Jayson West got his first intimate look at the wing-T offense in 1999.
He was a varsity assistant that season at Center Grove, where a new head coach, Eric Moore, was installing it. Highly complex but highly effective when executed flawlessly, the wing-T got West’s attention. He was an instant fan.
Fourteen years later, West — in his fifth season as head coach of Class 5A No. 1 Lawrence Central — runs a similar version of the same offense.
Although West isn’t sure the unbeaten Bears (13-0) operate the wing-T as efficiently as tonight’s semistate opponent, No. 6 Center Grove (12-1), he has no complaints about the results.
After all, a spotless record — and three players who have each rushed for more than 1,000 yards — speaks volumes about the Bears’ offensive capabilities.
“I don’t know if we run it as well as Center Grove. Those kids have been running the wing-T ever since (Moore) got here,” said West, who left Center Grove after the 1999 season to pursue coaching opportunities in Florida. “They’ve been running it since kindergarten.”
Perhaps. But the Bears have run it, or at least their version of it, effectively all year. They average just a tick under 40 points per game (39.9) and feature three players — running backs Alex Rodriguez and Isaiah Townsend, and quarterback Drake Christen — who have topped 1,000 yards rushing.
Rodriguez has ran for team-high totals of 1,239 yards and 17 touchdowns. Christen has rushed for 1,174 yards and nine scores. And Townsend has sprinted for 1,124 yards and 13 touchdowns and averages a team-high 11 yards per attempt.
But the Bears’ threat doesn’t end on the ground.
Christen has completed 83 of 162 passes for 1,604 yards, 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. He averages 123 passing yards per game and just under 10 yards per completion.
“Our base is a spread wing-T. It’s a fun little offense for our kids,” West said. “They take ownership of it. They do a real nice job with it.”
As dangerous as the Bears are on offense, it’s their defense that gives Moore — who remains close friends with West — the most concern.
Lawrence Central gives up only 9.9 points per game and has yielded double figures only five times.
“Their defense looks like the Baltimore Ravens’, and their offense looks like Oregon’s,” Moore said. “Jayson started here with me in 1999, and those kids play really hard for him.
“They keep it real simple and are a real solid football team.”
One of two unbeaten teams left in the Class 5A (Fort Wayne Snider, which plays 11-2 Merrillville tonight, also is 13-0), Lawrence Central is bidding for its second trip to the state finals in the past three years. The Bears lost to Fishers 38-19 in the 2010 championship game.
“Our kids are great. I love them dearly. They’re kind of like gym rats. That’s what they are,” said West, whose record at Lawrence Central is 50-12. “They love football. This is what they do, and this is what they want to do. They’ve really bought into the program.”
By the same token, he knows the Trojans have done the same thing under Moore, who led them to the state finals in 2000 and 2008. They beat Carmel 36-33 in an epic thriller in the 2008 title game.
“(The Trojans) know their jobs. They’re extremely well-coached and disciplined,” West said. “On defense, too, they’re so well-coached that they don’t have to get out of their comfort zone. They have an answer for everything. And they play against high level competition every year.
“I’m sure they’re not too worried about us. I’m sure they’re worried more about them, and that’s kind of how it works at the end of the year.”