Callaway linemen leading the way

Published 12:07 pm Friday, November 15, 2019


Daily News

The Callaway Cavaliers made it to the state semifinals last season in part because of a dominant offensive line.

With current Auburn Tiger Keiondre Jones leading the way, the Cavaliers took care of business up front, helping Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby run for more than 2,000 yards.

When Callaway lost to Rockmart in the semifinals, it was the end of the road for three valuable members of that offensive line.

As the coaches began to put together a strategy for the current season, they were hoping to find some men who could step into a starting role on the offensive line and keep things rolling.

One of the men head coach Pete Wiggins was counting on was Zach Neighbors, who was a part-time player on the offensive line last season.

Neighbors, realizing how much he was going to be counted on, attacked the offseason, working to develop his skills as a blocker, while also attempting to bulk up.

That effort has paid huge dividends for Neighbors, who has been an anchor on an offensive line that has been terrific this season.

The Cavaliers are averaging more than 40 points per game, and an effective offensive line is a key reason why.

Callaway (9-1) will host Chattooga (5-5) on Friday in the opening round of the Class AA state playoffs.

Neighbors has been an anchor on the line since the season opener against Opelika, and Wiggins is proud of the work he’s put in to reach this point.

“Zach Neighbors, he has worked really hard and maintained a positive attitude, and here he is he’s gained more than 25 pounds since football season started,” Wiggins said. “He’s one of the leaders on the team.”

When the summer began, Neighbors weighed less than 200 pounds, and he knew he’d have to get bigger to go toe-to-toe with elite defensive linemen.

“It’s just weight-training, and getting my body in better shape,” Neighbors said. “I just ate a lot during the summer to get my body ready.”

Neighbors believes the summer activities, which included a week spent at the Mike Hodges camp in Cochran, were critical or he and his teammates on the offensive line.

“Going to the seven-on-sevens in the summer, weight-lifting, and Hodges was a big thing because we all came together there,” Neighbors said. “We all got to become a unit and get ready to go.”

Neighbors added that “I’m at 224, so I’ve put on 34 pounds since the first week of actual school.”

In the season opener, Callaway’s offensive linemen went up against a top-notch Opelika defensive line.

The Cavaliers did some nice things offensively, but they were limited to one touchdown which came late in the game.

“We faced our troubles in the Opelika game where we saw our weak points and we were able to come back from that,” Neighbors said.

Since that game the Cavaliers have been rolling offensively.

Callaway gets it done in the passing game with quarterback Demetrius Coleman leading the way, and running backs Cartavious “Tank” Bigsby and Charlie Dixon have been putting up big numbers.

The offensive line features two returning starters in Tate Johnson and Austin Thomas, and a handful of players including Neighbors have stepped in to fill things out.

Lathan Patterson, Jacob Miles, and Jared Nation have all started this season, and Christian Moon and Kamez Hopson provide valuable depth.

“Coach (Robbie) Adams our offensive-line coach, and coach Wiggins, and coach (Matt) Napier have all helped us get through,” Neighbors said.

Neighbors also appreciates the leadership shown by the two linemen with the most playing time, Johnson and Thomas.

“We have good leaders up front, Tate Johnson and Austin Thomas,” Neighbors said. “Austin’s helped me a lot during the season to get me more aggressive. So has coach Adams. It’s all just paid off.”

If the offensive linemen do their job, which they have consistently, chances are the Cavaliers will be successful on offense.

Bigsby is one of the state’s top running backs, and Dixon has done a stellar job as well.

In the passing game, Coleman has thrown for nearly 2,000 yards with 22 touchdowns, and Jacob Freeman, Antinez Blount, Jymere Jones, Jalin Shephard and Markus Morman all have scoring catches.

Coleman, who stepped into the starting lineup for the regular-season finale last season, has become an elite quarterback this season.

“He’s turned into a beast,” Neighbors said. “Just a year’s experience has paid off. Meat just grinds. He’s worked hard this summer. He’s just a smart athlete. He knows what has to be done.”

Throw in a defense that’s giving up less than 10 points per game, and the Cavaliers clearly have what it takes to challenge for a state championship.

“We have a chance this year,” Neighbors said. “We just have to put our grind to it. It’s time for us to go.”



WHAT: First round of Class AA state playoffs

WHEN: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Callaway Stadium

RECORDS: Callaway (9-1 overall, 6-0 in Region 5-AA); Chattooga (5-5 overall, 4-3 in Region 5-AA)