Juneau-Douglas' quiet engine

The Crimson Bears' offensive line leads the offense into an important contest Friday against Colony

Posted: Thursday, September 13, 2007

They are the faceless, nameless players on the football team. Yet, without them, the team accomplishes nothing.

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JDHS football

Railbelt Conference game

Who: Colony (3-2, 2-1) at No. 1 JDHS (5-0, 4-0).

Where: Adair-Kennedy Memorial Field.

When: Varsity game kicks off at 8 p.m. Friday. Junior varsity plays at 5 p.m. Friday.

What's at stake: The Crimson Bears can win the Railbelt Conference title and a top-seed in the playoffs with a win.

While the offensive line's work normally gets overshadowed by a breakaway run, a deep pass or a jaw-jarring tackle, the five big guys on the line of scrimmage are as crucial as any play a coach could call.

For the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears (5-0, 4-0 Railbelt Conference), the offensive line has been the quiet engine propelling the offense.

"They're doing really, really good," said JDHS running back and leading rusher Silver Maake. "Without the line ... I can't go anywhere. The last few games, the line's been doing a good job. They've been improving every week."

The offensive line - from left, Phil Moser, Matt Lehrbach, Faifo Levale, Lawrence Fenumiai and Jake "Texas" Nelson - has been a surprising strength this season.

Given the quintet hasn't played together before this year, they've jelled quickly and provided plenty of holes for Maake to attack.

"We've been like our own separate team on the line," Lehrbach, the Bears' left guard, said. "We've been able to use our speed just to get around guys and seal them out."

A key to any offensive line is chemistry. Because the line members play so close to each other, each player must work with the man next to him to block the correct person.

Developing this communication and chemistry can sometimes take years.

For the Bears, it's taken just a few months.

"It's important they went to the summer camp and got some of the bugs worked out," JDHS offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said. "We knew we were going to be run-heavy this year. You've got to get some movement on that line."

Juneau-Douglas' run-heavy offense - where running backs Maake, Lincoln Maka and Alex Fagerstrom have moved the ball most of the year - has benefited the new offensive line.

Whereas pass blocking is more reactive where a lineman must step back to protect the quarterback from an angry defense, run blocking allows the line to attack.

The line must jump off the ball quickly, seal off their man and get moving.

"I think it's good with these guys," Sjoroos said. "We have some quickness so we get them moving. We've tried to pull guys a little more than we have in the past. Make it exciting for them. Make it something they want to do, not what they have to do."

The line has also benefited from Emil West, the Crimson Bears' new line coach.

West, a former NCAA Division II college football player at Fort Lewis College, helped shepherd the five-man crew by adding to Sjoroos' blocking scheme.

Sjoroos likes his blockers to play what he calls a "two-man game" where two blockers work together to create a lane for the running back to run through.

West added on to this concept with a technique called "scoop" blocking. In scoop blocking, two blockers work together on a lineman, but one of them eventually breaks off upfield to attack a linebacker. This allows JDHS to get its bigger linemen on smaller players and open up even bigger lanes for the running backs.

"That's the first time we've ever done it," Lehrbach said. "Normally it's you get this guy and I get this guy. Now it's push the linebacker back as far as we can."

Apart from techniques and schemes, the trust linemen have in one another is paramount to success.

Each person must have faith that the others will do their job. If not, a quarterback sack or running back thrown for a loss could be the consequence.

If the first five games of the season mean anything, the Bears' five blockers have developed the chemistry. That could mean more points and wins for JDHS.

"We're all pretty good friends," Lehrbach said. "We've known each other for years."

• Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or sports@juneauempire.com.



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