Big Dogs' big bite

Seven offensive linemen for the Long Reach Lightning stand an average of 6 feet 1 with an average weight of more than 300 pounds


September 06, 2006|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,sun reporter

Diop Wallace says the pregame ritual starts tomorrow at the Golden Corral restaurant, where "The Big Dogs" will lead their Long Reach football teammates in a routine he calls "stuffing our faces."

"Then after school on Friday, we'll go to my house, chill, watch television and eat some more," said Wallace, whose fourth-ranked Lightning visits Oakland Mills in Friday night's Howard County League opener. "We'll all get two 32-ounce Gatorades, and my dad, Donald, will cook chicken, maybe some pasta and garlic bread. There will be some grapes, bananas. Of course, I'll eat first, since it's my house, then the rest of the `Dogs' and the team."

Seven Long Reach offensive linemen form "The Big Dogs," whose average size is 6 feet 1, 302 pounds, and among whom seniors Wallace (6-3, 270), Phillip Jones (6-1, 305) and Ben Dykes (6-0, 297) are the most talented. The others are junior James Hickman (325 pounds), senior Jerry Jackson (307) and seniors Steve Onolfi (306) and Dominic McGhee (306).

"These guys have really bonded over the years, and in the offseason, they worked out in the weight room throughout the spring and the summer," Long Reach coach Pete Hughes said of a group that has helped his team to an 18-4 record, two playoff berths and a share of last year's Howard County title with River Hill over the past two seasons. "Most of them have played together in our system for three years, and they returned in good shape and knowing they have a large role to fulfill on the offensive line."

Make that very large.

"They have a serious job to do," said line coach Jamie Willis, who is 6-7, 330 pounds, and has given his players such nicknames as "Shrek," "Headquarters" and "Cheeseburger."

"They have size and athleticism that some others don't," Willis said. "They know the ins and outs of this offense. I've been coaching here since 2002, and of all the linemen I've worked with, potentially, these guys could be the best."

Dykes, Jones and Wallace are the keys to the Lightning's single-wing offense, which operates out of an unbalanced line - two linemen on the weak side of the center, and four on the strong side. In the Lightning's version of the single-wing formation, the ball is most often snapped to the fullback, not the quarterback.

Long Reach positions a guard and a tackle on the left (or weak) side of the center, while the right (or strong) side of the line is made up of a guard, two tackles and a tight end.

Second-team All-Metro selection Keith Richardson, the quarterback, takes a spot in line with the gap between the center and the weak-side guard 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The fullback, either Landon Tews or John McCall, also lines up 4 yards back in line with the gap between the strong-side guard - Dykes - and the first tackle - Jones.

The blocking back, Alvin Thomas, lines up 2 yards back and directly behind Jones. The wingback, Vince Furby, positions himself 2 yards back in the gap between the second strong-side tackle - Wallace - and the tight end.

The difference for Long Reach this season is that Hughes also intends to throw out of what was largely intended to be a run-oriented attack.

"There's a lot of ball-handling and deception with the goal of not having the ball visible," Hughes said. "In run-blocking, they've always been outstanding. Is there pressure on the linemen this year? Yes, because we're talking for the most part about 300- pounders and we're asking them to be more proficient in pass-blocking, which, in this offense, is asking a lot."

As youngsters, Dykes, Jones and Wallace all were too large to play in weight-restricted youth leagues, but their paths to prominence vary. A second-year varsity starter, Dykes debuted in the sport as a 190-pound running back and a 13-year-old eighth-grader. "I was bigger than the linemen I ran against, thought I was going to be the next Mike Alstott or Jerome Bettis," said Dykes, who rushed for nearly 1,700 yards as a sophomore on the junior varsity before becoming a lineman as a junior.

Jones, who suffered a broken ankle while playing on the same eighth-grade team as Dykes, spent his freshman year on JV before being promoted to the varsity in 10th grade. Wallace did not play football until ninth-grade, even though his brothers, Donald and Dawud, starred at Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills, respectively.

"I always had coordination because I played basketball," Wallace said. "I learned quickly with Coach Willis teaching me the ropes, and I played varsity as a freshman in the last two games of the season."

Dykes does "most of the pull-blocking and some of the trapping," Willis said. "He's big and athletic and has good feet as a former running back. He relishes the big hit - especially on linebackers."

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