On the line: Cougar linemen face biggest challenge yet
By: Railey Ayers
“Hey Coach D,” laughed sophomore defensive lineman Logan Johnson across Sparta Academy’s visitor locker room, “It’s time to go eat!”
The Cougars had just ousted the warriors 42-20, and much to the CCA line’s delight, Johnson remembered the promise that lineman coach Donnie Sansom, more affectionately known as “Coach D”, made to his line during the summer.
“Yeah,” echoed sophomore Garvin Ayers, “You promised us that if a lineman scored a touchdown you would take us all out to eat.”
Johnson beamed, because 30 minutes before, he had done just that by returning a botched warrior punt for a touchdown.
Meanwhile in the opposite corner of the room, Sansom’s eyes met the eyes of junior center Matt Stephens, who was apparently biting his tongue.
“How about this, ” replied Sansom, whose usual poker face was stretching into a smirk, “Since [Johnson] scored, I won’t make you run for somehow getting past the referees with 12 men on the field that play.”
Stephens laughed, “I counted 11 guys and then realized that I forgot to count myself, but I just stayed so I wouldn’t make it obvious, and nobody ever saw. I was not about to take away what is probably the only touchdown our line will ever score. A lineman won’t have an announcer call his name like that very often.”
Stephens was right, it was the only touchdown scored by a lineman throughout their regular season, and they were okay with that.
“It’s not really our job to score, but we knew that going in. It’s against the odds for one of our guys to even have an opportunity to score, but when you work and scrap like we do, opportunities like that can open up,” Johnson said.
“Coach D would tell us this summer that we are always out there ‘fighting in the trenches- and in the trenches, what’s fair is fair- open up holes any way you can,’ and that’s what happened.”
A moment of glory like that was hard to come by for the CCA line, and their few moments of glory were met with many more challenges over the course of the season.
Despite the challenges and trying situations, the Cougar line had proven to be relentless even though they knew Stephens was right- no matter how good or bad they performed, no announcer was going to call their name out, and no one was going to chant their name.
At their game against Abbeville Christian Academy three weeks ago, the Cougars walked into the locker room at the half trailing the powerhouse generals by 40 points. A distraught Stephens and Ayers approached their coach.
“Help,” a desperate Stephens pleaded, “Tell us what we can do to fix this.”
“I have no complaint for y’all. You’ve done exactly what I’ve asked you to do. You guys have done your job,” Sansom deadpanned.
This wasn’t the answer neither Stephens nor any of the line wanted.
“No,” answered the 5’7, 185lb Stephens, “We’ve worked harder than that. My knuckles have been bleeding since 7 o’clock when this game started from trying to grind away and guard a guy twice my size. We’re all hurting, but I don’t care whether we’ve done our jobs or not. We’re behind by 40 and we’ve worked too hard for a result like that. Now we want to know what we can do to help that.”
Sansom understood, and was proud of their frustration in a way. He and CCA Head Coach Mike Sims have stressed relentlessness to them all year, and he credits the line’s success to possessing the quality.
“We’ve pounded our system into these guys since summer workouts began, and I am very excited that we get a chance to put that into action in the playoffs this week,” said Sansom of his line.
“They’ve made tremendous strides throughout the year despite our numbers being full of youth. We’re relying hugely on our two senior linemen, Ethan Jarman and Cole Little, to lead us into this battle. Our main focus will be on executing and doing the little things right.”
Execution is exactly what the Cougar line will have to stress in their game against Marengo Academy Thursday, according to junior offensive guard Baker Bozeman.
“It’s like David and Goliath,” Bozeman said.
“Marengo is a powerhouse program, and a win for us is very possible, but not easy. We’re going to have to execute everything perfectly and work harder than ever. They run one formation, but they outsize and outnumber us, and they do what they do well. We’re preparing for them and going up there to play with them just the way Coach D tells us- relentlessly.”
The Cougar line has prepared for two weeks to battle Marengo in the trenches, and they aren’t worried about who sees their work.
“Coach D has this hidden talent of writing poems, and he wrote one for our line. It says something like ‘whistles blow and the play ends, but they proudly line up to battle again. See, linemen don’t seek glory or fame, or hearing the announcer call their name. They stand up to battle for the sake of the team, to achieve total victory, that is their dream,’ and it’s so right. Nothing fits us more,” said Stephens.
“It’s a team, and our job is to protect our guys- our skill players- to bail them out,” said Ayers, who also handles kick-off duties for the Cougars.
“They work hard for us and we work hard for them. At Sparta, I accidentally managed an onside kick and somehow Junior [Wright] recovered it and bailed me out. I could’ve ran over and hugged him, but that’s what a team is supposed to be here for- our line especially. We’re here to bail each other out.”
The Cougars will travel to play the defending 3A state champion Marengo Longhorns Thursday at 7 p.m.