La Center's line is paving the way

Speed, not size, is key to Wildcats' offense

By Paul Valencia, Columbian high school sports reporter

Published:

 

The La Center offensive linemen have a secret weapon.

No one really thinks they are an offensive line.

"They see us, and they say, 'They're just little guys. They're not going to be able to pack a punch.' Then we smack them in the mouth," senior Jacob Mendez said.

Mendez is the biggest of the bunch, at 5-11, 225 pounds.

Four-year starter Josh McNeal is 5-9, 210 pounds "on a good day," he said.

"With a big breakfast," Mendez added.

"And with my lead trousers on," McNeal concluded.

You get the point.

They are not that big.

McNeal and Mendez are among the team captains who go out for the coin toss before every game.

"We get to see what we're up against," McNeal said. "Most of the quarterbacks we're facing are bigger than us."

Yet somehow, this offensive line for the La Center Wildcats has paved the way for the third-best rushing attack in all of Class 1A football, according to statewidestats.com.

It just so happens the Wildcats take on the team with the No. 2 rushing attack when they host Mount Baker of Deming in the state quarterfinals Saturday at Battle Ground's District Stadium. Kickoff is 1 p.m.

La Center has rushed for 2,881 yards through 11 games — all wins — this season, averaging 8.98 yards per carry.

McNeal said the fact that La Center lacks the traditional size of linemen actually is a benefit. Speed is the key for their offense.

"We've been in this offense since seventh, eighth grade. By the time you get to your junior year, you've got the Wing-T figured out. Once you have it figured out, it's hard to stop," McNeal said.

McNeal anchors the line at center. Mendez, a two-year starter, is the left tackle. Andre Obot, another senior, is the left guard. This is his third year as a starter. Junior Alex Meza is the right guard, in his second season as a starter. Then there is right tackle Levi Krout, a junior in his first year as a starter.

"All the guys have played together for a while," La Center coach John Lambert said. "They mesh really well. And early in the season, they solidified who was going to be where."

They work so well together because they know every assignment on the line.

"You have so many people pulling, leaving to go make a block, you have to make sure you're filling in," McNeal said. "Our linemen are smart."

The Wildcats, like most teams, make halftime adjustments to counter a defense. A lot of times, those adjustments work out. Rarely, though, do they work out as well as they did last week in the opening round of the state playoffs.

The La Center coaches worked their magic, the linemen made the hole, and Taylor Dreyer broke free for a 53-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half against Meridian of Bellingham.

"I was running down the field, yelling, 'It worked! It worked! It worked!' " McNeal said.

It was not done working.

Dreyer scored on a 60-yard run on La Center's next play from scrimmage.

McNeal acknowledged he was laughing while running to the end zone on that play. Not in a way to make fun of the opponent, just how crazy it was that the adjustment made at halftime worked so perfectly.

"We have some of the best coaches ever," McNeal said. "I don't think Coach Lambert sleeps on the weekends. He's always trying to find ways for us to win. We're so blessed to have these coaches."

All of the coaching, talent, and desire have led La Center to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2004. This year's seniors have lost twice in the opening round of state and once in the Week 10 district playoff. This is new territory for them.

"We all had a little taste," Mendez said, referring to last year's loss in the opening round.

This year, the Wildcats saw the bracket and knew what they wanted to do.

"Home. Home. Dome. Dome. That was our goal," McNeal said.

If the Wildcats could win the Trico League title — they did — they would have the chance to host two state playoff games in Clark County before going to the Tacoma Dome for the semifinals and then the finals.This week is that second "home" state playoff game on the turf field at District Stadium.

Next week, La Center or Mount Baker will be going to the semifinals.

The offensive line that works best Saturday likely will be the team that is still playing.

The Wildcats, with their chemistry and experience — not their size — are confident they can make it happen.