Carl Reed is old school.
His favorite offense was invented before helmets and pads.
The Lutheran North football coach, Reed is a devoted disciple of the Wing-T. It's a run-centric system that features three running backs in the backfield. When the quarterback takes the snap, he chooses which runner gets the ball or he can keep it himself. It makes it hard for the defense to identify and tackle the ball carrier. It was the backbone of college football dynasties at Notre Dame in the 1940s and Oklahoma in the 1950s.
“Look how effective it's been,” Reed said. “The misdirection, the slight of hand, the way it allows you to utilize your backs. No one ever knows who has the ball. It's just proven.”
The Crusaders have proven hard to beat. The last three seasons, Lutheran North is 31-8 and half of those losses came in last year's 10-4 campaign. It has played in the Class 2 semifinals the last two seasons, where it was beaten by eventual state champions Lamar and Blair Oaks.
Lutheran North is the No. 2 small school in the STLhighschoolsports.com preseason rankings.
Graduation gobbled up the Crusaders' top offensive player in running back Isaiah Azubuike, who rushed for 1,237 yards and 19 touchdowns. He signed with Arkansas State. Top offensive line prospect Jack Bufford signed with Missouri. The defense lost defensive end D'Vion Harris (Minnesota) and highly rated defensive tackle Kevon Billingsley transferred to East St. Louis.
For every loss there is a new addition. Senior linebacker Antonio Doyle (6-foot-4, 225 pounds) is a top college prospect who transferred back to Lutheran North after playing his sophomore year and three games of his junior year at Hazelwood West. He'll be eligible for the Crusaders on Sept. 27.
Junior defensive back Toriano Pride (5-11, 172) transferred from Vianney last winter. He is a high-major prospect with scholarship offers from Florida State, Oklahoma State, Minnesota and Purdue.
One new addition the Crusaders won't have is junior defensive end Travion Ford (6-3, 207), transferred to Lutheran North from Lutheran St. Charles in February. He has been ruled ineligible for the season by the Missouri State High School Activities Association. He has an appeal hearing scheduled in September. Ford received more than 20 scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama, Arkansas and Florida State along with Missouri and Illinois.
All of these new pieces are working to fit with the returning team that includes senior defensive end/linebacker Itayvion “Tank” Brown (6-4, 215), who has verbally committed to Minnesota; senior safety Cam Griffin (6-0, 155), who has pledged to Western Michigan; and senior defensive back Aubrey Parker (5-9, 170), who had 71 tackles and two interceptions as a junior.
On paper, the Crusaders have a ferocious defense that appears certain to make opposing offenses miserable this fall. Reed will believe it when he sees it.
“You're talking about great individual talent, but we have to see if they can fit together and work as a unit,” Reed said. “You don't stop (someone) because you have stars by your name. You have to move as a unit. If they can move as a unit they can be really tough defensively.”
The offense remains mostly intact with four starters returning to the line. Senior Talon Dotson (6-2, 275), juniors Jaylin Knox (5-10, 300) and Justen Richardson (6-1, 260) and sophomore Marquis Cain (6-3, 300) are the Crusaders backbone.
“They've been playing really great for us since they were very young,” Reed said. “I'm excited about them and what they can do as a unit.”
Sophomore running back Ali Wells (5-10, 165) rushed for 675 yards, 10 touchdowns and averaged more than 11 yards per carry. Senior Jalen Head (5-8, 175) has been waiting for the chance to get more carries. His time has arrived.
“I'm intrigued by him this year,” Reed said. “He's a talented back.”
Senior Jordan Smith (5-10, 165) was forced into starting quarterback duties in the second game last season. He completed 35 of 70 passes for 610 yards, nine touchdowns and was intercepted six times. Smith rushed for 458 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Reed said the Crusaders will throw the ball when there are opportunities. Brown was their best receiver last season with 17 receptions for 308 yards and four touchdowns.
Lutheran North's bread and butter will be its run game. In spite of his recent rash of talented teams falling short on their quest for the program's sixth state championship Reed remains steadfast in his belief the Wing T will get the Crusaders where they want to go.
“I think that in life any time that people run into obstacles and you change your course you put yourself even further away,” Reed said. “There are some other things we have to do internally as a program to get over the hump. We know what those things are. We'll know in December if we addressed and fixed them or not.”