Surely defenses facing Oak Harbor’s vintage offensive attack this fall will enjoy a reprieve from the physical punishment doled out courtesy of bruising now-graduated running back Princeton Lollar.
But that doesn’t mean keeping the Wildcats out of the end zone will be any easier.
Lollar’s boom is being replaced with a whole lot of zoom.
“One thing I notice about my team is we are a lot quicker than in previous years,” senior running back Taeson Hardin said. “We’re smaller, but quicker.”
Lollar’s storied prep career ended last fall when he rushed for 2,027 yards and 29 touchdowns. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound back broke every school rushing record. Coach Jay Turner billed him a “once-a-lifetime kid.”
So how do the Wildcats replace that lost production? Hardin and fellow senior speed back Tamarik Hollins-Passmore hope to provide an answer, and they’ll be doing so accumulating yards with premier speed instead of power.
Hollins-Passmore and Hardin ranked second and third, respectively, in carries last season. Hollins-Passmore accounted for 742 yards and seven touchdowns on 92 rushes, and Hardin piled up 680 yards and seven TDs on 67 carries.
The duo will be featured pieces in the Wildcats’ old-school Wing-T attack. Turner said Oak Harbor will employ a five- or-six man running back rotation.
“Without a doubt, they are our two main boys there,” Turner said of Hardin and Hollins-Passmore. “Both have a lot of varsity experience, and they have stepped up to the plate and know it is their time to shine. Both had great summers of weight training and are excited for the season.”
While the names leading Oak Harbor’s rushing attack will change, the method won’t. As more and more prep teams are using the spread attack to feature top athletes by getting them the ball in space, the Wildcats accentuate talent differently.
Using a deep stable of backs, slight but quick linemen, a crafty quarterback and plenty of deception, Oak Harbor continues to prove why the Wing-T has survived the evolution of football offenses.
The offense of choice has been woven into the fabric of Oak Harbor’s football program since state title-winning former coach Dave Ward installed it around the year 2000, Turner said.
Turner, a longtime assistant, kept the offense when he took over eight years ago, and while the Wing-T has morphed to match personnel through the years, the foundation of running at teams with deceptive fakes, finding angles and pounding the ball up the middle has endured.
For Oak Harbor, the Wing-T seems to be a perfect cultural fit.
“It suits our personnel really well,” Turner said. “We do not have big kids up here. We do have athletes and kids with speed, and it helps them get out and into the open. Our offensive line is out-sized every year. We might have one kid in our top eight offensive linemen over 200 pounds. It’s all based off angle blocking and that fits our kids who are undersized but very athletic.”
Furthermore, the Wing-T isn’t an overly complex offense to install. And in a military town such as Oak Harbor that sees a higher level of player turnover than most other schools, a quick-learn is beneficial. The system follows the logic of, ‘it’s better to run fewer plays to perfection than an overabundance of mistake-filled plays.’
“We want something that is easy, as kids move in as sophomores and juniors and need to pick up the offense in a short period of time,” Turner said.
Last year the attack yielded a scoring average of 37.3 points per game and the Wildcats surpassed 4,000 yards rushing.
Hardin and Hollins-Passmore are looking forward to the challenge of continuing such heightened run-game success.
“It’s a big opportunity,” Hardin said. “I think a lot of people are doubting us because Princeton is gone. They don’t think we will be as good of a team without him here. We need to step up our game and show what we can do not having a big star like Princeton. This year I think it will take more of a team effort from me and (Hollins-Passmore) and the fullback coming in.”