Linemen Can Make Or Break Championship Title Hopes

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A common thread running through all three Longhorn football teams that reached the state championship game is that all were built on strong play by both the offensive and defensive lines.

I wasn't in Payson during the Longhorns run to the 1981 championship; rather, I was coaching in Show Low. But, I do remember the Horns had some solid linemen in Roger Templeton, Jeff Teubner, Steve Vick, Shawn Herring, Gary Weir, Rocky Klabbatiz and others.

In the 1986 team's quest for the state championship, linemen Matt Rambo, Mark Velasco, Eric Anderson, Russell Cubbison, Mike Beismeyer and others buoyed the Horns.

The tight knit group adopted the name "Bruise Brothers" as a moniker for their camaraderie.

During the 1998 championship year, Bryan Zumbro, Craig McClanahan, Jordan Sierverson, Justin Davis and Ty Hulburt were among those manning the trenches.

Of course, there are always those who argue that those three team's success were due to the presence of outstanding backs.

Tom Fruth was a record-setter on the 1981 team, Ty Chilson ran rampant for the 1986 state runners-up and signal caller Hunter Walden engineered the 1998 champs.

But as good as the trio were, it was the gutsy play of the "grunts" up front that set the stage for victories.

As legendary Winslow High School football coach Emil Nasser loved to tell his players, "anyone can carry a football, it's not heavy."

For additional evidence that well-coached and highly conditioned linemen are the foundation of gridiron success, look no further than to our neighbors at Blue Ridge High School in Lakeside.

There, line coach Bob London perennially molds agile, mobile and hostile linemen out of teenagers, usually 20 to 30 pounds lighter than their opponents.

In Flagstaff, new Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt brought with him to Arizona perhaps the finest line coach in pro football -- Russ Grimm.

It's obvious under Whisenhunt and Grimm, the linemen will be much more focused, conditioned and accountable than they were during the previous regime of Dennis Green.

But, what does this spotlight on line play have to do with the 2007 Payson High School team?

It means that if the Longhorns are to battle for East region supremacy and a run into the state tournament, the linemen and their coaches must shoulder much of the burden.

Without top-notch coaching and spirited, heady play from those in the three- and four-point stances, the state cause is futile at best.

Around the 3A conference, there are outstanding linemen ready to lead their teams. Wickenburg has Blake Crissman, Derek Gonzales and Joseph Larsen lead Coolidge and in Winslow, senior Joseph Larsen is rock solid.

At Blue Ridge, Steve Parkinson is not big, but is talented. The Jackets also have one of their biggest players ever in 270-pound Dwight Boyd. A.J. Rodriquez will anchor the line at Snowflake and Jake Ray is expected to be a leader on the line at Round Valley.

With standout "big men" seemingly in abundance in the 3A conference, this season could be remembered as "the year of the linemen."

For Payson to counter their foes with a formidable team of their own, the offensive and defensive linemen must show the same uncommon commitment their predecessors did in the football seasons of 1981, 1986 and 1998.

That type of devotion, coupled with outstanding line coaching, will pave the way to the postseason.

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