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Offensive line paves way for TRM's success

By By RANDY WINTON Sports Writer
From Day One of off-season workouts, he was there. It soon became apparent he would always be a constant presence with one goal in mind. Jack Whigham was not going to miss the opportunity to constantly remind his offensive line where it stood.
They knew what was coming every time they looked up from their weights and saw Whigham walking their way. It was only months removed from the 2003 football season where all but one member of that line had finished their senior seasons and these inexperienced trenchmen had become well aware their time had come.
If for some reason they had forgotten the fact the fortunes of the T.R. Miller offense would ride squarely on their shoulders, Whigham, the whiz of an offensive line coach, had become their constant reminder. It is sort of the human version of that string tied around one's finger. It never goes away.
Eight weeks into the 2004 season, including Friday's 38-7 win over rival W.S. Neal, they have more than filled those shoes. The results (8-0 record, Region 1 champs, top ranking in Class 3A) have helped these guys become an offensive line that will prove the measuring stick for those who come behind them.
While the names have changed, the results certainly have not. Guys like Tyler Chapman, James Hildreth, Michael Mashburn, David Stokes and Tyler Shehan, all seniors, have led the charge for the unbeaten, top-ranked Tigers thus far, as well as underclassmen Jason McCreary, Justin Marshall, Brooks Fussell and Julius Harris.
If the last couple of weeks are any indication, those long, hot days, exhausting workouts and constant reminders from their coach have had a positive affect. Not only have they maintained their pre-season top ranking, but the Tigers are one win away from being only the seventh in the school's rich history to go undefeated in the regular season.
The Tigers directly benefited from that closely-knit O-line in Friday's Battle of Murder Creek
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victory. Just a week earlier, it was the protection of this same unit that helped the Tigers blast recent nemesis Pike County 52-27.
In both victories, a different scenario played out offensively, but the result was the same. At Pike County, this band of brothers provided the protection to help quarterback Jordan Cauley throw for a career high 332 yards and four touchdowns. In the win over W.S. Neal, it was not so glamorous.
It did not have to be.
After a first half struggle in which the Tiger offense ran only 16 plays en route to a tenuous 14-7 lead, head coach Jamie Riggs put the game squarely on the shoulders of this offensive line.
No fancy-smancy frills and glitz. Just line it up, keep it on the ground and dare them to stop us. Smash-mouth football at its best.
That response resulted in a 24-point second-half explosion, in which the Tigers, behind that line which took control at the point of attack, rushed for 140 yards and three touchdowns.
By contrast, the first half saw the Tigers net a mere 70 yards on the ground and pass for only nine. After averaging 5.4 yards per play in the first two quarters, the Tigers improved dramatically to 7.6 yards per play in the second half on 28 plays.
There is nothing glamorous in being an offensive lineman. Truth be known, when those Friday night lights come on and the band starts playing, folks do not buy tickets to watch linemen. They come to see the playmakers.
Conversely, offensive linemen are not much more than obscure figures on the field. Their names are known to only a few. These are the guys whose work mostly goes unnoticed. These are the faces only a mother could love.
People notice those who score touchdowns. People notice those who intercept passes.
People do not notice, however, those grunts in the trenches whose blood, sweat and tears pave the way.
Without them, there are no playmakers, there are no roads to glory and certainly there are no championships.
Others may get the headlines, but there is nothing accomplished that is worth much if those grunts in the trenches can't get the job done. A lot of the time, their only recognition comes from a coach. Their only satisfaction are victories and the sheer pride of the job.
Even when the assignment pits them against bigger opponents, which has been the case on more than one occasion this year, they control that line of scrimmage not always by brute force, but through that technique and mental toughness.
After all, size does not matter much when the heart of a champion is measured.
In the quiet solitude of their existence as offensive linemen, where there are no fancy-smancy frills and glitz, and especially no headlines, they continue to do what it takes so that others receive the glory.
All for the good of the team.
Looking back, they will remember the wins, the region championship and another playoff berth in a long and storied history of postseason appearances.
Mostly, though, they will remember a coach who believed in them enough to develop the character that has made these offensive linemen champions off the field as well as on it.