COLUMBIA – The Rock Bridge football team came into the season hoping to build its offense around the run. The Bruin probably wasn’t what coach A.J. Ofodile had in mind.
In the Bruin formation, Chase Rome and Okoye West block for Trey Millard, who receives a direct snap from the center. Rock Bridge used the play on two-point conversions at the beginning of the season and added it to regular offensive series as the season progressed.
Rome and West approached Ofodile about getting some carries in the Bruin formation after seeing Millard bash his way to multiple touchdowns this season.
“Me and Chase don’t see Trey as that much different than we are,” West said. “He’s a little bit skinnier. To us.”
It’s true. Millard weighs 250 pounds while West is listed at 275 and Rome at 280.
“We asked, ‘Hey, can we carry the ball some?’” Rome said.
Ofodile’s response, Rome said, was something like, “‘Man, y’all too slow, y’all too slow, blah, blah, blah.’”
The coach gave Rome and West a chance, however. On his first carry in practice, Rome raced for what would’ve been a 90-yard touchdown. On the next play, West ran for 60 yards and would’ve scored a touchdown but tripped in a mud puddle.
“But it was a big mud puddle,” Rome said. “He (Ofodile) was like, ‘All right, so we’re rotating ball carriers.’ It’s not scripted."
Since then, Rome and West have joined Millard among those with touchdowns this season. Nonetheless, running the ball is not their most important assignment. Their biggest role remains at their original positions. Ofodile knows teams must stop the run to win at the high school level. That’s why, during the offseason, he emphasized strengthening his defensive line.
“It was a no-brainer,” Ofodile said. “Having big, fast, athletic guys definitely makes it (the Bruins' defensive line) one of the best. It’s the best defensive line we’ve had, without a doubt.”
Concentrating mostly on defense has helped the defensive line stay fresher. Rome and West played on both lines last season, and A.J. Warren has done the same, while Tristan Patterson was on junior varsity. Rome and Patterson are defensive ends, and West and Warren are defensive tackles.
“Nobody we play had guys who go both ways,” Ofodile said. “For the most part, when you’re asking your guys to play 120-150 snaps a game against guys who play 70 snaps, when talent is equal, that’s asking a whole lot. When you’re asking guys to be responsible for two complicated systems, that’s tough, too.”
The Bruins rotate in players such as Josh Braselton to keep everyone fresh. Millard began the season at running back and defensive end, but he has played more offense as the season progressed. Skyler Hinton started at center but has moved to the defensive line as well.
“We came in the first couple of times (in preseason practices), and everything was normal,” West said. “We started putting different people in different positions to see what they could do. The four of us ended up on D-line. It took a while to get to the last person, A.J.”
The Bruins are 5-4 this season and have a chance to qualify for the playoffs Friday night. Their record might not be gaudy, but their schedule included difficult opponents such as Liberty, Jefferson City, Helias and Hazelwood Central, the defending Class 6A state champion. Rock Bridge is also coming off consecutive 1-9 seasons.
Here’s a closer look at the four starters on a Rock Bridge defensive line that has been a significant part of the Bruins’ success this season.
The numbers of players on Rock Bridge’s defensive line almost follows a pattern. West wears 53, Patterson 54 and Rome 55. Warren, however, is 18.
It’s a hint about how long he has played on the defense.
“I did some D-line last year,” he said. “But I was mostly an offensive player. This year with our new offense, it called for a different type of personnel. I was just needed more on defense. There really wasn’t much of an adjustment.”
Warren spent time at tight end last season and, as someone who wears 18, he is still eligible to catch passes. He says that his time playing offense has helped him because he recognizes blocking schemes used against him.
“Honestly, it’s not that big of a difference,” Warren said. “It’s the same general area of the field.”
West transferred from Boonville High School to Rock Bridge last year.
“Not living far from here, we heard a lot about Rock Bridge and Hickman,” he said. “We wanted to see what school was the best fit, the best learning environment. The main thing was my dad wanted to live in the south side of town. I was cool with wherever we went to.”
West then missed half of Rock Bridge’s season with a knee injury. Now healthy, he’s hoping that his play this season will be enough to earn him a scholarship.
“That was pretty much the plan,” West said. “Because I knew I didn’t play that many games last year, the film I sent out, I was getting some feedback on. I knew if I had a good year this year, then that would increase.”
Patterson remembers meeting his new workout partner toward the beginning of the year.
“I came into the ARC and saw this big guy wearing Dallas Cowboys Under Armor,” he said.
It was Dedrick Harrington, a former Missouri linebacker who signed as an undrafted free agent with the Cowboys in 2007 and is now with the Colts.
Patterson worked with Harrington for about six or seven months to improve his speed and explosiveness. He realized he needed to because playing varsity football meant going against players who were stronger, taller and faster than players on junior varsity.
“I just feel stronger than last year,” Patterson said. “Still a long way to go. I’m not a big guy (Patterson is 6-1, 225), but I knew I was going up against a lot of big guys, so I needed to have speed. Definitely, I have to thank him a lot.”
Rome has been the centerpiece of the Rock Bridge defensive line.
Scouting service Rivals.com ranked him as the No. 6 high school player in the state of Missouri and the No. 20 strongside defensive end in the country.
Opposing offenses have added more players in an attempt to stop Rome.
“Absolutely, I’ve seen a lot more of that than last year,” he said. “I’m not trying to call anybody out, but Liberty, they had an unbalanced line. They had me all the way out there and ran the ball to the other side. There are little schemes like that to get the ball where I’m not. Against Helias, I got double and triple teamed pretty much every play.”
Wait. Triple teamed?
“Believe it or not, I didn’t think it could happen either,” he said. “I definitely see a lot more of that than my junior year.”
Rome came into the season with a scholarship commitment to Oklahoma State but switched to Nebraska on Oct. 9. He turned down many other offers for the Cornhuskers.