Opinion: Linemen need to play big
I only covered a couple of Basehor-Linwood High School football games last year, but I still thought I had a feel for how the offense would look this season.
Tanner Swafford would return as a junior with a number of starts under his belt and all the poise and polish of a second-year varsity quarterback. Top-notch speedster Josh Ross and bruiser Todd Bell would be in the backfield, giving the Bobcats a senior running back tandem with that classic "thunder and lightning" feel.
The Bobcats would open things up with Swafford's arm and Ross' legs and Bell would blast through for the tough yards in goal line situations.
Well, scratch that, all of it. As the off-season progressed it became clear that very little of what I envisioned for the 2006 Bobcat offense would actually come to pass. Swafford, Ross and Bell all decided not to come out for football this year, meaning that coach Steve Hopkins will be without last season's leading passer, second-leading rusher and top blocking back.
Taking over for Swafford is Ben Zuk, who hasn't taken a varsity snap and will be BLHS' second straight sophomore starting quarterback. Replacing Bell and Ross will be a running-back-by-committee approach that will include some combination of Chandler Schaake, Andrew Stueckemann and David Theodorus, none of whom got many carries last year when Ross, Bell and Will Peterson were doing their things. All of them have a lot of potential, but all are still works in progress.
The Bobcats often had trouble scoring last year and that was when they had Swafford, Peterson, Ross and Bell, not to mention starting wide receivers Jordan Coffman and Garrett Chumley, both lost to graduation. So, if they struggled to score last season with those guys, is there any hope for the team's offense without them? Yes there is, and there's three big reasons why: Austin Hunter, Swede Johnson and Ethan Douglas.
Hunter, Johnson and Douglas are offensive linemen, which means they're some of the team's most overlooked players, even though they're the biggest physically. There's no glamor in their jobs and no stats to measure how they do, but the Bobcats' win-loss record this year will probably be a good indication of their performance.
The offensive line will be one of the few areas where the Bobcats will have a good deal of varsity experience and a physical advantage. Hunter, Johnson and Douglas all were at least spot starters last year, and all are upwards of 250 pounds, giving BLHS the size to hold its own against lines like Tonganoxie's. Hopkins is also adding senior Chad Whitlow, a transfer from Leavenworth, and he along with the other three heavyweights should make the line a major strength.
Although Hopkins has to be a bit concerned about having so few proven varsity players in the backfield, when it comes down to it most coaches would rather have experience on the line than in the so-called "skill positions." No matter how good an arm your quarterback has, he's going to struggle if he's constantly facing a heavy pass rush. Similarly, any running back is going to struggle if his line loses the battle at the line of scrimmage.
Barring injury, Basehor-Linwood should have the size and experience to win the battles in the trenches, and that's reason for optimism even though so many of last year's play makers are gone.