Double Wing Dreams: Kumpula & Co. stay loyal to offense, building toward perfection

Eddie Poe photos
Tucker Bopp fights off a Burns defender as he muscles his way toward the end zone. Along with Arnold, Steinmetz and Collier, Bopp is one of four Glenrock running backs who benefits greatly from the double wing offense.  

By: 
Eddie Poe eddie@glenrockind.com

The Burns Broncs were bewildered. They had no answer and were seemingly light years away from discovering one.
Drive after drive, white jerseys found themselves chasing after the Glenrock backfield, like a never-ending track meet. Payton Steinmetz followed intently behind a double team of blockers until a sea of green opened up. Sixty-one yards later, he high-fived teammates in the end zone as the Broncs defense slowly began walking to the sideline, mystified for the fourth time in less than a quarter.
Trailing by 34 points in the second quarter, Burns appeared helpless. The defense wasn’t getting the job done, so they looked to the air, hoping to spread the Glenrock defense out and uncover a vulnerability. Quarterback Kaden Lakin looked to the left side of the field and couldn’t help but telegraph his pass. Steinmetz jumped the route and returned the interception 72 yards for a touchdown to give the Herders a commanding 48-7 lead.
It was all too easy. Burn’s frustrations were on full display for Glenrock’s 76-20 onslaught on homecoming night. The Broncs had no answer for an antiquated, century-old rushing scheme.
For four quarters, they had no answer for the “double wing.”

Birth of the Double Wing
As head coach of the Herders during his first stint from 1990-1996, Ray Kumpula ran a heavy toss and trap offense out of a traditional I-formation. This allowed the offense to consistently outnumber and out-flank opposing defenses.
From 1997-2001, Kumpula served as an assistant coach to Neil Waring. During that time, the Herders ran a split-T offense, effectively spreading their offensive line out to create gaps for their backfield talent to exploit. They won just 12 games in four seasons.
In 2002, Kumpula took over the reigns of the program once again. He began with the T-formation and immediately won two state championships. The following year, in 2004, Glenrock traveled to Kemmerer in week five of the season looking to improve their record to 3-2 after a 27-26 loss to Mountain View at home. There, Kumpula and the Herders ran head on into the double wing offense.
“We couldn’t stop it, they put up 54 points on us,” Kumpula recalled.
One week later, Glenrock lost their star tailback to an injury. So, with an embarrassing 54-7 defeat still fresh on their minds, they began experimenting with the double wing.
The following two years, Kumpula and his coaching staff researched and tinkered with the intricacies of an offense that up until that point, wasn’t known by many. In 2008, a year after going 9-2, the double wing caught its first glimpse of glory as the Herders went 11-0 and were state champions for the eighth time in school history.
When comparing Kumpula’s first stint as head coach before the double wing was implemented, to the first seven years of running it, Glenrock improved its win total by 33 games from 17 to 50.
“It took about 2-3 years for us to really become ingrained in it and learn the ins and outs of it,” Kumpula said. “It fit us. At the time we had one of the worst fields in the state. We practiced a lot on the outfield of the baseball field . . . we were limited to space but that helped with running the double wing.
“We started having success with it and the rest is history.”

X’s and O’s
The double wing has won championships at every age level from Pop Warner through high school. It’s widely acknowledged to have been invented in 1912 by Glenn “Pop” Warner but became a modernized offense over 80 years later.
In 1994, a head coach by the name of Don Markham led his Bloomington High School (Calif.) football team to a state championship after his team scored an eye-opening 880 points in 14 games. That’s an average of 62 points per game and set a national high school scoring record. Markham has won championships in California, Oregon and Europe and is considered by most to be the father of the double wing.
In today’s football world, where the game is rapidly becoming more and more diverse, the double wing is a trick of the past. Since ‘94, many high school teams around the country have attempted to perfect the double wing but quickly found themselves abandoning it either due to a lack of personnel or players having trouble buying into the system.
“It’s more of a system that kids have to adjust to rather than having the skills to succeed in it,” Kumpula said. “You really have to stick to it and be able to move athletes around to fit into the system.”
The double wing is characterized by extremely tight splits along the line of scrimmage, with two mirroring wingbacks angled toward the backfield. It can often be a difficult offense for high school programs to prepare for due to a multitude of reasons, not the least being the elimination of blitzes thanks to one or two-inch splits.
With the modern game of football tending to run heavy with zone-blocking schemes, the double wing attacks with an array of double teams, chips, traps and high-risk cut blocks. As an opposing team, you are essentially tasked with trying to install a new defense in a matter of days. With many new and exotic spread offenses today looking to beat you in a footrace, the double wing seeks to beat you through brute force.

Fitting Into the System
Glenrock starting center Julih Pittsley often went to his older brother’s football practices when he was younger. It’s where he first saw the double wing in action.
“I always liked how ground and pound it was,” he said.
At the head of every offensive play, Pittsley is not only responsible for safely transporting the football into the hands of the quarterback, but it’s also his responsibility to get off the ball and cover the guards before the defensive line can react.
From there, he gets his hands to the defender and drives. It’s all ground and pound.
On the end of the line of scrimmage, Kale Kuhlman is one of three tight ends who play a different role within the double wing.
“It’s my job to double team down any lineman that are in our hole that we need to run through,” he said. “I also help out on the backside when the guards and tackles are pulling.”
As he laughed, Kuhlman added: “Or the very rare times when we get to pass, I’ll go out.”
Kumpula and the Herders have often run the double wing with a run-to-pass ratio of 9:1. For a few years, following the loss of all-state running back Devon Parkinson, Kumpula adapted the offense with the addition of a wideout and started plays out of the shotgun.
In more recent years, with a hard-nosed and athletic backfield - featuring Tucker Bopp, Ian Arnold, Payton Steinmetz and Brysen Collier - the Herders have stockpiled stat sheets with hundreds of rushing yards on a weekly basis. On the rare instance a pass is attempted, like last week against Burns, the defense is almost always too late to react.
“Most teams don’t want to run against the double wing,” Kumpula said. “You have to coach differently, call different plays, you just don’t have a lot of time to defend against it.”
On the surface, the double wing doesn’t appear all that complex. Kumpula and the Herders stick to five basic plays - power, sweep, counter, trap and toss.
“You have to get those five plays down,” he said.
But well within each of those five plays, the double wing thrives because of its many blocking schemes that are run to confuse teams.
For Glenrock, each play carries three different variations with it. But with the offense being run as early as seventh grade for the Herders, it has become an art by the time they take the field for the varsity team.
“The devil is in the details,” Kumpula said. “Regardless of size, we know we can be physical. The question is can you get the details taught to where you can create enough space.”

Double Wing vs. Double Wing
When Glenrock travels to face Kemmerer on Friday, they should know exactly how to defend the 3-2 Rangers. After all, they defend against their offense every day in practice.
“They ran the double wing from 2002-2010 and we lined up against them in the playoffs,” Kumpula said. “They got away from it but now they’re back at it.”
If last week’s 76-point showing was viewed as a never-ending track meet, Friday’s game could be a harsh follow up.
Glenrock is averaging 383 rushing yards per game and 7.7 yards per carry this season to lead the conference. Kemmerer is averaging well below 200 yards on the ground per game, but as Kumpula and the Herders know, confusion can spread quickly when defending against the double wing.
But with four weapons in the backfield and an offensive line that is quickly improving despite a lack of size, Kumpula feels good about where his old school offense can take them.
“The bar is 400 rushing yards per game, that’s what our offensive line hangs their hats on,” he said. “As a group, we want that. We’re not there yet, but by the end of it this could be a very special group.”

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