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Monster performance by offensive line leads to West Point victory

 

Adam Minichino

 

WEST POINT -- Call it an attitude. You can also refer to it as a mind-set or a mentality. 

 

Regardless of what word you use to describe the motivation, it is hard to dispute the results: 648 yards. 

 

For some teams, that total represents their rushing total for the season. 

 

Call it a night's work for the West Point High School offensive line. 

 

Not only did West Point average 10 yards per carry Friday night in a 76-50 victory against New Hope, it also placed three running backs -- Aeris Williams (223 yards), Roger Thomas (148), and Lacequiu Starks (147) -- over 100 yards in one of the state's most dominating ground games in recent memory. 

 

"It is shocking because we weren't expecting it to be that many yards in one game," junior Kadarius Forside said. "It is a great feeling to have that many yards in one game." 

 

For their accomplishments, the members of the West Point High offensive line share The Dispatch's Prep Player of the Week award. 

 

Forside and linemate Chris Humphries both used the word "grind" to describe how the offensive line helped the Green Wave improve to 6-4 and 4-2 in Class 5A, Region 1. The victory solidified West Point's hold on third place in the region behind Oxford and Clarksdale, which holds the tiebreaker based on a victory in the teams' meeting earlier in the season. West Point will close the regular season at 7 p.m. Thursday against Lewisburg, while Clarksdale will play Friday at Center Hill. 

 

Entering the game against New Hope, West Point had rushed for 247 or more yards in eight of nine games, according to MaxPreps.com. Columbus is the only team to hold West Point to less than 200 yards (175), which is not surprising considering the Falcons won that game 41-14.  

 

Even with that loss, West Point entered the game against New Hope averaging more than 52 carries a game and more than 6 yards per carry. With a running back like Williams, a Mississippi State commitment, leading the way, West Point offensive line coach Casey Welch admitted the offensive linemen don't have to hold their blocks long. It also helps that Williams, Thomas, Starks, and quarterback Josh Ewing are hard to tackle. so there are plenty of yards after contact, if there is any contact. 

 

As much as hard work in the weight room and in other conditioning drills is the foundation to the offensive line's success, another part is the mind-set. Shelton, who was a key member of the line last season, remembers attending West Point High football games when he was growing up. He distinctly recalls watching the 2005 state title team and how that squad stoked a passion for football he brings to the field every day. 

 

"We are a team full of athletes," Shelton said. "We live football, we breath football. That is what we do." 

 

Junior Miller Keys (6-foot-2) is the tallest member of the offensive line (tight ends included), while Humphries (265 pounds) and sophomore Devin Morton (260) are the two biggest linemen. Still, the Green Wave aren't an imposing group up front. What they lack in jaw-dropping size they more than make up for in attitude. 

 

"You have to have that confidence," Shelton said. "That West Point swagger. We got that swagger that when we are on the field we are bullies, so we are going to go hard. We are always going to be underdogs. I like that atmosphere of being the underdog because I have to prove myself or do something. That's what we do. We prove it every night that we are going to do what we do even though we are kind of small or whatever. We are going to do what we do to win the game." 

 

Shelton said the offensive linemen take pride in proving people wrong, especially ones who doubt them because of their size. He said that just makes the offensive linemen feel like fighters backed into a corner. There is only one way out, which is to come out swinging and to fight your way out. 

 

Humphries, one of six juniors up front, said he was "amazed" when he found out after the game how many yards West Point accumulated on the ground. He said the success is based on a mind-set that has been nurtured through the years. 

 

"We go to the line every week expecting that I am going to beat that man, and I am going to do what I have to do to get my running back into the end zone," Humphries said. "We go out there and do our job and things like (Friday night) will happen." 

 

Forside said the members of the offensive line have to be the "dogs" of the team and accept responsibility for what goes wrong because they know they are expected to be the force that drives the offense. A lot of times, the guys in the trenches don't get the glory, but that's fine to Forside, who said it's "a team effort." 

 

Welch said that attitude extends to the coaching staff, where offensive coordinator Lee J. Grisham, a former offensive lineman, and other coaches stress the fundamentals of hat placement, a strong base, and constant movement of feet are keys to moving the pile. He said that instruction begins at the middle school level, where those seventh- and eighth-graders are learning the same principles and techniques and mentality, so when they get to the high school team they can make an easy transition. 

 

When you factor in an attitude that relishes playing "West Point football" and hitting opponents in the mouth time after time after time, it's no wonder why the Green Wave were able to rush for 648 yards.  

 

"Our five guys can't be passive. You have to try to take the fight to the defense," Welch said. "You can't sit back. I think the first half in several games this season we have come out with that wrong mentality and we have seen where that gets us. A credit to the kids, and coach Chambless preaches it every day, in a season like we're having, there is a lot of frustration in terms of our record. We feel like we're better than what our record shows. You just have to keep fighting, and that is one thing our kids are all about. It is all about fighting. 

 

"It's a physical, get-after-you mentality. That is one thing we want as an 'O' line. When the defensive linemen wake up on Saturday morning, we want them to know they have been in a fight. That is our style of football. We want them to be so sore. We talk about it every week, you just keep pounding on them and pounding on them that those 2-yard gains are going to turn into 22-yard gains, or we will break some long ones in the second, third, or fourth quarters if you keep pounding on them. That has been the mentality since I have been here. 

 

"You used the word bully earlier, I don't know if you would call us bullies, but that is the kind of mentality. We want to push you around, we want to hit you in the mound from the opening kickoff to the end of the fourth quarter. We really pride ourselves on not stopping that in the third quarter and continuing that into the fourth quarter. It has been taught from the ground up. It really has more to do with them than it is with me. These kids have been taught that for a lot of years." 

 

Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor.

 

Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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