*CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the number of passing yards. COLUMBIA — There are three freshmen, a sophomore and a junior starting on Tolton-Calvary's offensive line. None of them weigh more than 210 pounds and only one is taller than 6 feet.
The Tolton-Calvary football team is in its first year of varsity competition and features only nine upperclassmen — all juniors. There are 20 underclassmen, and the youngest players on the team are in the trenches of the offensive line, where the most contact happens.
at South Callaway (6-1)
WHEN: 7 p.m.
The freshmen on the line are seen as the building blocks for a team that wants to contend for a state championship by the time its youngest players are juniors and seniors.
Father Tolton Regional Catholic High School has about 120 students this school year – up from 70 in 2011-12 – including 25 players on the football team. Because of the low numbers, the team brought in four student athletes from Calvary Lutheran High School in Jefferson City.
Patrick Flesch, Andrew Long and Brian Bietcsh are the freshmen on the Trailblazers' line and they have known each other since elementary school. Junior Josh Horn, a Calvary Lutheran student, and senior John Guinn provide experience.
Junior Steven Gunn II, a projected starter at the beginning of the year, is 6 feet 2 inches tall and weighs 265 pounds. A medical condition has prevented him from playing this season. Another projected starter, junior Orrie Hemme, was lost before the season began to a ligament injury in his ankle. At 5 feet 11 inches and 270 pounds, he was the heaviest athlete on the roster.
Flesch, Bietsch, Long and his twin brother, Alex Long, a tight end, have known each other since they were about 7 or 8 years old. All four attended Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School, formerly known as Columbia Catholic School. Flesch has known Andrew Long since kindergarten. Bietsch came to the school a few years later.
Alex and Andrew Long and Bietsch played together last year in the Columbia Youth Football League.
Flesch (5-7, 240) said he appreciates playing with his two closest friends because it eliminates the intimidation factor that comes with being a starter on the football team. He feels close to his linemates and can talk to them easily, which makes communication — a key component of football — that much easier.
Andrew Long said he (6-1, 185) has a connection with Bietsch and Flesch that allows the trio to be able to lean on each other when there is confusion on assignments or when receiving a play call.
Bietsch (5-9, 200), who was one of two freshmen bumped into a starting role after Gunn II and Hemme were ruled out for the season, described his football relationship with Andrew Long and Flesch as a form of telepathy.
"I know them well enough to know what they are thinking and know what they are going to do," he said.
Guinn, who goes by "Big Nasty" on the field because of his use of the cut block, would seem to be the odd man out when it comes to the Trailblazers offensive line. He is the only junior and is the smallest overall linemen at 5 feet 10 inches and 160 pounds.
But he did attend Our Lady of Lourdes Interparish School for middle school, so Guinn said they "kind of came from the same background."
The young team was outscored 170-0 in its first three games before scoring two touchdowns in a Week 4 55-12 loss to Tipton.
Size has been an issue for the three freshmen, which is a major reason why the Trailblazers had only 299 yards of offense in the team's first four games (74.75 yards per game).
The Trailblazers had just 37 yards of offense against Westran and 85 against Tipton.
Flesch said the size of Westran's and Tipton's players was "overwhelming" but he has gotten used to the big hits. He said time spent in the weight room will eventually even the odds, but he is feeling overpowered at the moment.
"I've played football for like five years, and they've never been that big," he said.
Andrew Long said it was challenging at the beginning of the season to match up with the bigger schools, but he thinks it will only make the team better in the long run.
In the team's first varsity win last week against Missouri Military Academy, the Trailblazers produced a school-record 319 yards of offense, including 202 rushing and 117 passing* yards. Tolton-Calvary won 31-6.
Bietsch said he has not been thrown off by facing larger opponents. He reminded himself to not be scared and to just go full speed, no matter the height or weight.
"Well they're big, yeah, but it doesn't matter," he said. "Lowest man wins."