Harleton offensive linemen debated what the strongest side of the line is.
“Right side, strong side,” Jaydon Willie, the team’s right tackle said.
Left tackle Izaiah McClain and left guard Karson Evans were quick to contest it.
“No, left side, strong side,” McClain and Evans said at once before the team’s center, Nolan Wisdom offers, “I’m right in the middle of this.”
It’s all friendly competition and the Wildcats say they have strong team chemistry and that’s been the key to a successful season.
“I think just teamwork,” Evans said when asked how the team has had so much success this season. “We all work well together and put hard work in every day. That’s what helps us be a team.”
“Just working together and coming out here every day,” Beau Simmons, the right guard added.
Whatever the Wildcats are doing upfront seems to be working. They have paved the way for Harleton ball carriers to rush for 3,500 yards and 45 touchdowns on the year.
“They’re hard-headed guys who show up every day ready to work,” Little said. “Obviously, we’ve done really well running the ball this year. Hunter (Wallace) has got 2,100 yards. Cole Ring is nearing 1,000 yards rushing. The other night we had over 500 yards rushing the football. When you’re in the second round of the playoffs and you run the ball for over 500 yards, that’s a pretty big deal. They’ve done a really good job all year long of blocking and creating holes.
“Jojo Clark also,” Little added. “He’s our tight end and has been very productive for us.”
The O-linemen may not get credit for those yards and touchdowns but they’re more than OK with that.
“We may not get in the newspaper and everything but the backs appreciate it,” Simmons said.
“The way our backs run and the numbers they put up in the game reflect on how hard we work,” Wisdom added.
“I’ve told them before that nobody knows what they do except for me and their momma,” Little said. “The running backs, quarterbacks, they’re the ones who get their names in the paper but I tell them every week that anybody who knows anything about football knows that it’s the line play. O-line and D-line are the ones who control the ball and battle it out on the line of scrimmage.”
That’s exactly what they plan to do when they go up against a 12-0 San Augustine team.
“Doing what we’ve been doing, controlling the football and controlling the line of scrimmage on both sides, O-line and D-line,” Little said when asked what the key is to ending the Wolves’ season. “We have to control the line of scrimmage. If we can play keep away like we usually do, and we keep the ball away from them, we’ll have a chance. They have an explosive offense but if their offense is standing on the sideline, they can’t score.”
If one was predicting an outcome based on records alone, picking the Wolves would be a no-brainer but the Wildcats are no strangers to being the underdogs. In fact, they were picked by Dave Campbell’s Texas Football to finish dead last in the district.
“I think we play better when people doubt us and don’t want us to win,” Simmons said.
“When they doubt us, it just makes us hungrier for the way,” Wisdom added. “It makes us work harder.”
The Wildcats enter tonight’s third-round playoffs matchup with an overall record of 10-2 after going 5-1 against district opponents to seal up the District 11-2A DI championship. The team’s success came despite the fact that Little took over a team that went 1-9 in each of the last two seasons and 2-8 in 2016.
“We were always predicted to lose but we we’re beating teams that people thought we could never beat,” Willie said
“Change in attitude,” Willie said when asked what the difference is between this year and the past few years. “We’re not scared to go out and hit somebody.”
“Like he said, with us not being the biggest offensive line, we’re not afraid to hit somebody, so that helps,” Evans added.
When asked what his reaction would have been had someone told him that his team would accomplish what it has this season, McClain said, “I would have laughed at them.”
“We worked hard and changed our attitude,” said Max Ramirez, the sixth man of the offensive line who subs in and out at different positions.
The attitude change wasn’t just with the players.
“It’s a totally different change,” Simmons said. “I was walking down the hallways at school and everything is different.”
“Yeah, instead of hearing, ‘Ya’ll are going to lose,’ now we hear, ‘Can’t wait to see how ya’ll do’ and stuff like that,” Evans added in agreement with his teammate.
“The whole attitude has changed this season,” Wisdom said.
The O-linemen say they hope to punch their ticket to the fourth round, not just for themselves but for the fans and community.
“We appreciate it a lot when the fans come and really get into the games,” Simmons said. “Last year people would leave before halftime but everybody stays now. You know they’re up there now because everybody is cheering and they’re into the game. It helps a lot when you’re out there and you’re dog tired and they’re cheering. It’s like, ‘Ok, I guess I’ll give it another go.’”
“It’s important to give them something to watch because really, the last couple years, they haven’t had anything to cheer on and that changed this year and it’s good for everybody,” Wisdom said.