For Mansfield football head coach Mike Redding, it was as though the lights went out.
The Hornets had rolled to Super Bowl titles behind tall-timbered linemen and their power-running scheme. And then, something strange happened.
“It’s funny because it seems like the last three, four years, we haven’t been getting more big linemen,” said Redding, who enters his 25th year at the helm this year. “But what we are getting is a lot of speed and skill.”
So, in recent years, Redding has done what any good coach does, playing to his team’s strength. He adapted with the pace of change and brought the Hornets into the age of the spread offense.
The decision was a matter of mere necessity.
“We don’t have the teams that we used to have, lining up in the ‘I’ and the Wing-T to run powers and isos,” Redding added. “We don’t have that kind of team anymore.”
While the packaging is different, the results have remained largely the same, as Mansfield has won three straight Hockomock (Kelley-Rex) titles from 2010-12, including another trip to the Eastern Mass. Division 2 Super Bowl last season. Quarterbacked by then-junior Kyle Wisnieski, the Hornets utilized their skill on the perimeter, led by the shifty Mike Hershman and a rangy tight end/wide receiver hybrid in Brendan Hill.
They fit the mold of the modern-build Hornet.
“The thing is that we have a lot of athletes who play lacrosse, or play basketball, in other seasons,” Redding said. “I think those kids are attracted to the offense.
“Now, we’re putting four, five guys out in a formation on offense, whereas before we were lining up with one split end and a couple of wing backs. Now, we have all these athletes on the field who can run, catch the ball and make plays.”
Mansfield’s stylized offense has come with other added wrinkles and benefits. Redding sees the Hornets pushing the pace on offense this year, again playing to strengths of team speed and conditioning.
Also, with Wisnieski’s maturity under center, Mansfield increasingly has built checks into the play-calling, meaning just about every signal from sidelines comes with two possible play options. It’s then the job of the quarterback to pick which of the two calls is most appropriate against the shown defense.
“It keeps us from guessing in the huddle, which is what we used to do,” Redding said.
Meaning that the lights won’t go out again.
MANSFIELD AT A GLANCE
Coach: Mike Redding (25th season, 204-66-4)
2012: 8-5, lost in Division 2 Eastern Mass. Super Bowl.
Players to watch: Brendan Hill, Jr. TE/DE, 6-5, 205 lbs.; Mike Hershman, Sr. WR/DB, 6-2, 175 lbs.; Kyle Wisnieski, Sr. QB, 6-0, 165 lbs.; Alex Ruddy, Sr. FB/LB, 5-10, 175 lbs.; Kyle Hurley, Sr. RB/DB, 5-10, 160 lbs.; Steve Zielselman, Sr. OL/DL, 6-2, 220 lbs.; Max Trowbridge, Sr. OL/DE, 6-0, 185 lbs.
Strengths: Passing game.
Weakness: Lack of game experience at running back.
Outlook: Talk about starting the season with a bang. Mansfield kicks off Friday with a visit to Baltimore and Maryland powerhouse Dunbar. The Hornets have made it a habit of taking on premiere out-of-state games early in the season, having most recently played Christian Brothers (N.Y.) in Syracuse. “The best thing is the team bonding experience,” Redding said. “The kids get on a bus on Wednesday and they’ll be together twenty-four-seven until Saturday night. I think that builds a unity for the full length of the season.”