Before this year’s football season started, all-state defensive end and tackle Keith Conner bought himself and his freshmen teammates brooms to sweep their locker rooms with.
“He bought them with his own money,” defensive line coach Shawn Allred said.
The Cody football offensive and defensive lines make up a cast of unsung warriors. Every member of these units is just as important as any other, as each is bestowed with a blocking responsibility that is intended to open up or close holes on the line of scrimmage. Although the linemen rarely touch the ball, let alone score a touchdown, this Broncs crew could care less.
“There’s nothing better than seeing our dude run for a huge touchdown,” senior Todd Bowles said.
It takes a sage mind to hold that kind of wisdom, especially at a high school level.
Some of the greatest linemen of all time were also some of the smartest football players. Center Matt Birk, a six-time pro bowl selection, played football at Harvard. Former Baltimore Ravens guard John Urschel is now pursuing a Ph.D in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
This year’s Cody Broncs (6-0) are cut from the same cloth with five members on last spring’s honor roll.
“Arguably they’re easier to coach, they’re just smart kids,” offensive line coach Cris Williams said. “It goes a long ways, guys who have been doing it awhile.”
Every time the Broncs call a play on offense, the linemen must not only push the opposing side away, but push them in a direction that allows for their running back to pass by safely. When it appears a pass rush is coming, they must reorganize their placements in order to protect quarterback Hunter Hays. Making the offense run like clockwork requires a mastery of the entire playbook.
“With the talent that we have we have taken it a step further with play calling this year,” Allred said. “They’re savvy, so we’ve been able to get to some schemes we don’t usually get to.”
Through five games the Broncs had the No. 3 team offense in 3A football. In addition the team as a whole as cut down significantly on penalties this year.
“They’re helping get our guys the holes they need on offense,” coach Matt McFadden said. “And they turn around on D(efense) and get it done there too. They’re doing it all.”
In the recent win against Powell, Bowles scooped a fumble recovery when the Panthers quarterback was chased far behind the line of scrimmage. Even though it was a broken play, all-state lineman Jeff Williams said he still knew the exact play Powell called.
“It was a ‘Philly special,’” he said.
The only attribute possibly more valuable than intelligence is on-the-job experience. There are nine seniors on the line this year, most of whom having played together since 7th grade.
“We’ve got a ton of chemistry,” tackle Jeff Williams said. “We’re really just fighting for each other.”
Despite losing key members Paul Lovera and Hayden Bronnenberg to injury, sophomores Nathan Wilson and Jonny Williams, along with junior Keaton Stone, have helped fill in the gaps.
“The line is just up and coming,” Conner said. “While you seen them on the field, see us on the field kicking butt, you also don’t see the scout team making us better every day, every practice.”
That cohesion and connection pay dividends in game-time situations when plays are coming quickly, the crowd is blaring and every play makes a difference.
“It’s always a grind, but that’s kind of the life we love to live,” Jeff Williams said.
It’s Williams who has been the team’s firecracker in many moments this season. Like any sport, football games are often a seesaw ride of momentum. When the flow starts dipping, he starts pushing back.
“He’s always raising his voice at us if it’s starting to slow down,” Brown said. “He’s always there.”
Cody will play its biggest game of the season on Friday against No. 1 Star Valley (6-0). It will undoubtedly be a game that is won or lost in the trenches.
“Whichever offensive and defensive line dominates the game will be the team that wins,” Cris Williams said.
But no season is won or lost with one game. It’s more than likely that come Monday, win or lose, Conner and his fellow linemen will dust off their pads and plan for their next game all the same, just as they dust off the floor around their lockers at the start of another week.