Never in his most elaborate scenarios did Elk River coach Steve Hamilton see his life traveling down this path.
Raised in Escanaba, Mich., a Yooper through and through, Hamilton had coached football at a handful of high schools in Michigan and Georgia when a decision loomed in 2011. Looking to move closer to his roots and his wife's family, he accepted the head coach position at Elk River.
The Elks program was in tough shape at the time. Playing in the Northwest Suburban Conference against larger schools, success had been hard to come by. In the five years before Hamilton's arrival, Elk River had won a total of five games.
Things got even worse in 2010, when a high-profile offseason hazing incident rattled the program. Several players were either shown the door or decided to leave.
Hamilton arrived and took the program in a new direction. Change was everywhere for the Elks in 2011, including in the playbook. A coach of spread offenses in his other stops, Hamilton realized he needed something new.
"I knew we had to do something different," he said. A coach back in Michigan came to mind.
"John Shillito. His teams would run the Power-T and they had so much success with it," Hamilton said. "They were never a team of superstars. It was an offense that you could win with average kids that worked hard. You just have to be fully committed to it."
Hamilton installed the Power-T, a different look at the time. He reached out to Shillito, even traveling to Michigan to see it firsthand.
When he brought it back to Elk River, there was the usual uncertainty and skepticism. It's a run-heavy offense, after all. Who gets excited about that?
Halfway through Hamilton's first season, believers were plenty.
After a winless campaign the year before, the Elks won their first four games, lost to powerful Becker by a single point, 49-48, then won two more.
This Power-T idea was going to work.
So well, in fact, that the Elks have had just one sub-.500 season since Hamilton took over and won the Class 5A state championship in 2016.
The Elks (12-0) meet Mankato West (12-0) on Saturday in the Class 5A title game on Day 2 of the Prep Bowl.
What is the Power-T?
The offense Hamilton put in is not new. It has been around for most of the past century. There are three distinct parts: a disciplined, tight offense line; three running backs lined up in a straight line to create a T formation with the lineman; and a deft quarterback.
When the play starts, the line goes into action. Some linemen pull, some cross-block, some fire straight out, creating a seam.
The running backs are in immediate motion as well — up the middle on a straight dive, angling off-tackle or even delaying briefly to avoid a logjam. Every back proceeds as if he's getting the ball, carrying through with fakes that often confuse defenders and fans alike.
The ball-carrier is generally designated when the play is called. Because of its quick, tight movements with everyone carrying out an assignment, it puts pressure on defenses to locate the ball-carrier quickly. If they don't, the result is often a running back or quarterback racing 20 yards downfield before anyone notices.
"Defenses just can't cheat to stop it," Hamilton said. "Everything we do looks the same pre-snap."
It's both a ball-control offense and a quick-strike approach simultaneously. Elk River averages more than 419.4 yards per game rushing this season — a whopping total for most teams, par for the course to the Elks. They have scored 559 points, topping 50 five times with a high of 67.
Because of its dizzying approach, it's often lauded as deceptive. That part is often overemphasized, Hamilton said. "The fakes are a part of it — a good fake can take 4, 5 guys out of a play — but fakes are a part of all offenses. It's just not stressed."
It's a physical, tough way to play, but the results have been such that few kids, if any, question an approach once thought to be antiquated.
"I had a kid once tell me he was a wide receiver. I asked him how many catches he had," Hamilton recalled. "He said four. I told him, 'Hey, I can hand you the ball 20 times.'"
The biggest selling point for players, Hamilton said, is the time away from the game.
"Spread teams have to spend so much time catching and throwing and getting their timing down," he said. "I struggle to ask kids to do too much; I think we ask too much of them. This is all we do. We can spend time building athletes. We probably spend less time practicing than other teams. Take some time off, go be a kid."
Elk River's success under Hamilton has caught many an eye. At least 20 teams in Minnesota have reached out to him, asking for help getting started with the Power-T or looking for advice on implementing portions of it.
Lakeville South adopted the Power-T and won the 2021 Class 6A title. Barnesville is a Power-T team playing in the Class 2A championship game. Cannon Falls. Browerville. Both participants in the Class 6A final, Rosemount and Maple Grove, use parts of it.
It's not just Minnesota teams, either. An affable man who is quick to smile and quicker with a joke, Hamilton gets dozens of inquiries each season from across the nation. He has advised, by his count, at least 100 programs get started.
"I never saw this coming," he said. "But people helped me when we were starting out. I feel I should help others."
His wife, a kindergarten teacher, has asked him if he might consider stepping away from coaching to focus on being a Power-T guru full time.
"I've thought about it at times and the grind it entails," admitted Hamilton, 52, a social studies teacher at Elk River when he's not thinking football. "But I really enjoy the relationship with the kids. I still want to be involved with the team."