by Taylor Williams
December 7, 2010 – Sometimes the biggest men on the football field are also amongst the smartest. Offensive linemen are often the brunt of unsophisticated stereotyping, but for the big men of the Holy Cross Tiger, nothing could be further from the truth.
Holy Cross has a reputation as a school under-matched with its competition, evidenced by an undefeated record in district play and impressive points averages on offense (48) and defense (nine). The Tigers will lose several offensive starters at the skill positions next year, but plan to account for it with outstanding up-and-coming talent in the trenches.
Enter rising junior Dane Bourgeois, a modest 5-foot-10, 210 pound linemen who began the season backing up star center Landon Jones. When starting offensive guard Taj Smith got injured, Jones took his position and Bourgeois the starting center job. And with Jones graduating, Bourgeois is has become the catalyst for cohesion up front, according to Tigers head coach Barry Wilson.
“The offensive line is a whole ‘nother unit, separate from the rest of the football team,” Wilson said. “When Taj got hurt, we didn’t really have any linemen who’d played before, but Dane stepped up and gave us the depth we needed.”Playing center entails a lot more than snapping the ball and following a prescribed blocking scheme. Like the quarterback, the center is responsible for reading defensive formations on every play, basically “recognizing the front,” calling a line audible when necessary. It requires mental and vocal clarity, instinctive understanding of blitz packages, and immediate recognition of defensive schemes.
In short, it’s no easy task for the “all brawn, no brains” types. But that hardly describes Bourgeois and the other young linemen, including sophomores Jeremy Arnold (6-foot-4, 270 pounds) and Breland James (6-foot-2, 235 pounds), who have the advanced understanding of scheme to make offensive line play a surprising asset.
And there’s no question the Tigers will need it. Holy Cross is moving up to the 4A ranks next season, and taking on a fearsome schedule loaded with Catholic League and other 5A opponents. Opposing defenses will be bigger, stronger, and faster than before, with plenty of versatility in their looks.
The Tigers will hand the starting quarterback job to Tucker Herzog full-time, while many of the playmaking positions remain up for grabs. Rising sophomore Todd Spriggins is a viable candidate at running back, and with the Tigers’ spread system, there’s sure to be many new receivers emerging. This includes the tight end position, which will become a bigger part of the offense to help isolate receivers on the outside and open the vertical passing game.
So when filling the shoes of players who helped account for 48 points per game, Coach Wilson doesn’t mind having an ace in the hole. Any offensive line takes time to gel, but with heavier tight end play, the men in the trenches will have some blocking reinforcements. And Holy Cross returns most of its defensive starters, including cornerback Ed Eagan, who tied the state record for interceptions in a game this year (five).
“I feel like we’ve represented ourselves well in this district, and now it’s time to get back to 4A and 5A ball,” Wilson said. “Our speed and athleticism have gotten better, and now we’ve got smart kids with size up front.”