the most of its opportunities this season. More chances have meant more points, and that’s what Grimes said it’s taken to prove that last year’s 9-3 finish was no fluke.

Speake was region champion last year, and Grimes said most thought his team was a one-year wonder, but the Bobcats are still winning — and doing it with plenty of points.

“Maybe not just to be competitive, but to win — yes,” Grimes said. “I think they’ve probably learned to value the winning because they know what it’s like to be on the other side. It taught them to believe in the philosophy of what I say and to believe in their teammates, and we’re enjoying some of that now.”

Speake’s offense

The Speake Bobcats football team is finding success running the Wing-T offense. The Class 1A school in Lawrence County is averaging 39.9 points a game this year and owns a 7-1 record. In the past four years, the points keep piling up.

2004: 7.5 points a game.

2005: 13.5 points a game.

2006: 30.8 points a game.

2007: 39.9 points a game.

Brooke Milam

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