The T formation is often said to be the oldest offensive formation in American football and is claimed to have been invented by Walter Camp in 1882. – Wikipedia.
The hottest offense in Minnesota high school football is 136 years old, and Elk River coach Steve Hamilton has become a guru of the T formation. The Elks won the Class 5A state championship two years ago, lost to Owatonna in the 2017 title game and fell to the Huskies 39-8 in Friday’s semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
And to think, Hamilton began his career as a head coach running a spread offense. But he has long been running the T formation with the Elks and said Friday he has heard from 16 other coaches in Minnesota who wanted to learn about it.
“Some have taken pieces, some are all in,” he said. “That’s why I went to it; we needed something to level the playing field and compete with the teams we had to play with. It’s certainly helped me in my career. I’m sure it’s made my career last longer than I ever thought it would. Twenty-one years as a head coach and I don’t know if I ever thought I would still be coaching at this point.”
Barnesville, which beat Minneapolis North 34-20 in Friday’s Class 2A semifinals, uses the T, as does Lakeville South, which met Lakeville North in the 6A semis in Friday’s last game. The basic T formation is very simple: seven linemen bunched in tight, quarterback under the center and three running backs lined up a row behind the quarterback. (Photo: Elk River on offense.)
“I watched Elk River run theirs and it’s very similar to what we want in our wing T,” said Barnesville coach Bryan Strand. “Misdirection, angle blocks, you don’t have to have gigantic linemen. I emailed (Hamilton) and he was fantastic.
“We went down there and met with him over the summer and he gave me all of their film, he answered questions, he’s been the go-to guy even during the season. He’s just there to help us out. He was smiling really big when we walked through at halftime (leading 28-8) because we run their offense.”
Hamilton said, “Did I ever think I was going to come to Minnesota and suddenly people would come to me about the offense I’m running? It’s been pretty cool.”
Owatonna clearly was prepared for the Elks on Friday. Elk River averaged 44 points and more than 400 rushing yards per game this season; the Elks rushed 45 times for 125 yards in scoring eight points against Owatonna.
“To be able to hold those guys to eight points and actually force them to throw to get their touchdown, we felt like that was a major accomplishment,” said Huskies coach Jeff Williams.
“It’s not really a secret,” Hamilton said. “If you’re really disciplined and you’re better than us up front, and that’s what they’ve been the last two years.”
Elk River’s record over the past three years is 34-4.
“If you would have said 34-4 and a state title, we would all have jumped on that,” Hamilton said. “It’s been an incredible run and this group of kids has been awesome. And it’s really them, the kids do this. This isn’t about the coaches, it isn’t about the families, it’s about the kids. The game’s for the kids and they’ve been incredible kids to coach.”
Hamilton taught and coached in Michigan and Georgia before coming to Elk River in 2011. He used a spread offense in Michigan but ran into issues.
“We found out real quick that if guys can’t get open, they can just pin their ears back and it’s a long night for the quarterback,” he said. He contacted a longtime successful coach there who ran the T and learned about it.
“He’s still the guy I call every week,” Hamilton said, “and every year I show him the Owatonna film and he says, ‘You guys are in trouble.’ ”Tournament Tidbits
--Mountain Lake Area
junior quarterback Abraham Stoesz had a big day, completing 10 of 16 passes for 134 yards and one touchdown, and rushing 15 times for 102 yards and another score in the Warriors’ 42-8 nine-man win over Mountain Iron-Buhl. The Wolverines advanced to next Friday’s Prep Bowl XXXVII, where they will face defending champion Spring Grove for the nine-man state title.
Mountain Lake Area is a cooperative team with students from Mountain Lake High and Mountain Lake Christian. It’s the third version of Mountain Lake to go to state in football. Mountain Lake High was the Class C state runner-up in 1980, Mountain Lake/Butterfield-Odin went to state three times between 1991 and 2003 (finishing as 1A runner-up in 2002) and the current Mountain Lake Area program is at state for the fourth time since 2012.
Friday’s game was the Wolverines’ first at U.S. Bank Stadium, and Stoesz was asked about pregame jitters.
“We come out, we’re on the field and we had a little bit of nerves,” he said. “But when the game starts, stick your chest out and turn your nerves into pride.”
--Mountain Iron and Buhl have a tournament history similar to Mountain Lake’s. Mountain Iron High was the Class B state champ in 1972 (the first year of football playoffs) and also went to state in 1973 and 1982. Mountain Iron-Buhl made its sixth state appearance since 1983.--Barnesville’s victory
put the Trojans into the Class 2A Prep Bowl game against three-time defending state champion Caledonia at 1 p.m. Nov. 23. --Willmar rolled past
St. Paul Johnson 62-20 in Class 4A. The Cardinals will face SMB in the Prep Bowl at 4 p.m. Nov. 23.--In Friday night’s final game,
Lakeville North beat Lakeville South 35-13 in Class 6A. North will face Eden Prairie in the Prep Bowl at 7 p.m. Nov. 23.Football State Semifinal Schedule
At U.S. Bank Stadium
Thursday, Nov. 15
Nine-Man: Spring Grove 48, Cromwell-Wright 12
Class 2A: Caledonia 40, Paynesville 6
Class 4A: SMB 23, Waseca 15
Class 6A: Eden Prairie 34, Blaine 14Friday, Nov. 16
Nine-Man: Mountain Lake Area 42, Mountain Iron-Buhl 8
Class 2A: Barnesville 34, Minneapolis North 20
Class 5A: Owatonna 39, Elk River 8
Class 4A: Willmar 62, St. Paul Johnson 20
Class 6A: Lakeville North 35, Lakeville South 13Saturday, Nov. 17
9 a.m. Class 1A: BOLD vs. Blooming Prairie
11:30 a.m. Class 1A: Mahnomen/Waubun vs. Springfield
2 p.m. Class 3A: Pierz vs. Rochester Lourdes
4:30 p.m. Class 3A: Perham vs. Fairmont
7 p.m. Class 5A: Bemidji vs. St. Thomas AcademyFollow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn