West Mifflin offensive line opens holes for RB Wheeler
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As running back Jimmy Wheeler goes, so goes West Mifflin. That's no secret.
But the key behind Wheeler's success is the five players lined up in front of him with their hands on the ground — the offensive line.
“I know if they have a good game, I'm going to have a good game,” said Wheeler, who leads the WPIAL with 1,569 yards. “If the line doesn't do what they're supposed to do, I'm not going to accomplish what I need to do.”
Through six weeks, the Titans sit atop the Big Nine conference standings with a perfect 6-0 record, and have the No. 1 rushing attack in the WPIAL with 2,361 yards.
However, coming into the season, coach Ray Braszo admits the offensive line was up in the air with only two returning starters — guard Tyler Bornak and tackle Shawn Devey.
“We really didn't know what to expect from our offensive line. It was a question mark for us,” Braszo said. “So far, they're staying pretty healthy and doing a great job. To get all the yardage Jimmy Wheeler is getting, you better have a good line.”
Filling out the front five are center Chris Johns, guard Cory Dzuka and tackle Mike Kascak. In West Mifflin's pattern-style offense, linemen must successfully pull off the line and block in space. Devey, who pulls from his left tackle position on counters and sweeps, knows the importance of getting to his man and creating a lane for runners.
“Pulling blocks are huge. It can make or break the play,” the 6-foot 4, 290 pound Devey said. “Whenever you accomplish it, you can break touchdowns or long yards.”
Other factors to building a cohesive offensive line that don't show up on a stat sheet are communication and attitude — both of which are evident along West Mifflin's front.
“The one thing that we're proud of is, even when things are going wrong and we're messing up, the line always sticks together,” Devey said. “When you do that enough other players will follow.
“When you have other players supporting you when you're messing up, it can really make all the difference in really close games.”
One example of leaning on one another Devey pointed to is during last week's 41-16 win over Elizabeth Forward. Devey had blown some assignments, but his linemates didn't let him get down on himself.
“I messed up pretty bad (on some plays),” Devey said. “If it wasn't for Cory and Tyler, I wouldn't have been playing as good as I did because of their support.”
Bornak added: “We just went up to him and said ‘You know we have you're back. If there's anyone on the team that looks out for each other it's us five up front. You've got your brothers with you.'
With all the running success West Mifflin has had, teams are beginning to stack the box in an attempt to stop the run, but that hasn't changed the mindset up front.
“We go in to the game knowing that. We know they're going to do it to stop the run,” Bornak said. “We just don't care. We have one job and we do it well.”
West Mifflin will travel to Indiana tonight for its only non-conference game of the season before hosting Trinity Oct. 18.
Justin Criado is a freelance writer.
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