Callaway linemen standing tall

Published 1:36 pm Friday, October 27, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

HOGANSVILLE – They were unstoppable.

By the time the clock hit zero in last week’s game against Temple, the Callaway Cavaliers had amassed nearly 500 rushing yards, and they’d scored seven touchdowns on the ground.

While it was a talented group of running backs compiling those gaudy stats, it all started up front.

As a new season approached, a veteran offensive line figured to be a strength of the team, and it has played out that way.

Callaway will look to keep dominating the line of scrimmage when it visits Spencer today, with kickoff set for 8 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Columbus.

“They’re a very close group,” said Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins, who was an offensive lineman himself in high school and college. “There’s a lot of chemistry among them.

“They’re good kids. They work hard, and they want to do well on Friday night, and they take a lot of pride in what they do.”

It’s a group that includes one of the state’s most heavily-recruited offensive linemen, junior Keiondre Jones.

Jones, along with seniors Jalen Moss, Lawrence Thompson and John Curtis, are multi-year starters on the offensive line.

Junior Keshawn Cameron

started at Troup last season before transferring to Callaway, while sophomore Nolan Brooks has become an integral member of the offensive line.

Adrian Porter isn’t technically an offensive lineman, but the fullback is critical to the blocking scheme.

Individually, they each work hard at their craft and have developed into elite offensive linemen.

Together, it’s a group that has repeatedly imposed its will on opposing defenses, allowing the Cavaliers to average close to 40 points per game.

“Coach Wiggins and coach (Matt) Napier, they always preach being physical up front,” Moss said. “It starts and ends with us.”

It helps that most of the linemen have been playing alongside each other for years.

There’s a collective football knowledge that helps make the offensive line such a formidable group.

“There’s a lot of chemistry going on,” Curtis said. “We all respect each other. And communication, that’s where it really comes into play. We know how to react to defenses, and talk to each other about it.”

Thompson, a three-year starter, said that chemistry is “very important.”

“You don’t have to worry about what the other one is doing,” Thompson said. “You can just focus on what you’ve got to do.”

Moss said there’s a brotherhood among the linemen, and that means they’re there for each other, in good times and bad.

“We’ve been going at it for the past two, three years,” Moss said. “Now, we feel like we have a brotherhood on the offensive line. That’s what pushes us at the same time. We push each other in practice and in games.”

While Cameron is the new-comer, he’s hardly a stranger.

When he arrived at Callaway, he knew most of his new teammates, and he has settled right in and become a part of the family.

“We come out and work really hard, and we have that chemistry as teammates,” Cameron said. “It just feels like home.”

Brooks didn’t expect to get as much playing time as he has, and he’s grateful for the support of his more veteran teammates.

“It’s really helpful,” Brooks said. “When you don’t know a play or something, they’ll tell you what to do. They help guide you along.”

When Brooks’ opportunity arose, he was ready for it.

“I didn’t think I’d be in the lineup but I am,” he said. “I just wait for my chance and make the most of it.”

Jones didn’t have to wait long before getting his chance.

Even before he’d played a down of high-school football, Jones was already on the radar of college coaches across the country.

He was still in the eighth grade, in fact, when he received an offer from Alabama coach Nick Saban.

Jones was thrust into the lineup as a freshman, and he has been a fixture on the line since then.

The 6-foot-4, 315-pound Jones is an imposing figure on a football field, and the man opposite him oftentimes finds himself on his back.

Jones credits his mother for helping him develop a take-no-prisoner mentality on game night.

“I get it from my mom,” Jones said. “When I was younger, she said I want someone who plays you Friday night to feel you Monday morning. She said I want them to feel you for three days. That’s what I try to do.”

One thing Jones specializes in is the pancake block where a defensive player is put on his back by an offensive lineman.

Jones, and all of his teammates on the line, have plenty of those this season.

The past two games, in fact, Callaway’s linemen have more than 40 pancake blocks, which has allowed the offense to score 12 touchdowns while amassing close to 1,000 yards.

During a film review session, the linemen get a kick out of seeing themselves flatten a defender and take him to the turf.

“It’s always an exciting thing to see on film,” Moss said. “You do it on Friday, you don’t think about it, because you’re playing a tough opponent. You see it on film, you’re excited, watching it with your team and everything.”

Moss feels that if the offensive line does its job, Callaway can score on any play.

“With all of our star power, we do feel that,” he said. “We feel if we play our game to our full extent, that we’ll be fine. But we have to stay on our blocks. We can’t just rely on great runs. We have to get pancakes.”

Against Temple, running backs DJ Atkins, Cartavious Bigsby and Qua Hines combined for more than 300 yards with five touchdowns.

With talented backs like that and a strong offensive line, it’s a winning combination.

“They run super hard, and we block hard,” Curtis said. “It works together.”

While the Cavaliers have hit some big plays in the passing game, their bread and butter is the run, and Thompson is fine with that.

“That’s where we get to fire off the ball, and hit somebody as hard as we can,” he said.

Porter  was a part of that running game last week.

In the second half, Porter’s number was called, and he bulled over a host of defenders for a 16-yard touchdown.

“It was awesome,” he said. “That was my first time running the ball in high school. To get a touchdown on my first run, it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Porter’s primary role is as a blocker, though, so he is in essence a member of the offensive line.

“We all bond together,” he said. “We just go together like peanut butter and jelly. You can’t separate us.”

Cameron said there are no shortcuts to putting together a successful offensive line.

“We come out every night working hard, and playing physical, and just work as a unit on Friday night and take care of our jobs,” he said.

Wiggins said each of the linemen is dedicated to achieving as much as possible not just on the practice field, but in the film room as well.

“They’re very up on the other team, and they study film,” Wiggins said. “Each week I keep up with who watches film, and how many minutes they spend watching film, and this group is always on it a great deal. They study their opponent.”

Coach Robbie Adams has been working with the offensive linemen this season, and he called them “a phenomenal group of kids.”

“They love each other, they work hard with each other,” he added.