After years of frustration, Forest Park football is finally in the spotlight.
Coach Obie Barnes Sr. is enjoying a 7-1 season. Senior tailback Obie Barnes Jr., with 1,319 rushing yards already, casts a giant shadow. Yet it's been the linemen, a group of huge players who call themselves the Big Green Machine, who have somehow escaped notice.
Big? These guys block out the son.
Led by seniors John Samuels (6 feet 6, 290 pounds) and Josh Austin (6-3, 280), both recruited by Division I colleges, the defensive line includes juniors Eric Conaway (6-1, 345), Thurman Smith (6-0, 260), and Brian Bethea (6-7, 245).
On offense, Austin and Smith are joined by seniors Brian Bailey (6-1, 245) and Brian Randall (6-1, 205), and junior Lonnie Smith (6-1, 270).
Tomorrow at 3 p.m, the fifth-ranked Foresters host No. 3 Gilman (5-2, 5-1) in a showdown for the MSA A Conference lead. It was in 1978 that Forest Park was co-champion of the B Conference, the last time it was ranked so high this late in the season.
Gilman tailback Ed Trusty will challenge the Foresters' big defensive line, and Greyhounds linebacker Jamal Cox should have his hands full chasing Barnes Jr. and fullback Antoine Burrell.
Burrell, 5-9 and 180, has quietly put together an excellent season, with 720 yards on 99 carries and six touchdowns. And, as the team's second-leading tackler at inside linebacker with 82, just behind Sean Green's 94, he takes advantage of the size of his linemen on both sides of the ball. He even thinks like a big man.
Though he loves to gain yardage, "As a fullback, they expect me to block," Burrell said. "To have my tailback go over 1,300 yards means a lot. I really like to hit, so blocking is just running over a person without the ball in my hand."
But, as a ballcarrier, "you get a sense of being secure," he said. VTC "Hiding behind that line -- it's a great advantage. On defense, most of the time they're blowing people out. That allows me to read the play and make the tackle."
Obie Barnes Sr., who believes Burrell has Division I ability, concurs. "We don't have to stunt and blitz as much," he said. "When guys are this big, 1-yard penetration can change an offense. It takes a lot of pressure off our linebackers. We try to emphasize foot speed and quickness."
Austin, who carries an 85 average in school and likes to read poetry, said the offensive linemen, too, need fast feet to block smaller, quicker opponents. "It's a real challenge," he said, "because we have to go get linebackers, and sometimes run downfield to get safeties and cornerbacks."
Austin, a transfer from Edmondson, is playing his first year for Forest Park. Barnes Sr. couldn't be more pleased. "Josh is without a doubt the best offensive and defensive lineman I've ever coached," he said. "He runs a legitimate 4.9 40 yards, and his biggest asset is his combination of toughness and quickness. He's an athlete who loves to get physical every play."
And Austin, who played youth league football with some of the Foresters, is glad to be there. "It's just like a family -- like I've been here all my life." His greatest personal satisfaction, he said, comes from "being with a coach like Obie Barnes. He's like a father to all of us. He always wants to know what we're doing, even on weekends."
Burrell, for one, thinks there's more to the Foresters' success this year than the size of their bodies.
"We've struggled together and we cried together when we lost to Poly," he said. "There's a lot of love here."