Friday, September 03, 1999

Sycamore rolling up the points

Enquirer contributor

Sycamore running backs Sean Camp, left, and George Wells help fuel the Aviators' wide-open offense, which gained 385 yards in the opener.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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        Tom Osborne has taken up residence in the Sycamore school district. Well, if not as a physical presence, at least as a philosophical one.

        The ideas of the legendary Nebraska football coach moved into the neighborhood last year along with then-new Aviators head coach Tom Adams.

        “Our main offensive philosophy has an element of option in there, an element of the power game and an element of the pass,” said Adams, who latched onto Osborne's approach at a coaching clinic years ago and has since has a track record of producing high-octane offenses.

        Through his first 11 games at Sycamore, Adams' philosophical mix has proven potent. Last year's 8-2 team averaged 32.5 points per game and gained nearly 4,000 yards of offense. This year's squad, which plays at LaSalle (1-0) tonight at 7:30 p.m., opened the season last Friday with a 385-yard night in a 35-7 romp over Mason.

        Adams brought to Sycamore a run-and-shoot type offense based around a double-slot alignment. It gives his teams tremendous versatility in their attack.

        Back in 1993, his Springfield South team was known for the passing combination of quarterback Chris Wallace and receiver Dee Miller. That team averaged 41 points a game, and the same offense allowed Sycamore to run for 3,000 yards a year ago.

        “This offense is about big plays, running the option and keeping the defense on their heels,” says George Wells, who plays the featured position of left slot. The slot backs are threats as both runners and receivers, and Wells gained 1,682 all-purpose yards last year to lead the Greater Miami Conference in scoring.

        "George is not a real flashy player, but he has a unique ability to make people miss,” Adams said. Adams thinks Wells is representative of Sycamore players in that he's not as athletic as some of the threats Adams has had in the past, but is willing to make up for it in toughness and work ethic.

        “He's very strong and he's not afraid to take the ball up into the line. He'll get the ball a lot of different ways,” Adams said. Against Mason, Wells scored twice on pass receptions and gained 99 yards as a receiver.

        Unpredictability from the offense can cause defenses to melt down at the line of scrimmage. With the two slot players, Sycamore can send out four receivers on a play, or run the option out of the same alignment. Sycamore's offensive players make reads based on how the defense is aligned when they approach the line of scrimmage. A lot of mental pressure is placed on the quarterback — this year, it's a new starter in junior Ashwin Corattiyil — who makes the final decision on play selection about 75 percent of the time, according to Adams.

        With eight offensive starters back, Sycamore figured to be quick out of the gate with its offense. Besides Wells, fullback Sean Camp (128 yards rushing last week) and part-time starter Mike Hall at slot were returning, along with four starters on a sizeable offensive line and two receivers.

        The surprise last week was the play of the defense, with an inexperienced lineup holding Mason scoreless the final three quarters. Sycamore runs the same scheme from retired head coach Jim Allison's regime, with defensive coordinator Reed Chacksfield still masterminding it.

        “We just go out and throw everything we've got at (opponents),” said defensive end Larry Mates. “We don't let them run at us, we attack. It's a powerhouse defense.”

        Sycamore missed a playoff berth a year ago. The Aviators finished sixth in the race for the region's four Division I playoff berths, their chances killed by a late-season 17-16 loss to Fairfield.

        This year, the team's goal is to win the GMC title for the first time in school history, according to Mates. With the playoffs expanded to eight teams, that would probably lock up a playoff berth, something that has only happened at Sycamore once before — back in 1996, when this year's seniors were freshmen.

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