LAURINBURG — The key to the Fighting Scots success doesn’t start in the backfield or with the quarterback.
While senior tailback Zamir White and senior quarterback Warren Bell receive credit for the touchdowns and yardage it’s the seven seniors that make up the Fighting Scots offensive line that are the real MVPs — Tyler Smith, Garrett Beach, Hunter Sheppard, Tim Williams, Darian Reeves, Isaiah McPhatter and Ian Spangler.
The Scots “big uglies,” unbeknownst to most people, make it possible for the team to average a staggering 478 yards of total offense per game. The Fighting Scots average 399 rushing yards and 79 passing yards per game.
“We’re averaging a ridiculous number of yards per game and that comes from our offensive line,” said Scots head coach Richard Bailey. “They are unsung heroes, but that comes with the position. They know they aren’t going to get a lot of the accolades they deserve. Zamir is going to be a good back behind any line but he’s not going to be like he is here. He’s not getting touched until he gets to the second level. It doesn’t matter who runs the ball for us, they are averaging between 10 and 13 yards a carry and that comes from having a great offensive line.”
Bailey and offensive line coach Scott Barbour didn’t start out the season as confident about their offensive line because they were plagued by injuries — Darian tore his meniscus and had to have surgery, Hunter and Garrett got banged up and Tyler had a broken wrist at the beginning of the season.
So Ian and Isaiah stepped in and as each player got healthy they were shuffled where they were needed.
“We were a little worried to start the season, but we knew we had a bunch of capable backups that got some experience last year,” said Barbour. “Ian (Spangler) played a bunch at tight end last year, but we knew he was capable of filling in at tackle. Isaiah filled in with Darian’s injury. It was great for them to get that early season experience and now we have seven seasoned veterans that can go at any time.”
Despite having different plans for Ian and Isaiah the two seniors will continue to dress as extra offensive linemen throughout the playoffs. Being able to rotate players in and out in a close game over the next several weeks of playoffs could be the different between a trip to the state championship and another missed opportunity.
“Ian was originally going to play tight end, then filled in at guard when Hunter was out before moving to tackle when we would lose another one. Isaiah, we thought was going to be the back up center, started at guard when Darian was out. Now we have seven really good offensive linemen — as good as any that I’ve been around,” Bailey said.
Slowly but surely the Fighting Scots offensive line got healthy, which started to reflect in the numbers the offense starting putting up. Entering the playoffs, the offense has racked up 3,991 rushing yards, 790 passing yards and 778 receiving yards and is averaging 7.2 touchdowns per game.
Bailey agreed that the tailbacks, wide receivers and Bell get the credit for all of those numbers, but they know it wouldn’t be possible if they didn’t have people blocking for them.
“We coach them up to give the offensive line credit but the backs know how important the relationship is with your offensive line is the last thing you want to do is make those guys made then they aren’t blocking for you at all,” said Bailey.
Barbour however was quick to point how that his line blocks for some extraordinary backs and that it’s a two-sided coin when it comes to the line and the people they block for.
“We are very blessed to block for the ball carries we have. They make us look good, but a lot of times Zamir, Warren and Smiley are getting into the secondary before they get touched,” he said. “If you get those guys the ball in space like that, that’s when a lot of good stuff happens.”
The other special thing about the Scots seven senior offensive linemen is how athletic and physical they are during a game — something Barbour said the group was lacking last season.
“They lacked a little bit of strength last year and physical toughness at the point of attack. That’s what we really started working on in the spring and they have surpassed our goals,” he said. “They don’t mind doing the little things that you ask of them.”
Bailey knows the fans and the community probably don’t appreciate the offensive line as much as they should. The only time fans realize they are on the field is when they do something wrong.
“They don’t get their names called until they did something wrong like holding, jumping off sides or had a bad snap then all of a sudden they are the worst ever,” he said.
Something Bailey said fans might not realize about his “big uglies” is that they are very intelligent with five of the seven members participating in the National Honor Society.
“They are going to be hard to replace next year,” he said. “They are a close knit group, they have that us against the world mentality.”
Barbour said as the Scots enter the playoffs his line doesn’t want any additional recognition all they want is a ring.
“We don’t need credit, we want four more wins,” he said.
Amber Hatten can be reached at 910-506-3170.