Men in the trenches leading Rossville: ‘Their physicality is what sets them apart’
Coming into this season, the Rossville Dawgs didn’t have their offensive line figured out until week one vs. Centralia.
Now, heading into Saturday with an undefeated 12-0 record as the Dawgs go for back-to-back 2A state titles, the offensive and defensive lines have been an integral part of the team’s success.
Senior right guard and defensive end Brody Leitz, senior left tackle and defensive tackle/end Mshewe Hale and junior right tackle and nose guard Jacob Carver were the returnees. They were leaned on early in the season.
“We’ve got experience with me, Jacob and Mshewe,” said Leitz. “So, I don’t think it took long to figure out what was good and bad.”
“At the start we had some rough games,” added Hale. “As the season went on, we got more push and opened up holes for our backs.”
Rossville head coach Derick Hammes pointed to the coaching the lines get from offensive and defensive line coach Dan Schneider.
“It starts with fundamentals," Hammes said. "Throughout the course of the year, when they have the fundamentals and gain the confidence and develop the timing an offensive line needs, they became really good.
“The same attributes on offense bode well on the defensive side as well. They’re fundamentally sound, able to escape blocks and make plays up front. They keep big bodies off our linebackers, and I know those kids appreciate it.”
Newcomers included sophomore Barrett Leitz, who has played both guard positions and nose guard and tackle, junior Mahliq Jackson, who has played center and nose guard, and junior Sean Cunningham, who has filled in at left guard and is a backup defensive end.
Brody Leitz complimented Barrett Leitz, Jackson and Cunningham for their progress this season and said he knows they’ll be staples in the future.
Carver added the offseason was about getting them ready to play and knowing their roles on both sides of the ball so they could step up if needed, and that preparation paid off when Carver was injured.
Schneider said Jackson stepping in at center steadied the offensive line.
“(Jackson) stepping up at center is what got us off to the right start,” said Schneider. “Early on, we leaned hard on Jacob and Brody, and we’ve been able to get better each week.”
“I don’t think we started out as fast as we’re going now,” said Carver. “But I think we’ve picked it up and know all of our roles and are executing. Learning our tasks, a little bit better, learning who we’re supposed to go to and block and creating better holes.”
Schneider pointed to the Silver Lake game in October when senior quarterback Torrey Horak had to leave with a shoulder injury.
After a shaky first two drives with senior running back Corey Catron taking snaps, the line buckled down and helped lead comeback for the War on 24 win.
Carver was also hurt that game and didn’t return until week 11.
Schneider said having to shuffle the line around was the biggest challenge yet, with Cunningham stepping in for Carver, Brody Leitz moving to right tackle and Barrett Leitz moving to right guard.
“It was a blessing for us, we had to get back to ground zero with fundamentals,” said Schneider. “Install everything again because we were reshuffled. That helped us.”
“When we go through our summer workouts and get into two-a-days, we try and work depth and competition as much as possible,” said Hammes. “We were able to find five kids and create depth. Look at the season from front to back, we’ve had two or three more that’ve had to help as well.”
Heading into Saturday, the offense is averaging 48 points per game with the line paving the way for senior quarterback Torrey Horak to pass for 1,112 yards and run for another 980 while senior running back Corey Catron has 1,242 yards on the ground.
Carver leads the line with 32 pancake blocks, Brody Leitz has 24 and Barrett Leitz adds 12.
The defense is giving up just 8.25 points per game, on pace for the best since Hammes took over in 2013.
Hale has 33 tackles, Brody Leitz has 30 tackles, Barrett Leitz has 25 tackles and Carver has 20 tackles.
There’ve been many good units to come through Rossville, so what sets these lines apart from others in the past?
“This group is a little bigger than most. We're noted a lot for smaller quicker kids,” said Hammes. “This group has a little bit of size, and that’s fun to coach. They double team and combo block really well.
“On the defensive side, they’re able to stuff the run. There’s a little bit of size and length and that’s not always what we’ve had.”
“They’re maybe the most physical we had. The other groups we’ve had are big and good and can move people off the ball too,” said Schneider. “But their ability to move people off the ball, their physicality is what sets them apart.”
Contact Seth Kinker at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @SethKinker.