Prime Protection: Blue Jays' offensive line stepping up
The Jamestown High School football team is 6-2 heading into its last week of the regular season.
Getting Daniel Skavroneck, Thomas Allmer, Blayke Simmers, Evan Prescott and Luke Van Berkom to talk is no easy task, but in their defense, the five starting offensive linemen for the Jamestown High School football team, haven't needed to run their mouths this season.
They are letting their actions speak for them.
"If you just look at their growth from the start of the season to now, it's been phenomenal," JHS head football coach Bill Nelson said. "Those guys have just done a great job and they've continued to improve and evolve. They are very humble, don't say a lot but they go out there and work on Friday nights and they work well as a team.
"They are a big reason why we've had the success we've had and hopefully it continues going forward."
The core five, led by Allmer, a three-year starter on the o-line, have helped the Jays to an undefeated Class A West Region record. At 4-0, the Jays have locked up the No. 1 seed heading into the postseason.
The Jays' last regular season contest came on Oct. 22 up in Devils Lake. Prior to the Devils Lake game, the Jays were 6-2 overall, their only losses coming against Class AA's Fargo Shanley and Mandan. The final results of the tilt against the Firebirds were unavailable when The Jamestown Sun went to press.
While the defensive line has only allowed six rushing touchdowns and 544 rushing yards, the starting five offensive linemen have only allowed three sacks to quarterbacks Payton Hochhalter and Jackson Walters. The Jays' opponents have averaged 68 rushing yards per game while the Blue Jays have regularly put up 141.75 rushing yards per contest.
"There's a mental game to it," Skavroneck said. "Usually whoever is across from you is across from you the whole game so if you can kind of set that authority right away, it kind of gets in their head and helps you."
Skavroneck, a senior, is only in his second year with Nelson and the Blue Jays. While he did not play football his freshman or sophomore years, Skavroneck has been building friendships with the other four seniors since the early days.
"I know all of these guys from elementary school and middle school," Skavroneck said. "I feel like we connect with each other and know what each other is thinking."
"It feels like I've been playing next to Luke on the line since seventh grade at least."
That chemistry came in clutch, four games into the season when Hochhalter went down with a broken collarbone. The years-long connection helped to aid the five in protecting Walters in the pocket.
Prior to Friday, Walters was 39-for-75 through the air, passing for 576 yards, averaging 72 yards per game. Walters has also rushed for 184 yards on 46 carries.
"Adjusting a to a new quarterback was easy," Simmers said. "We kept the same mindset with it and just kept playing like we were before. When we are on the field, we're focusing on man-on. I am just making sure that it's not my guy who is stopping the play. Getting to throw kids is fun."
Nelson said he was approached by fans and opposing coaches during the preseason who called attention to the fact that the Jays only had one returning starter on the offensive line.
Nelson said keeping the same mindset has been aided by the Jays' work in practice and extra time spent in the weight room. Nelson said from week to week, the offensive line has continued to hone in on the little things, like communicating with one another and continuing to block until they hear a whistle signal the end of a play.
"From game No. 1 to game No. 8, they've consistently gotten better and better and better," Nelson said. "These are hardworking kids who the team needs more than anything. I was 100% confident that this group of young men would get the job done. They've continued to get better every week and we want to continue moving them in the right direction."
That workhorse mentality has helped the Jays produce 2,351 total yards of offense compared to their eight opponents' combined 1,969 yards. Thanks to the prime protection up front, Walters and Hochhalter have been able to secure 13 passing touchdowns.
"There's not one lineman who wouldn't love to touch the ball, who wouldn't love to carry the ball and who wouldn't love to catch a pass," Nelson said. "When they were younger, a couple of them probably could have been skill position guys but out of necessity, they went to go play line.
"You have to have a little orneriness to you when you play line but you also need the ability to take care of others. They formed and molded as a group."