Warriors’ O-line still strong despite losing 4 starters
STEPHENS CITY — When the Sherando football team held a ceremony announcing postgraduate playing plans for seven of its players last May, it was clear that the Warriors were going to have some big pads to fill.
Four of them started on the Warriors’ 2011 offensive line, and they stood 6-foot-8, 300 pounds (Joe Kluckowski), 6-4, 300 (Tyler Whitmer), 6-3, 265 (B.J. Askew) and 6-1, 260 (Hunter VanMeter).
Sherando’s 2012 offensive line doesn’t feature a player listed over 6-2, and outside of junior center Matt Lowery, only one player tips the scales at more than 235 pounds.
But the 2012 Warriors are more than proving that bigger is by no means better.
Though Sherando’s offensive line has just one returning starter and just two returning varsity players, the Warriors have continued to roll along on offense. The Warriors — who also no longer have all-state running back Joseph Ojo — are averaging 26.7 points per game (23.2 last year), 327.8 yards (324.2) and 212.8 rushing (212.3).
“As a unit, we’re quick, and we know a lot about blocking assignments,” junior left guard Dante Tibbs said. “When you put those together, speed and smarts can sometimes overcome power.”
Desire can as well. That’s part of why the Warriors’ stats look so similar to last year, even if the players responsible for that success bear little resemblance to their predecessors. If you’re not as big physically, it helps to play with big emotions.
“I think it could be one of those things where we’re always used to people telling us, ‘You’re not big enough, you’re not strong enough,’” said junior right guard Madison Edmunds. “So it’s kind of just against the naysayers. We’re just trying to do our best, and work hard to prove everyone wrong.”
Sherando’s line features left tackle Adam Nordling (6-2, 235) — a starting guard last year — Tibbs (5-9, 225), Lowery (6-0, 260), Edmunds (5-11, 215) and senior right tackle Shawn Tatman (6-2, 200), the only other returning member from the varsity.
Sherando coach Bill Hall was hesitant to say during the preseason who would start where, but it was not because he didn’t like what he had.
He liked the speed and intelligence that Tibbs was referring to, and he definitely liked their chemistry — the three interior linemen have played together throughout their high school careers, and all five of them had played together at some point during high school.
“We knew it was a tight-knit group, a very hardworking group, and an intelligent group, and those are all three things that are a recipe for success,” Hall said. “It was just how quickly they could come together as one.
“We’ve been very pleased that they’ve all taken ownership of their responsibilities. They’ve made sure they were a part of a reason for our success, not a weak link, especially here recently. I think they’ve done a great job, because they have a bit more experience now.”
Sherando certainly had an unenviable slate of games to begin the season. Three of the Warriors’ first four opponents were Martinsburg, W.Va. (two-time defending Class AAA state champions, currently ranked second, 6-1), Musselman, W.Va., (ranked ninth in Class AAA, 5-2) and Loudoun County (5-1).
Sherando’s last two aren’t playing at that level — Jefferson (W.Va.) and James Wood have just two wins combined — but 100 points and 944 yards over two weeks is still 100 points and 944 yards over two weeks.
Sherando quarterback Reid Entsminger felt last week’s blocking effort against the Colonels was the Warriors’ best of the season.
“I feel like we’ve gotten better every single week and grown every single week,” Nordling said. “Last week just showed our offensive firepower, and I think it’s going to get better and better every week.”
Nordling said the improvement definitely comes from how well they work together. They bonded during offseason weightlifting sessions and they also enjoy activities like eating out together, watching football together or playing disc golf together.
Edmunds declined to say who usually comes out on top in disc golf, but it’s clear this group enjoys engaging in competition.
“In the weight room, if somebody throws five pounds on, you’ve got to throw five more pounds on,” Nordling said. “It’s just always a competition, trying to make each other better.
“The effort that we give on this year’s line, I don’t think is matched by last year’s line, or the year before. We just really get after it on every single play in my opinion.”
If the person lining up across from you has 50 pounds on you, Lowery said that’s no excuse to not make plays.
“It’s like, ‘I’ll still beat ’em,’” Lowery said. “You want to be able to say that. It makes you push a little bit harder.
“You’ve got to get lower than the bigger guy that’s across from you. Go faster, play harder.”
The Warriors are more than capable of running up the middle, but they do like to showcase their speed and use the width of the field. Senior running back Taylor Loudan (an area-best 827 rushing yards, 227 receiving yards) is a blur in space, and Entsminger is one of the area’s top rushing quarterbacks with 236 yards.
“I think we do a good job of utilizing the line and getting them out in the open field,” Hall said. “There’s been plays where the linemen have been able to get out in front.”
With their speed and their effort, Hall said he knows his linemen won’t stop until the play is over.
“They’re doing a good job of sustaining their blocks,” Hall said. “I think the average lineman, they just hit and stop. They think they’ve done their job once they hit.
“I think what we teach our guys to do is, they’re going to go 100 percent from the time the ball’s snapped until the whistle blows. They finish their first block, and then they go, ‘What’s next?’ I think that’s where you’re getting more explosive plays, because they’re going down the field and blocking.”
The mind-set of “What’s next?” has carried this Sherando offensive line far, and it’s why it’s not getting too caught up in its performance.
It’s great that it’s performing at a level that Entsminger calls even better than last year’s offensive line, but the moment this group becomes satisfied is the moment that its effectiveness will stop.
“I feel [James Wood] was a good week, and it was solid, but I think we still have improvement in us,” Tatman said. “We’ll get better.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1