Muskegon Orchard View was unbeaten in 1993 with a pair of players who would go on to play Division I college football when it met Belding in the state playoffs. Without a Division I player on its roster, Irv Sigler’s Belding team and his wing-T offense defeated Orchard View, 34-15.
Despite being an I-formation team back then, there was something about the wing-T that fascinated Orchard View coach John Shillito.
“We looked at it and felt we did not have the guys to do what we were doing,” Shillito said, “but we felt like we had guys to do what they were doing.”
The next season Orchard View made the move to the wing-T — and high school football in Michigan hasn’t been the state since.
Shillito has since ended up at Zeeland West, completing his 11th season there this fall by winning the school’s fourth state championship and being named the Free Press’ 2015 All-State Dream Team coach of the year.
There are many teams in the state that employ the wing-T, but few run it like West runs it — two tight ends and a full-house backfield.
“People give it a lot of names,” Shillito said. “You hear the power-T, but we don’t care what they call it. We know what we’re going to run.”
Shillito, 58, has had an amazing coaching career, beginning as an assistant coach in 1979 at Remus-Chippewa Hills.
His first head coaching job came at Comstock Park in 1982, but he had known long before that he was going to teach and coach — as far back as the eighth grade at Royal Oak’s Mary Lyon Junior High.
“I had a teacher and a coach named Dave Dursum and he taught history,” Shillito recalled. “It might have been perfect timing. He was just a really, really good hands-on kind of history teacher and he coached football. I came from an athletic family, my dad played minor league baseball, and so it was part of who I was.
“I wanted to teach history and coach football.”
A history major with an education emphasis at Central Michigan, where he also played football, Shillito taught U.S. history for over 20 years before moving into the physical education department.
“I still like it,” he said. “I’m still kind of a history buff.”
Not only has Shillito taught history, he has made history with his version of the wing-T. He has become the state’s foremost authority on the offense and now he teaches others.
“We share with people that run it,” Shillito said. “I think that’s one of the great things about high school coaching. There’s a lot of brotherhood in our fraternity.”
Over the years, Shillito has had unparalleled success with the offense. After 14 seasons at Orchard View he moved to East Kentwood, which he had in the state finals three years later. Following the 2003 season he moved to Zeeland, which was preparing to open a second high school, so Shillito had a year to prepare for its first season in 2005.
A year later, West won the first of its four state championships.
In his 32 seasons as a head coach, Shillito has a 266-83 record. His 11 West teams have a remarkable 111-22 record with an amazing 29-5 mark in the state playoffs.
It is difficult to compare teams, but the players on the current West team have had a lengthy history with Shillito and his coaches.
“We really felt like our group of seniors were a special group as how they’ve gone about their time,”he said. “This group goes back to third-graders and they’ve been around our program a lot. They’re good kids and they’ve really been a pleasure to work with.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.