Mike Wall is a chess master moving blockers, backs and receivers, an offensive coach who weighs the impact of potential moves long before he signals in a play.
That was the case last week when Lake Travis posted a 28-14 victory over Katy in a driving rainstorm in San Antonio. In a pair of surprising moves, Cavaliers wide receivers Garrett Wilson and Hudson Card threw touchdown passes to each other, helping Lake Travis qualify for a Class 6A state championship game for the third straight football season.
The pivotal pass plays involving Card and Wilson were not ones Wall, the Cavaliers’ offensive coordinator, drew up in the dirt the day before the 6A, Division I state semifinal. No, these little surprises were in Lake Travis’ playbook long before the Cavaliers convened for preseason practices in August.
While opposing players and fans may grumble about his “trick plays,” Wall has a different description for them.
He calls them “deceptives,” and it’s a safe bet Lake Travis (13-2) will once again show its offensive creativity when it faces unbeaten Allen on Saturday in the Class 6A, Division I final at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
For four seasons, Cavaliers head coach Hank Carter has entrusted the offense to Wall, who played Arena League Football with the Austin Wranglers before becoming a high school coach. He got his coaching start at Lake Travis as a defensive assistant and was part of the program’s first three UIL state championships in 2007-09.
After coaching at Georgetown as the offensive coordinator in 2010-12, Wall eventually returned to Lake Travis. While Wall was at Georgetown, the Eagles advanced to the Class 4A, Division I final in 2012 as quarterback Jake Hubenak threw for 4,094 yards and 48 touchdowns.
“It’s like Mike’s got a toolbox,” said Carter, whose coaching DNA is steeped in defense. “He’s got a tool for everything that’s needed (on offense).”
During Wall’s four years directing the Cavaliers’ offense, Lake Travis has averaged 48.4 points a game and posted an overall record of 53-6. Last season, the Cavaliers defeated The Woodlands 41-13 to win their first championship as a Class 6A squad.
Wall, who turns 40 on Friday, credits three coaches for shaping him as a play-caller.
Wall played quarterback at the University of Tulsa for four seasons (1996-2000) and said the Golden Hurricane’s head coach, Dave Rader, developed him into a pass-first quarterback. At Tulsa, Wall learned how to direct a no-huddle spread offense and use multiple personnel groupings.
After graduating from Tulsa, Wall became a graduate assistant at the school and was introduced to Charlie Stubbs, who had been the offensive coordinator at Alabama before coming to Tulsa. In 2000, Stubbs was named the offensive coordinator of the year in the SEC, and he worked as Tulsa’s offensive coordinator in 2002-06.
“From Charlie, I learned the simplification of an offense and how to get plays to your playmakers,” Wall said.
Wall’s third offensive guru was Chad Morris, the Arkansas Razorbacks’ new head coach, who guided Lake Travis to back-to-back 16-0 seasons in 2008-09 before embarking on a college coaching career.
“What I learned from coach Morris was organization and communication,” said Wall, who was on Morris’ defensive staff during those two state title seasons.
After calling plays from the press box in 2014 and 2015, Wall has been on sidelines the past two seasons. Through his headset, he communicates with Cavaliers running backs coach Jonathan Coats, Wall’s eyes from an elevated spot in the press box.
“On the field, I have immediate access to the players,” Wall said. “I can gauge their mood. I can look into my quarterback’s eyes and either calm him down or get him going.”
Wall has built a special relationship with Cavaliers senior quarterback Matthew Baldwin, who signed with Ohio State on Wednesday. Wall, who recalls Baldwin growing 5 inches after his freshman season, remembers a poignant conversation the pair had during Baldwin’s sophomore year.
Wall was honest with Baldwin, telling him that Charlie Brewer, who recently completed his freshman season at Baylor, would be the Cavaliers’ starting quarterback for the next two years. Baldwin would have to wait until his senior year before becoming a starter.
“I didn’t want to overpromise and underdeliver,” Wall recalled.
Baldwin never complained about being a backup, Wall said, and his patience has paid off this season. One of the top pro-style quarterbacks in Texas, Baldwin has averaged 276 yards passing a game while throwing for 44 touchdowns against six interceptions.
“I put my trust in coach Wall,” the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Baldwin said. “I knew he was going to put me in a position to succeed.”
CLASS 6A, DIVISION I FINAL
Lake Travis (13-2) vs. Allen (15-0)
3 p.m. Saturday, AT&T Stadium in Arlington, FSSW, 104.9