Phoenix quarterback Neil Emerson wheels around to hand the football off to fullback Wayne Holmes.

Phoenix goes old school under new coach

PHOENIX — Welcome to the old days.

Sure, Phoenix has a new football coach in Walt Bazylewicz, but he will bring with him an offensive system that hearkens to an era when Bucs teams won two state championships and continued to use an antiquated scheme well after it fell from style.

"I wouldn't say we're bringing the spin-T back," says Bazylewicz, referring to the offshoot of the single-wing formation legendary Phoenix coach Jack Woodward used into the 1970s. "But we are bringing a little tradition back to Phoenix football."

Bazylewicz replaced Gordy Crowston, who guided the Pirates to the state playoffs in five of his six years.

Prior to serving as an assistant at Ashland last season, Bazylewicz was the head coach for five years at Rogue River. There, he used his option-based single wing to propel the Chieftains to their first state-playoff appearance in 23 years. His record with the Chieftains was 16-33.

The run-heavy offense seems to be perfect in this situation for Phoenix.

It calls for deft ballhandling by the quarterback, where the Pirates return starter Neil Emerson.

It calls for speed at the point of attack, and Phoenix is a team full of stocky players with above average quickness.

It calls for an adjustment to new assignments, but that shouldn't be problematic because the blocking angles, hole assignments and terminology are as basic as they come.

All the Pirates need is time to get comfortable with the new system, and that's precisely what they have. Phoenix has four nonleague games before opening Skyline Conference play the first week of October.

"The transition has been very smooth, just because it's a pretty straightforward, common-sense type of system," says Bazylewicz. "The kids seem pretty excited about it, and the coaching staff is very excited about it. It's gone extremely well so far."

Phoenix is stronger and deeper at quarterback and wide receiver than Bazylewicz's Rogue River teams, which will allow him to spread out the offense. He estimates the run-pass ratio will be 60-40.

The strength of the Pirates is their speed and intelligence, says the new coach.

"All around speed, for sure," he says. "I would say we have exceptional speed. We're a team full of fullbacks. Our halfback is probably a better fullback, we have a couple of really solid fullbacks, then our two guards and center would make pretty good fullbacks. That's kind of where we are. We've got some guys who like to hit. They might not be the tallest guys around, but they have excellent foot speed and intelligence. That's fun to work with. You can do some stuff when you've got guys like that."

One person Phoenix doesn't have is running back Quinton Walker, a first-team all-conference junior last season who transferred to North Medford.

But the Pirates aren't without talent at the skill positions.

The offensive formation will have Emerson under center, fullback Wayne Holmes lined up directly behind him, halfback Matt Wiegand lined up behind a tackle on either side of Holmes, and wingback Kory Locken lined up just outside the one tight end.

The offense is based on quick option reads and deceptive counter plays, nuances the Pirates are still coming to grips with.

"I'd say that's the biggest adjustment for our ballcarriers and quarterbacks, learning how to fake and having that deception in the backfield," says Bazylewicz.

Emerson provides a solid axis for the offense, and sophomore Chris Kammel figures to get playing time, especially during the nonconference slate.

Wiegand has a powerful lower body and possesses "excellent straight-ahead speed," says Bazylewicz. "He doesn't worry about making a lot of moves."

Holmes has been a pleasant surprise, distinguishing himself with speed, power and the mentality that collisions are good things. Bazylewicz says he was shocked to learn Holmes weighs 175 pounds because the junior plays so much bigger.

Locken, a receiver last year, has moved to wing in order to get him the ball on running plays as well as passing plays and take advantage of his athleticism.

"He's a little more of a juking kind of guy than the other kids," says Bazylewicz.

No player is expected to carry the load. Bazylewicz envisions each running back position getting 30 percent of the carries, and Emerson picking up the rest.

Center Anthony McGarity and guards Joe Backen and Brad Davis key the line play. Jeff Bohn and Ben Crichton are working at tight end and tackle and could be interchangeable. Others in the mix for playing time at the tackle positions are Ty Green, John Davis and Jesse Flaherty.

The wideouts are Zach Smith and Skyler Reagan.

On defense, Locken is a returning first-team all-conference cornerback and punter. Linebacker Noah Berman will be a mainstay in the middle of the 4-3 defense.

The same speed and toughness at other positions will be evident on the defensive side of the ball, says Bazylewicz.

While the long nonconference part of the schedule could be beneficial, it could also be a burden if the Pirates, who are relatively young and therefore lack depth, don't come out of it healthy.

Bazylewicz considers the Pirates a top-three team in the Skyline, "but we need to stay healthy to compete for the championship," he says.

If they reach that level, it will be reminiscent of the old days.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 776-4479, or e-mail

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