By: By Kevin Eckleberry Sports Editor
August 27, 2013
When Tristan Thompson was learning the ropes last season as an offensive lineman at Troup High, he found out there’s only one way to play the position.
He realized you can’t do it by being passive, by playing back on your heels.
“You know you can’t get out there and play scared,” said Thompson, who got his first significant varsity playing time a year ago as a sophomore. “You have to hit them from the start, hit them in the mouth, show then that you’re here to win a ballgame.”
That’s the kind of attitude Thompson, and all of Troup’s offensive linemen, are bringing to the field this season.
It’s a veteran unit, with four of this year’s starters having played a lot last season.
That includes junior Mitch Mathes, who has been a starting offensive lineman since the first game of his freshman season.
Wellington Callaway, a senior, was a starter last season, and junior Jason Hernandez was also a starter in 2012.
Senior Cody Abbott, who will play a lot this season, also has plenty of experience.
The player with the least amount of varsity experience is sophomore Hudson Newton, who is a first-time starter.
The offensive line figures to be a strength for the Tigers, and that was certainly the case in Friday’s preseason game against Auburn.
When the starters were in the game in the first half, the Tigers moved the ball well, and the offensive line had a lot to do with that.
While the linemen all have the physical tools to play the position well, Thompson said the close-knit nature of the players will be a key to their success.
“We have a real close bond with each other,” Thompson said. “That’s something you see with a lot of offensive lines. You’re really close to each other. They’re your buddies. You’re counting on them, and they’re counting on you.”
Callaway, one of two seniors on the line along with Abbott, said “we have so much chemistry on this line. You see us laugh out here. We’re ready for anything.”
Hernandez said that chemistry extends to the rest of the offensive players as well, including standout running back Daryl Dunlap and the rest of the guys who have the ball in their hands.
“Pretty much every game I go to them and say, I’ll block for you, you run for me,” Hernandez said. “We’re all on the same page.”
The linemean with the most varsity experience is Mathes, who patrols the right side of the line from his guard position.
Mathes was working out with the varsity players while he was still in the eighth grade, and during practice leading up to the 2010 season, he earned a starting nod.
Mathes was thrown into the fire during a preseason game against Auburn as a freshman, and it was an eye-opening experience.
“I was kind of nervous at first,” Mathes said. “After that first snap, I was like, I’m ready for this.”
Indeed he was.
Mathes has remained in the lineup since, and he has become one of the state’s most highly-regarded lineman.
During the spring, Mathes found out that he has earned an invitation to the prestigous Rising Seniors all-star game that will be held in December.
Mathes understands it’s not about the individual, though, it’s about all five linemen operating as one.
“The offensive line, you have to get everybody meshing,” Mathes said.
Callaway began playing on the offensive line as a sophomore, and that was also his first year as a football player.
“That was my first year playing ever,” Callaway said. “I always loved the game of football. My mom, she just never wanted me to play.”
When Callaway came out for football, the coaches decided the offensive line was his position, and that’s where he’s remained.
“They tried me on the O-line, and that’s where they kept me,” Callaway said.
Hernandez was a backup offensive lineman as a freshman, and last year he moved into the lineup.
“As a freshman I was second string, and then last year I started,” Hernandez said. “It gave me a lot of experience, let me see how the game is played.”
Hernandez said he and Thompson, who play alongside each other on the line, “know how each other plays.”
“We were always next to each other,” Hernandez added. “We’re always looking at each other and saying, all right, I know what you’re going to do, you know what I’m going to do. Let’s do it.”
The lineman with the least amount of experience is Newton, who got some valuable field time against Auburn last week.
“I didn’t feel completely ready, but you just go out there, and you do your job,” he said.
Newton said after the summer workouts, and preseason practice, that all of the linemen know what they’re supposed to be doing.
“We know all of our blocks, and double teams and everything,” he said. “We know what we have to do with our assignments.”
Thompson didn’t begin the 2012 season as a starter, but he ended up playing a lot, and he was a guy who could move anywhere on the line.
“I played guard, tackle, a little bit of everything,” Thompson said. “If somebody got hurt, I went in.”
The linemen spent a lot of time together during the summer, participating in workouts and going to camps together, and head coach Lynn Kendall said that only helped to bring the group closer together.
“They travel well together,” Kendall said. “They joke around with each other. They’re not just friends, but they respect each other, too. That’s a pretty special group.”
Troup will open its season on Thursday at home against Redan.
Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.