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There are four primary reasons for the single wing's resurgence at the high school level:
• It does not require a skilled quarterback, which is the toughest position to fill on any team.
• Its complex double teams, trap blocks and backfield deception allow teams that would otherwise be overmatched physically to be competitive.
• By snapping to a player who can run with the ball, the offense forces the defense to account for an extra threat (instead of dismissing the traditional quarterback as a handoff machine).
• Even with its growing popularity, the single wing is still relatively rare, which means defenses simply do not see it frequently enough to defend against it comfortably. It is an annoyance, a disruption to the fastidiously organized practice and video regimen that fuels every week in a football season at all levels of the game.
Unsurprisingly, these same virtues appeal to teams at higher levels. (This is the place for a disclaimer that is designed to fend off the admonitions of purists: There is single wing football, and there is pure single wing football, which involves tight—rather than spread—formations, spinning fullbacks and old-fashioned shoulder blocking. But any offense that begins with a direct snap to a player who is a threat to run with it owes a debt to the single wing.)
As the single wing reestablished a foothold in the high school game, it resurfaced at the college level, where running quarterbacks have always been a staple, whether in the single wing, T formation or wishbone. But it was a form known as the Wildcat that climbed from high school all the way to the NFL.
The Wildcat was born at Springdale (Ark.) High in the fall of 2001. Springdale coach Gus Malzahn, then 35 and in his 11th year of high school coaching, had a speedy flanker named Dusty Johnson, who had been a junior high quarterback. "We were just trying to think of ways to get him the ball," says Malzahn, now the offensive coordinator at Tulsa. "We put him in the shotgun and ran the speed sweep, reverse, quarterback power. Had some pretty good success with it. People started asking me if I had any background in the single wing. I didn't know what they meant."
At Springdale, Malzahn called the formation Heavy. He was hired as offensive coordinator at Arkansas in 2006 and installed the formation there, with future NFL running backs Darren McFadden at quarterback and Felix Jones at wingback. Here the name Wildcat emerged, says Malzahn, because Arkansas already had a similar formation in place and it was called Wildcat. It later became the Wild Hog, for obvious reasons.
At least one coach disputes Malzahn's story by claiming prior ownership of the name, and his case is compelling. Hugh Wyatt is an energetic, entrepreneurial 70-year-old Yale graduate who has coached high school football for 32 years (he is currently coaching in Ocean Shores, Wash.) and has developed a wide following through clinics and the sale of DVDs explaining his double wing offense. In December 1998 Wyatt wrote an article for Scholastic Coach and Athletic Director magazine, describing a direct-snap, double wing formation similar to what Malzahn would install three years later at Springdale. In his article Wyatt suggested to coaches looking for a curveball, You might want to take a look at our "Wildcat" package, and he went on to explain that it was named for the mascot at La Center (Wash.) High, where he was employed at the time. "I believe Gus Malzahn has a selective memory," says Wyatt.