MOUNT PLEASANT, N.C. -- Randy Kaiser knows what most people see when they peruse his offensive line: girth. A group of teenagers with the heft and height to scare most of their peers without uttering a word. But like all the Mount Pleasant football coaches, Kaiser knows there’s so much more to the Tigers’ first line of offense.
“If you look at them initially, you see big people – and they ARE big people,” said Kaiser, the Tigers’ offensive coordinator. “But I see them as the smartest group of people I’ve ever coached. If you start checking them academically, you’ll see that all of them are in the top 20 of their class. So I’m seeing these kids that I’ve taught, who were all the smartest kids in my class, all on my line. That size and that intelligence are a great combination.”
Austin “Tree” Moore. Jake Edwards. Zach Mayo. Tucker Furr. Jackson Skey. Caleb Spears. These are “Reece’s Pieces,” the burly young men who open up lanes wide enough for a NASCAR hauler to drive through. The line has made life much simpler for hard-charging Cody Reece, who has rushed for 3,028 yards and 37 touchdowns this season.
Mount Pleasant has stormed to a 12-2 record and the NCHSAA regional finals. The Tigers travel to Shelby on Friday for a 7 p.m. game that will decide which squad represents the West in the Class 2AA championship game.
A big reason, no pun intended, for the run-focused Tigers’ success is the offensive line, which boasts an average GPA of 3.7.
“Five of the six guys are in Beta Club, so we do take pride in being intelligent,” said senior left guard Jake Edwards, who ranks first in his class with a 4.71 GPA . “We try to use our intelligence to communicate, to make the adjustments during the game. It’s an approach that’s worked for us.”
To say the least. The Tigers have scored nearly 34 points per game while averaging 285 yards rushing each outing. If the linemen weren’t smart enough to handle all the mental responsibilities Kaiser lays before them, the Tigers likely wouldn’t be so effective.
“Most of our plays are audibled at the line,” Kaiser explained. “Basically, I’ll call the play, and then the players fix the blocking to make whatever play-call I make work. They talk continuously. To have that many smart kids on the line is a rarity. Usually, you have a couple [of smart kids] and they’re telling the other kids what to do. But [the Tigers’ linemen] are working together.
“I always give my lines a lot of leeway when it comes to calls, but usually, they make a lot of mistakes and the coach has to say, ‘We’re always going to do it this way’ and hope that the defense does the same thing every time. They’re so smart, I don’t have to do that with these guys. After a series, I’ll ask them, ‘What can I run?’ And they’ll tell me what to call. I signal the play in, but they’ll call the plays almost all the time.”
Don’t get the linemen wrong, though. While they’re proud of their brain strength, they also take great pride in their brawn.
Take the “undersized” Edwards, who, at 5-8, 205 pounds, pales in comparison with Moore, who is 6-6, 320 pounds: “I just hit people,” Edwards said.
Furr, a senior guard, agrees.
“I think our combination of size with athleticism really makes our offensive line unique,” said Furr, who sports a 4.36 GPA. “We can push people off the ball, and we also can pull blocks and get to the second level really well.”
Skey, a junior center, is one of the strongest Tigers, possessing a 315-pound bench press and a squat of 390. But Skey said the offensive line’s success extends beyond strength and even intelligence.
“I really think a lot of it comes from the chemistry we have,” Skey said. “We’ve been playing together since we were 7 and 8 years old right here in Mount Pleasant. Being around the game with our dads, not to mention Coach Kiser, really helped. He really knows the game. He knows how to block it. He says, ‘You get to [this position and the play] is going to go for however many yards.’ And that’s what happens every Friday.”
This Friday, the Tigers’ line will have its toughest task of the season. The Lions are a fast, athletic group, and they’re linemen are big and strong in their own right.
“This is the toughest team we’ll block all year,” Kaiser said. “We’ve blocked some very good teams, don’t get me wrong. But Shelby isn’t returning state champions and in the regional final for nothing. In two weeks, one team has scored an offensive touchdown on them.”
Despite the ballyhooed opponent, despite the pressure associated with a regional final, and despite knowing Shelby expects them to hand the football to Reece over and over again, the Tigers don’t plan on changing their approach.
“We’ve got to be physical and just run the ball like we do every week,” Mayo said. “We want to open up holes. Just move people.”
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