JEFFERSON — The Jefferson Eagles went to the spread offense in 2018. It was a transformational experience.
Not only were they going away from a system that had helped build sustainable success and consistent trips to the playoffs, but they were making a seismic shift from double-wing offense to the spread.
The goal was to get more athletes in space. It was going to be a process that appeared to be a changing of the guard.
Well, after the Eagles went 6-4 with the defense keeping them in games, they are going back to the system that worked with pulling guards and tight spacing in order to grind down opponents.
Putting it simply: The double-wing offense is back.
“I’m calling the offense again for the first time in a long time, so I had to go back to what I knew,” Jefferson head coach Steve Gee said.
Gee had entrusted the offense to long-time assistant coach Mark Peterson, who started coaching softball and decided he didn’t want to coach football anymore following the graduation of his son. Nick Whalen, who had served as an assistant coach, took over offensive coordinator responsibilities and that included running spread offense.
Whalen decided not to coach anymore after last season and the School District of Jefferson hired Aaron Erickson as a physical education teacher. Erickson was familiar with coaching defenses, so Gee returned to the offense.
And that’s how the double-wing made its way back.
But what do the athletes think? After all, they were excited to play in the space created by the spread offense.
“We have one of the biggest lines in the conference, so we’ll be able to use that to our advantage in the double-wing,” senior center Quincy Wilharm said. The tradition of running the double-wing isn’t lost on Wilharm, whose father Dan hired Gee 12 years ago when he was athletic director. “We’re going back to Gee’s blood.”
Junior Noah Schultz, who is the most talented of the Jefferson linemen, agreed with the positivity surrounding the return to the old offense. Plays hit faster because there’s less room for defensive players to maneuver. In the double-wing, the players have an assignment and the assignment is straight forward.
“It’s a faster tempo and we can control the game better,” Schultz said. “And it gets yards. We have fast running backs and if we make a hole for them, they can just go.”
As attractive trends like the triple option and spread have come and gone, Gee believed in the simplicity of the double-wing.
The Eagles have the running backs to do it with too. Dean Neff didn’t have any carries as a junior, but he’ll be the bull in the backfield. Jeff Zeh is the smaller of the two featured backs, but he possesses as much speed as anyone in the program.
“I’m the one who will get you four or five yards every time,” Neff said. “Jeff is the one who, if he gets some
“It was always like that growing up. We had been doing this offense for seven years before we switched last year.”
Gee expects they’ll have room to run and he has the double-wing to thank for that.
“I think our guys have learned to pull and they’re used to having guys foot-to-foot with them,” Gee said. “Being in space was a learning experience for them last year. I think we saw some positive things that we can do, but we saw some things where we struggled because guys weren’t used to being in that much space. We’re good at double teaming and we’re good at pulling. We talk about doing things that the kids are comfortable with and the kids are comfortable with it.
“We went into practice and we ran power right away and it looked like we had been doing it the whole time.”
That bodes well for the running backs. And what bodes well for the running backs usually bodes well for Jefferson football.