November 25, 2009 5:15:00 PM
REFORM, Ala. - Tony Easterwood looks down the field at the blank scoreboard.
The numbers on that scoreboard have helped the Pickens County High School football team (12-1) advance to the semifinals of the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 2A state playoffs.
But Easterwood isn''t looking at the scoreboard or imaging a score of a game from earlier in the season.
He''s looking at the sled.
It''s a typical sled that is found at most high school. It''s used to build strength in offensive and defensive linemen and to teach them to drive their opponents off the ball.
Easterwood smiles when asked how the Tornadoes'' undersized group of defensive linemen have played so well this season.
"The sled," Easterwood says simply.
The 6-foot-1, 185-pound lineman is a perfect example of the kind of player Pickens County coach Scott Marchant has used in a defense that blends speed, power, and a relentless attacking mind-set.
Marchant hopes the Tornadoes can build on their victory against defending state champion Leroy last week at 7 p.m. Friday when they travel to Reeltown.
To advance to face the winner of the Lamar County-Clay County game and play in the state championship at 3 p.m. Dec. 4 at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala., Marchant knows the defensive line will have to come up big against Reeltown.
"Reeltown will get in a double tight wishbone and run it right at you," Marchant said. "It definitely is going to be a challenge. It is more than about size and strength and speed. You need some of those things, but it is more about being disciplined and doing your job the right way.
"It is going to be paramount that they be disciplined in what they do. It is the same game plan as last week and last year. They need to do their job and do it well, and if they do we will be successful."
Easterwood and Markeaton Sterling at defensive end and freshman William Stewart; senior Shaquille Wright, and junior Travis Bailey will be called on to contain the wishbone and not to get trapped up front. If they do their jobs, players like linebacker Quinton Sturdivant will be able to come up and help the Tornadoes control the line of scrimmage.
Easterwood said hours and hours pushing the sled gives them the confidence they can accomplish that goal. He said three players get behind the blocking pads and two more stand behind it. They then push and push until Marchant blows the whistle. He said sometimes Marchant waits longer to blow the whistle, but it doesn''t matter because the Tornadoes are battle tested at this point in the season.
"We can do it (against Reeltown)," Easterwood said. "We just have to study film like we have been doing, practice hard every day, and we can get it just like we have been doing against the other teams."
Easterwood said the defensive line has worked hard and stayed together all season and is excited about the chance to prove it again Friday night.
Sterling, a 6-3, 225-pound senior, agrees and said playing assignment football is the goal Friday night. It might sounds simple, but he said the Tornadoes will need plenty of discipline to get the job done.
"We have been coming to practice and showing what we can do what we have to do, and it shows up on Friday," Sterling said. "We have to practice a little bit harder this week and play a little bit more perfect to do what we have to do."
Sterling gives the Tornadoes'' defensive line a nine on he scale of 1-10. He said the unit doesn''t let its combined lack of size stop it from doing its job. He said the key is staying low and firing off the ball.
"It is really not about size. It is about technique," Sterling said. "If you have technique you can defeat anybody."
Marchant expects the Tornadoes to run multiple fronts Friday with four to seven linemen. He said the defensive line has played great football every week and he will ask those players to do it again for at least one more week.
"They have gotten after it week in and week out," Marchant said. "We have faced a lot of different schemes this year, but they have always been ready to step up to whatever the situation or the occasion may be."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.