DeKALB – DeKalb’s offensive line is put through the rigors during every practice, running from station to station, always cognizant of the time left on the stadium scoreboard clock.
The jump in practice intensity from a year ago has served the Barbs’ line well as it has been the anchor of an offense averaging 33 points a game. Part of the linemen’s motivation is knowing that a starting job is on the line every practice.
“The coaches want us to compete so much in practice,” senior center Wes Leffleman said. “It’s good for getting better and improving all the time.”
Leffleman is one of three returning linemen from last year’s starting group, joined by junior Caleb DeWeese anchoring the left guard position and Cam Ward playing at right tackle. Junior DeVonte Thompson earned this year’s starting job at right guard before the season and sophomore Hayden LaPointe has taken over at left tackle in the past two games.
The familiarity and experience gained by most of the group last season has been advantageous for a quintet that has had to adjust to its third coach in three seasons.
“I’ve been playing football with Wes since I was in fourth or fifth grade,” Ward said. “We all know each other off the field, and to translate that on to the field we all know exactly what we’re thinking and what we’re seeing.”
As the offensive line gained more comfort with first-year coach Matt Weckler’s new system, the coaching staff was able to implement more plays and allow the front five more freedom to call audibles at the line of scrimmage.
Ward said anybody on the line can make the calls, and the changes are relayed down the line.
“Angles play a huge role in what we do,” Weckler said, “and we were able to give them opportunities to make calls and communicate amongst themselves to figure out what the best angle is based on the defensive alignment.”
The offensive line has allowed running back Dre Brown and quarterback Jack Sauter to become the most productive rushing tandem in the area, ranking 1-2 in rushing yards among area players.
Although both certainly have made their share of highlight reel-type runs, DeKalb’s skill players often have gaping holes to run through at the line of scrimmage.
“It’s a definite luxury,” DeWeese said of having Sauter and Brown in the backfield. “You still have to go hard every play and make sure you don’t miss anything. Even though they are going to make a lot of plays, they aren’t going to make all the plays on their own.”
This year’s group also has been able to focus exclusively on the offensive side of the football as the coaching staff was able to establish separate starting groups for its offensive and defensive lines.
The benefits are threefold. Leffleman and Co. can exert all of their energy in games on offense, and after each possession, blocking adjustments can be made by the coaching staff with the entire group on the sideline. The line also has been able to take more practice reps against the Barbs’ starting defensive line instead of the scout team.
As a result, Weckler said DeKalb’s offensive line often has gotten better as games progress, wearing down opposing teams’ defensive front four and allowing DeKalb’s run game to flourish.
With DeKalb on the verge of its first playoff berth in three years, the Barbs likely will get there by continuing to follow its offensive line.
“That was one of my main goals, to have a group of offensive linemen and give them 100 percent of the reps at that position,” Weckler said. “I value it so much and think it’s such an important part of our offensive scheme that we made it a priority as a coaching staff.”