Not one returning offensive linemen will line up for Bear River this season, and if that seems hard to swallow, then it’s intriguing to note that two of the five starters on the O-line this season may be sophomores.
This team still has its sights set on making some noise in the Pioneer Valley League this fall, and the Bruins’ starting right guard, senior Brandon Leipsic, is proud to be a part of it.
“At the beginning, it was weird for us having two sophomores, but now, there’s no doubt they’re helping us,” said Leipsic. “It was awesome with first team offense and scout D getting after each other during practice. We’re playing as if we’re opponents to make us better.”
Handling the snaps at center will be junior Sam Elizondo. At left guard will be either sophomore Isaiah Conley or senior Andrew Leonard. Left tackle is locked in with Ragan Davis, a senior, and at right tackle, sophomore Robert Mathias has the green light.
Leipsic, who has also been rotating at nose guard, is especially looking forward to his last year of high school athletics because the last two were taken away from him.
“I broke my hip my sophomore year and had surgery, so I missed my junior year,” Leipsic said. “I spent summer in bed. The time I’ve spent in the weight room has helped me a lot — bench, squat, clean. Not being able to play for most of my high school career, I’m really excited to play every single game.”
Not only is he hungry to play football, but he also expects great things of himself and his teammates despite their younger, less experienced foundation.
“I have high expectations, said Leipsic. “Our assignment is easy — go get the QB and try different techniques. When they don’t have time, they’ll overthrow, and our linebackers and safety will be in position to make a play.”
Co-head coach Terry Logue, the team’s defensive mastermind, broke down what he believes is most important for the team’s success.
“No. 1, we have to align right and do our assignment,” Logue said. “It’s a matter of doing the correct technique. That’s the No. 1 goal. After that, it’s looking for athletic ability. It’s been a long time since we’ve started two sophomores on the offensive line. Our defense is going to have to play really well.”
The Bruins do bring one returning player to the defensive line this season in senior Hunter Cramer, and the other, newer players breaking into the position are having a blast.
“This is my first year at defensive end,” said Leonard. “It’s a learning curve for me with being able to stay at your line assignment doing your individual job. I love rushing the quarterback, the contact and playing Friday under the lights with your boys. There’s nothing like it. We’ll keep the Bear River defense going thanks to coach Logue.”
Bear River led the PVL with 38 sacks last season, and that’s definitely a trend they can continue, according to kicker Blake Nielsen.
“We have Cannon Fetter on the defensive line, and he’s going to eat people getting sacks,” said Nielsen of his 6-foot, 7-inch, 292-pound teammate.
The Bruins’ defensive line has senior Leonard and junior Travis Whitehead battling for quick tackle, juniors Cannon Fetter and Sean Mikan competing for nose guard, junior Cade Matthews digging his cleats in and senior Cramer bringing most of the experience.
Yet, sacks mean little if your offense isn’t doing its job. The No. 1 concern with any inexperienced O-line is protecting the quarterback and blocking so the offense can execute plays and move the ball down the field effectively. If there’s no blocking, then play production is ultimately going to suffer.
“We try not to focus on individual players and more on the group scheme,” said assistant coach Mo Barrios. “The fate of the season is on a young O-line. As the line goes we will go.”
The process of becoming a guard was unique for Leipsic because it was more so by default, and now it plays to his advantage.
“I used to be a running back, so I have a lot of speed for guard,” explained Leipsic. “Breaking through to the second level is big for me. Savoie played guard in college, so to have someone like that is great for me. He teaches us stuff I’ve never learned before.”
The role of an offensive linemen is definitely one that gets overlooked. They aren’t in the spotlight scoring touchdowns, but they deserve just as much credit as the next man for making scoring drives possible.
“It’s fun blocking for (Braden Duncan),” said Leispic. “After we get a good run or he has time to throw, he tells us, ‘Good job.’ He’s made the decision to commit himself more than years past.”
To contact Sports Writer Brian Shepard, call 530-477-4234 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.