It’s no secret that quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs steal the majority of the ink when it comes to prep football coverage. Coaches and media types even refer to those positions as the ‘skill guys’ on the team. Which, intentionally or not, leaves positions like offensive and defensive linemen cast as the ‘unskilled guys’ on the field.
While any lineman worth their salt could dissect that wrongheaded assertion quicker than a bullfrog in biology class, as a group they prefer to remain focused on the hardknock tasks at hand instead. Namely, that job is to outmaneuver and otherwise dominate the big uglies directly across from them on each and every snap.
While linemen may refer to ‘skill guys’ as glory boys behind closed locker room doors, they typically conjure terms of endearment for their fellow line crew. For instance, the Centralia Tigers offensive line refers to itself as “The Brotherhood.”
Like any brotherhood, the Tigers squabble amongst themselves from time to time but to hear them tell it, that’s a topic for The Brotherhood to worry about and for outsiders to wonder about.
“Sometimes I’ve got to yell at them,” said Centralia center Paris Chavez while laughing. “Like this guy (pointing at Justus Kuykendall), sometimes I’ve got to tell him to get right next to me, right now! But they’re all good. I’ve got their back and they’ve got mine.”
Chavez, who is only a sophomore, converted back to center this season after starting the year as a fullback, but the veterans on the line quickly adopted him into the thick of their fraternity thanks to his work ethic.
According to the Tigers’ left tackle, Sawyer Vogel, linemen cope with the lack of ink spilled in their collective names by focusing on helping the man next to them no matter the game situation.
“We’re playing for each other pretty much. Like Paris said, they’ve got my back and I’ve got theirs,” said Vogel.
While offensive linemen are prone to being lost in the shuffle of post game accolades it is also true that the most well-adjusted “skill” players rarely forget to hand out credit to the grunts down in the trenches. According to the Centralia offensive line, which consists of Alejandro Valencia and Derek Beairsto at tight end, Dominic Aguirre and Vogel at the tackle spots, Colby McCann and Kuykendall at the guard positions, and Chavez at center, there is one Tiger who never forgets to express his gratitude for their work — tailback Colby Sobolesky-Reynolds.
“They work hard. They bust their butts any chance they get, moving guys and making holes,” Sobolesky-Reynolds said. “I can’t really complain about that, especially because they get no breaks. It’s just four guys, five guys and that’s it,” he said.
When it comes to the Swamp Cup the Tigers’ offensive line knows they will have their work cut out against the Bearcat front line. In order to cope they’ll implement several strategies and techniques.
“I would say stopping the biltz. That has been a problem for us. I would say that’s our biggest flaw in our O-Line but we’re working hard and we’re just trying our best to overcome that flaw,” said McCann.
Oftentimes the Centralia front finds themselves at a size disadvantage on Friday nights. According to Kuykendall there’s only one way to try to make up for those metrics.
“You’ve just got to be faster, and put out more effort than them and stay low,” he said.
Colby Steele, the only starting lineman who plays exclusively on the defensive side, agreed with Kuykendall.
“We start really wearing a hole in the second half compared to the first half because they just don’t have the conditioning that we do,” Steele said.
While there will be many miniature battles to fight on Friday night, Chavez says the Tigers have only one ultimate goal.
“The goal is to go in front of our home crowd and just win the Swamp Cup back and win it for the seniors because we know they want to beat Chehalis. It’s going to be a big game for everybody,” Chavez said.
Over on the other side of the line the Bearcats are just as determined to retain control of the bronze statue. And just like the Tigers offensive line, the Bearcats defensive front has a name for their squad — The Crab.
“Last year we had a big defensive stand and everyone on the sideline started doing the crab (making weird finger hand motions) going ‘whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo!’” explained defensive tackle Rob SanSouci.
Defensive end Trent Peters added, “Coach (Chris) Johnson would always says that our defense should move all as one unit, kind of like a crab, so that’s where we got it.”
The rest of Bearcats defensive line includes Leandre Gaines and Chris Powe, at tackle and end, respectively. SanSouci is the only starter in the mix who only faces off on defense and he says it’s because that side of the ball is more of a free-for-all.
“I can do anything with my hands. I can grab somebody and throw them and not worry about penalties,” he explained with glee.
As for Gaines, who was tabbed as the hardest hitter on the line in unanimous team vote, he says the goal of the defensive line is simple.
“We’re just trying to get pressure in the backfield,” he said.
Nodding along, Powe added, “We’ve got to make sure that we stay in our gaps. Don’t be a cowboy.”
The W.F. West offensive line is comprised of Powe and William Lienhard at the tackle spots, Peters and Luke Bennett at the guard positions, and Chase Conaway at center. Like Sobolesky-Reynolds over at Centralia, W.F. West running back Lafe Johnson was full of praise for the stud muffins doing the dirty work up front.
“We have the best linemen. I love those guys. I need to give them a treat because they do such good work for me,” said Johnson “In the beginning of the year it was rough because we got new coaches and stuff so we had new schemes on the offensive line but you can drive a bus through that hole now. It’s great.”
While grateful for the kind words, the linemen noted that while numerous ‘skill guys’ have promised to pay them back for their big blocks with rounds of cheeseburgers or pancakes nobody has ever come through on that promise other than coach Dan Hill.
“We almost got biscuits and gravy last week (against Rochester) but we were 30 yards short,” noted Peters.
According to Conaway, if things go as planned against Centralia, there will be plenty of flapjacks scattered about the field by the end of the game.
“I think we’re going to run all over them,” said Conaway. “It’s going to be pancakes all day. We’re going to put them on their backs.”