Offensive and defensive lines set to lead charge for Liberty Hill
By LAUREN JETTE
In football, the players who rack up the most yards, make an outstanding defensive play or score touchdowns get the most attention. But, before a running back can break away for a long run or a defensive back can make a drive-stopping interception, a block had to be made or a hold had to stand from a lineman.
These players “in the trenches” during a football game do the most work for the least amount of recognition, but without offensive and defensive linemen, the Panthers wouldn’t have the success they’ve seen.
“We all have our own responsibilities, our own rules. But as a team, as a line, it’s to come together as one,” said offensive lineman Justin Wilson. “We always want to get our blocks and our big goal is to protect our backs.”
“A big part of it is we can’t take time to slow down and take a breath,” said fellow lineman Lance Champion. “We just got to keep going. Go and bust them in the mouth, we can’t slow down, we don’t have time for that, we have to keep going.”
While a receiver or a running back might not get the ball every single play, linemen have to battle for position every single down, which makes conditioning important.
“Our whole offense is based on speed, so we need to be conditioned all the time,” Wilson said. “That’s why we run after scrimmages, that’s why you always see us moving and flying around in practice and even in the games, we’re quick off the ball. We’re trying to get back to the huddle, always trying to be quick.”
Keeping the same mindset for each play helps ward off fatigue, Wilson added.
“We always huddle back up so it gives you more time to get focused. It gives you time to think about what you are going to do, who you are going to block and when you get down in your stance, you are thinking about it in your head, what happens.”
Getting five individuals to work as one unit can seem like a huge challenge, but the offensive line embraces any opportunity to form a tight bond.
“It’s just a group of brothers,” Champion described the relationship between the linemen.
“We always communicate, it’s not just we go on the field and play together. Outside the field, we go to each other’s house, we watch film, we talk, we work and it’s just an all the time thing, we don’t wait until practice and games to work, we’re always together and we’re always working together.”
Wilson described the bond as a brotherhood.
“We hang out as one group. On Tuesdays, we go out and have dinner,” he said. “We try to do as much bonding as we can, so we can be brothers. (Being) brothers is big on the team. We’re always taught to be together as a group, as a whole, so it’s always what we’re looking for.”
For the defensive line, it’s looking like it’s going to be another year of the “smash-mouth” style of play. “We’re really solid all around, we’re really good,” said defensive end Carter Ware.
“We’re a little young in the backfield, because we’ve got some guys who haven’t played much, but they’re going to be big keys this year.
“We got Logan Hester who had a knee injury last year, but he’s an athlete. You’ve got Dylan Joiner who has great hands, great speed. Guys returning like Grant White, when you’ve got him covering it makes it easy to go after the quarterback. Then you’ve got guys like Caleb Grant, who’s an animal. Colby LaDuque, who’s just crazy. Ryan Ragle, Zane Scott and linebackers like Colton Cunningham…They’re animals, they just fly to the ball.
“We’re great up front, we’re big, we’re fast. We play well. We’re really solid.”
Returning linemen with playing experience is also a boon to the defense, Ware added.
“We have a lot of guys returning, so that’s good. We’re real experienced, so some of these guys who haven’t been there, who haven’t done a lot, they can learn from those guys,” he said.
The defense looks to continue the style they’ve always played, but with more aggression this season.
“We’ll play a little bit of a pass defense or we’ll look like we want to cover the pass but we’ll hit you no matter what, we’ll hit you right in the mouth,” Ware said. “That’s what coach Vance, what all our coaches tell us, we’re going to go up and hit you in the mouth on every play.”
In the locker room, coaches preach that there isn’t one star player on the team, and that everyone contributes to a win.
“Everything we do is so intertwined in each other. I don’t know that there is any one key position,” said coach Vance.
“Our kids buy into the fact, it doesn’t make any difference who you are, when you’re out there and you’re performing, you’re just as important as the guy carrying the ball,” Vance said.