‘Top of the line’

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Selma Times-Journal

Call them the horses in front of the wagon. Call them the locomotive on the train.

Matter of fact, it might be better to call the offensive linemen for the Meadowview Christian football team magicians.

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Their unified goal is to make the players lined up across from them disappear.

“They came a long way since this summer,” coach Rick Jackson said. “One of our big question marks before the season was how well we would do up front on offense and defense. They’ve shown a tremendous amount of work ethic. They’re a close-knit group, and you can see that. They want to win, and they’ve become a pretty darn good unit.”

The Trojans’ big six don’t mind giving each other a hard time, but they pull for each other as well.

Just to look at them, it would seem a few bodies are out of place.

Tackle Ross Johnson is by far the largest lineman at 6-foot-6, 295 pounds.

And then there’s the man in the middle. Center Joshua “Butter” Barlow isn’t at all fazed about being the lightweight at 5-8, 148 pounds.

His job is more about smarts than size.

“I’ve got to block linemen, block linebackers, pick up blitzes and call blocking schemes,” Barlow said. “That’s all on the center. Other teams usually put big people over me. This week I get to block a guy that’s 295 pounds. That’s going to be pretty awesome.”

Guards Eric Henderson and Zach Lawrence, tackle Richard Long and strong side tight end Will Pitts fill out the rest of the line.

Linemen have to be very versatile to work in the Trojans’ offense, hence the necessity for large guys and undersized, quicker guys.

With each game, they have gotten more confident about playing together.

Regardless of all the X’s and O’s, though, the heart of the job is to keep the guys in the backfield protected and give the team a chance to win.

“We’ve been playing pretty good,” Henderson said. “We’ve messed up a few times, and we could do better. There’s always room for improvement, but overall we’ve been playing real good.”

The team was rolling right along until their first setback came in a loss to Lowndes Academy last Friday.

The players said they knew immediately what went wrong, and they’re determined not to make the same mistakes again. They even drew inspiration from the game.

“Our minds just weren’t right for the game,” Johnson said. “We didn’t capitalize on mistakes, and we had turnovers at critical points in the game. Hoover lost to Tuscaloosa County (in 2005) and came back to beat Tuscaloosa County in the playoffs then won the state championship. We’re keeping that on our minds.”

Probably no one is more appreciative of the work the line does than the players in the backfield.

“When they’re on, the holes are as big as a garage door,” running back Brett Collins said.

Quarterback Randal Hamilton called them the “top of the line.”

“They help us out a lot,” he said. “They do pretty much what’s asked of them. They’re big, they’re quick, and they do what we need.”

Simply Southern: Jackson didn’t pull any punches when talking about what his team should expect from Southern Academy Friday night.

“Defensively and offensively, they’re tough,” Jackson said. “They’re strong, they’ve got speed and they’ve got great athletes. As far as weaknesses, I don’t know that they have a weakness.”

The Cougars (5-0) have reloaded again after winning a state championship last season.

Their entire backfield is strong, and they have an offensive line that can stand up to anyone.

Perhaps the biggest thing the Trojans (4-1) have to worry about is on special teams.

Southern likes to bring a lot of pressure on punters and force their way into field position.

Jackson insists his players weren’t looking ahead to this game. But now that it’s here, he wants them to take their best shot.

“I’m interested to see how well we can do and perform this week after losing for the first time,” Jackson said. “I want to know how we’ll respond against a very good football team.”