While fans may be thrilled to see the successful results of a long pass or run, something the Generals have done equally well this season, the foundation of plays such as that is built around the hard labor of the Generals’ offensive line: tight end Keegan Bess, tackle Shaquille Owens, guard Grant Stokes, center Kamm Deviney, guard Trevor Villegas and tackle Trevor Chapman.
That group has played a critical role in Wooster’s 3-3 start in what has shaped up to be an extremely balanced race for the Ohio Cardinal Conference championship.
“We have a lot of experience on the line,” said head coach Mike McCreary. “Grant is a three-year starter, Shaq is a two-year, Keegan a two-yer per say and Villy a two-year. Trevor is the only guy who had not played at all on the line.
“Their experience has a lot to do with our success. Rarely do they make mistakes and that gives them a chance to win their (individual) battles. If they win, we get big yardage. Their execution has been so good it’s put us in situations to do well. With the talent behind them, they don’t need to do a whole lot sometimes with (quarterback) Devin (Daugherty) and (running back) DeVo (DeVonta Anderson) behind them.”
While that experience has been a critical ingredient this season, that wasn’t always the case for junior Grant Stokes, a three-year starter at guard.
“As a freshman, it was scary. I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t know exactly what I was doing,” said Stokes, who stands 6 feet tall at 245 pounds. “Halfway through my freshman season was when I started to feel comfortable. My freshman year was all about learning where I needed to go. My sophomore year I knew where to go and I started to read the defenses more. This year I know where I am supposed to go and I’m reading defenses well enough to stop blitzes.”
That experience for both Stokes and his teammate has been critical to the success of a team that has scored four touchdowns a game through its first six games.
“When we stay on our blocks and do our assignments, that’s when DeVo or Devin will throw or run and make a big play,” said Stokes. “We had our struggles at the beginning of the season. Against Ashland and Wadsworth we were yelling at each other, and the outcome was losses. Against Clear Fork, did anyone hear any yelling? We played as a team and look at the outcome (a 28-7 win). It was nice.”
Owens (6-0, 250), who saw swing time as a sophomore and then started as a junior, sees the answer as a simple thing for the O-Line: “Playing as a team.”
“We have to stay on our blocks and make sure everything is good,” said the senior. “Staying on your man – it’s that simple. Staying on your man. Staying on your man makes it easier for the running game and the passing game.”
Owens has made his biggest improvement by “knowing the plays better,” he said.
“When I was younger, I was big so I was playing offense. Now I know the plays and I have a better understanding of the offense,” said Owens. “I like playing defense better, but I’m good on offense, though.
The Generals put a piece of this year’s puzzle at center last year when Deviney stepped into the position as a sophomore. Deviney (6-0, 290) has been a central piece for the Generals ever since.
“I started every game as a freshman and then went straight to varsity. I never played JV,” said Deviney. “It was definitely more serious. Your blocks are more critical. My biggest thing was learning the plays and the importance of my blocks… and just how critical my blocks are for running up the middle or just outside.
“But probably communication with the other lineman is really important. I call (the plays for) where the guards go on some pass plays or running plays, so I help communicating our blocks.”
While Bess didn’t start last year, he saw a large volume of playing time at tight end. And like his teammates, the 6-2, 225-pounder noted it was critical to be locked in with his teammates on the play calling.
“Probably knowing the plays better,” was what Bess focused on as an area where he’s made the most improvement. “As a tight end I have to know the routes for all the receivers and blocking… I think the combination of reps and paying attention more has helped me. Being at practice two and a half hours, it’s easy to get distracted. It’s a matter of paying attention and staying focused.
“(Our success) is a matter of making sure everyone is playing together and the chemistry is good because if one person messes up, it can ruin the whole play.”
One play certainly ruined the season for Villegas. The senior started the first five games before he was injured against Madison in a 27-26 loss.
“I tore my ACL and my MCL is partially torn,” said the 6-foot, 230-pound senior. “There is a slim chance I can come back, but the doctors say it’s not looking too good.”
The senior was on defense against the Rams when the fateful play occurred.
“I was on the line and I got ready to shoot the gap,” said Villegas. “The center hit my knee and the guard hit me in the chest and bent me over the center. I heard a pop when it happened. The pain was bad enough I couldn’t put pressure on it… so I suspected the worst. I knew it was bad when it happened. But we have a lot of guys and they can play and do the job. We have a lot of depth on the team, but it’s hard. Personally, it’s tough to stand on the sidelines and watch.”
Chapman, a junior, was the only starter without a wealth of experience to fall back on, but he has steadily grown into the position this season. The key to success, he said, was really quite simple: “Everyone staying on their blocks and going hard on every play.”
“I go out and try to do my best since I am one of the newcomers on the line,” said the 6-1, 270-pound Chapman. “I just try to remember the snap count and go out and hit people. I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did in the beginning of the season.”
It certainly helps having people who can get through the hole or make plays on their own behind him, he said.
“It makes me feel better,” he said. “I want to block better so they can use that to their advantage and they can get their job done while I’m getting my job done. We need to go play as hard as we can and get a ‘W’ in all of them.”
To keep OCC or postseason hopes alive, there is no question Wooster will have to keep winning.
“They are motivated,” said McCreary, who has replaced Villegas with Cy Morgan and Ben Nolt. “They have executed and gone to the right spot and then won their individual battles so far. There are games where we could have put 5-6 touchdowns on the board.
“They’ve played well and the motivation is there. They don’t get flustered. We’ve been down points but they have a lot of confidence in themselves to move the ball on anyone. That helps. Even though we lost a tough one to Madison, they still drove down the field and gave themselves a chance to win it. Even though they were held short, they didn’t get nervous.
“They go out and do their job, and that bodes well for us.”
Published: October 5, 2011