By RYAN HERMAN
VALE –– West Lincoln’s rushing attack has left a lot of teams in the dust over the last few years, but it’s what’s ahead of the run that makes is all happen.
The Rebels’ offensive line has pushed the defense and paved the way for a rushing attack that ended last season as the top rushing offense in the old Southern Piedmont 1A/2A Conference, is tops in the county through two games this season and is fourth in the new Southern District 7 Athletic 2A Conference.
West Lincoln (2-0) is averaging 229 yards rushing per game, but being in the top-half of the league isn’t enough.
“There’s a lot of room for improvement. I think if we start playing full games instead of half games, we might could put up 400 yards rushing (in a single game),” left tackle Andres Gonzalez said.
The Rebels started out slow in each of their games thus far, but used big second halves to stay unbeaten on the year.
Against North Lincoln last week, West Lincoln got a big second half from senior running back Daniel Davila, who finished with 182 yards on the ground and three touchdowns in the 35-27 win.
“I think it all starts with the line. You get good movement, good blocks, and have everything work out good on the offensive line so the running backs have holes to run through,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a team effort.”
Gonzalez, a junior, is a 6-foot-2, 280-pound people-moving machine.
The left tackle is coming off an ACL injury, and has become a prominent force for the Rebels, so much so they ran the same play over and over in the second half where he is the lead blocker and the ball carrier follows.
The Knights couldn’t stop it.
“He’s just a dominant, old-school lineman. He’s what every offensive line coach would love to have,” West Lincoln offensive line coach Bruce Costner said. “He makes me look good, to be honest.”
The Rebels’ line, as a unit, makes the running game look good. And in return, those carrying the football make the line look unstoppable.
“The success of our football team starts with the offensive line moving people. It’s all a running game. When we’ve got our running game started, I think nobody can beat us,” Gonzalez said. “Once we get moving up front, and our running backs start moving, I don’t think anybody can beat us.”
Fourth-year Rebels head coach Tom Sain has so much faith in his offensive line –– made up of starters Jordan Grant, Trent Loftin, Robert Ware, Bronson Pendleton and Gonzalez –– that he knows they’ll make a way for the team to win games.
“We put it in their hands sometimes. They’re the ones that we look to and they’re the ones that take this team under their wing and say, ‘Look, we’re gonna go and you’re gonna go with us and we’ll take you,’” he said.
Being a lineman is a dirty job –– on both sides of the ball. A lineman isn’t allowed to touch the football unless he’s the center, checked in as an eligible receiver (which is rare) or there is a fumble.
It’s a job that receives little recognition, but somebody has to do it. Those on the line at West Lincoln take pride in what they do and are proud of their work.
“It’s an attitude that we have. A lot of kids these days don’t want to be an offensive lineman. I told them from Day 1, our offensive line, we’re not going to be stereotypes. We’re going to be athletic, strong linemen and we’re going to take pride in what we do everyday,” Costner said.
“We don’t take plays off. We’re not on (the line) because that’s all you can play. We’re on there because, if we can’t do our job then we can’t move the offense.”
Bottom line, the offensive line is an integral part of the Rebels’ success.
“It’s like being rowers on a Viking ship –– if they don’t do their job, the boat ain’t going anywhere,” Costner said.
Gonzalez said the line’s ultimate goal is to allow the offense 300 yards rushing per game, which has yet to happen.
Although the Rebels are unbeaten heading into this week’s rival game with Cherryville, Gonzalez and Co. feel they have a lot more to prove.
And they don’t have a problem letting the ones running with the football have all the glory.
“That’s one of our goals each week. … We haven’t played up to our potential yet because we haven’t gotten more than 300 yards,” Gonzalez said.
“For me, I just like pushing people around. I think that’s how most people feel. Once you’re a lineman, I don’t think they’ll ever want to go back.”