West Mifflin offensive line opens holes for RB Wheeler
TribLIVE Sports Videos
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.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.