Before the season started, skeptics were concerned about all the things the Parkview Baptist offensive line wasn’t.
With just one starter returning, the PBS line was not experienced.
This group did not have as much size as past offensive lines, either. In fact, 265-pound center Luke Gomez is the only player who weighs more than 250.
What the Eagles were, hasn’t stopped them from becoming what they are — a unit that is one win from a Class 3A state football title.
“The biggest thing was learning to get a grasp on the game and not getting overwhelmed,” Gomez said. “This group caught on quick. This whole season has been about overcoming loss and bonding together. We’ve found ways to do that.”
Top-seeded Parkview (12-0) plays No. 2 Notre Dame (12-1) in the 3A title game set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Mercedez-Benz Superdome in New Orleans. The game is part of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association/State Farm Prep Classic set for Friday and Saturday.
Parkview meets Crowley-based Notre Dame for the fourth straight year in the playoffs. The Pioneers beat PBS to win the 3A title in 2009. The Eagles won 3A titles in 2001, 2007 and 2010.
“It’s all about making adjustments,” PBS offensive line coach Matt Shelton said. “When the year started, the guys who are at guard started at tackle. We moved them down and put two sophomores at tackle, so they’ve all grown into their positions as the season has gone on.”
Though the Eagles are undefeated on the field, they know all too well about loss.
Sam Wimberly was set to be one of the building blocks for the line after starting at tight end a year ago. Gomez, a tackle in 2011 and Wimberly, were supposed to be among four returning starters. But Wimberly (6-foot-7, 290 pounds) died in February after contracting a viral infection that attacked his heart.
“He (Wimberly) is evident in everything we do,” Gomez said. “We have a huge poster on his locker. It’s a picture of him. Every time I walk out on the field, I point at the sky. I thank God for getting me another breath and the chance to play. And I thank Sam, too, because I know he’s watching us.”
While the Eagles wear Wimberly’s No. 56 on their sleeves as tribute, the PBS linemen had to roll up their sleeves and work to prepare to play without Wimberly and two other starters who did not return. One player opted to quit football. Another, Austin Taylor, moved away for part of the season and was sidelined by a heart ailment. Taylor now plays primarily on defense.
Juniors Lucas Reeves (5-9, 240) and Austin Stevens (6-2, 235) are the guards. Sophomores Austin Spiece (5-11, 220) and Adam Tarver (6-0, 220) hold down the tackle spots. Tight end Todd Hollingsworth (5-11, 190), the lone senior, rounds out the group.
“Me and Adam Tarver are the two sophomores,” Spiece said. “There was a lot of pressure at first. The hardest thing is remembering to stay low and to stay with your blocks. We worked hard and picked things up.”
What amazes Shelton and PBS coach Kenny Guillot is how fast the young Eagles were able to pick things up. Guillot remembers being uneasy before PBS’ Week 2 game against Class 5A Scotlandville. PBS won that game 27-12, setting the tone for the year.
“We had to learn all the rules,” Reeves said. “There’s too many to count. You have to know the difference between a half-foot step one way or the other. That can be the difference between a big play and one that gets blown up by the defense.”
All the linemen say getting the chance to block for Parkview’s skill players makes the work worthwhile. Hezekiah Randolph has a team-high 1,238 rushing yards and 21 touchdowns to lead a PBS team that has compiled 4,954 yards and has outscored opponents 555-203.
Brennan Bozeman has 1,099 passing yards with 19 touchdowns and just one interception. Bozeman (755 yards), Erik Martinez (760 yards) and Conner Hodgeson (712 yards) all have run for significant yards in the option offense.
“It’s awesome,” Gomez said when asked about blocking for the PBS backs. “I get jacked up to see those guys run the ball. I love going in to watch film on Saturdays, because I don’t always get to see them finish plays.”
Tarver adds, “We know if we can block our guys three yards off the line, they can get at least three more yards because they’re physical.”
Gomez said Saturday’s game will be a battle of wills, with each team looking to dictate to the other.
When asked what he likes best about his revamped line, Shelton doesn’t hesitate.
“They’ve done a great job,” Shelton said. “Probably the best thing about our 2012 line is that they’ll also be our 2013 line.”