COLUMBIA — The Hickman football team has plenty of talent in the backfield, resting the running game on the shoulders of seniors Tucker Bounds and Rob Heath. But its success also depends on another group of people.
Offensive linemen Evan Conrad, Dan Evans, Josh Harvey, Tyler Rodes and Nate Meyer play the roles of the silent heroes for the Kewpies. It’s no secret to the opposition that Hickman likes to run the ball, but the team’s predictability makes it harder for these linemen to control the defense.
“Everybody knows we’re going to run,” Conrad, a guard, said.
Trying to create these holes would be a tough task for any offensive line, especially when the defense knows what play is coming before the snap. But this group thrives on the pressure play after play.
“We love it,” Evans said. “There’s nothing better than seeing Tuck or Rob just taking off, just seeing the back of their number.”
With senior quarterback Doug Luetjen out of the starting lineup for the start of the season, the Kewpies’ offense depends on Bounds and Heath to step forward in his absence. In the Kewpies’ game against visiting Bentonville, Ark., on Friday, the two took command with 478 rushing yards in a 42-34 victory.
While the running backs receive most of the credit for the team’s performance by finding the open holes and making cuts at the right times, the linemen tend to go unrecognized in a win such as this one. Offensive linemen seem to only be acknowledged by fans on false start penalties and when they allow a sack – basically, it’s only when they make a mistake. The linemen for Hickman still seem to enjoy it.
“We don’t need to have our names yelled loud over the speaker,” Evans said. “The coaches and the players know who’s opening up holes. They give us the props we need.”
While there aren’t official statistics kept for offensive linemen, one number in particular motivates them to work harder.
“Winning the time of possession battle is big,” Harvey said. “That’s the main thing because if we win the time of possession, that means we’re pounding down on the clock and we’re keeping the first downs coming. We’re doing that slowly to give our defense a rest and keeping their offense off the field so they can’t score.”
From the stands, the position of offensive lineman can appear brutal. While protecting the ballcarrier, linemen endure many bumps and bruises throughout the game, and at the same time, have to be consistently tough in order to win. It doesn’t sound like the picture-perfect role to be the hero.
So why would anyone want to take on this task?
“It’s a pretty prideful position,” Harvey said. “You get a lot of rep from people around your school from your friends.”
The Kewpies are looking to put last season’s 3-7 record out of their memory, and they say it all starts by proving themselves early. With two standout running backs, the pressure is on the linemen to do their job. But pressure is something they like to have on their side.
“We have our scout team go as hard as they can every time and we just never take any plays off from practice,” Conrad said. “All we hear about is how good everybody else’s defensive line is, how they’re going to smash us. It’s fun to rise up to the challenge and prove every week that we’re going to just keep pounding the ball. It’s old-fashioned Hickman.”
While the rest of the linemen play the entire game, Meyer splits time at center with Antwayn Spears and sits out every third possession. The break allows him time to refocus, but at the same time, he says it gives him a chance to cheer for his fellow teammates.
“It’s a great thing to know I have a breather,” Meyer said. “I’m just ready to go and then make sure the sideline’s up for the guys out there already.”
Plenty of season remains, and many other questions remain unanswered for the Kewpies. One thing is for sure, though: it means something to be a Hickman lineman.
“I think this is the only school in the state that glorifies an offensive line,” Meyer said.
The health of the offensive line is something that will change from game to game. Keeping players off the bench is crucial for the Kewpies to maintain success on offense.
“All of them have certain ailments. We’re not healthy at all, and for them to battle through and continue and play the way they did, I’m so happy for our kids,” Hickman coach Jason Wright said.