Chester Cyclones' offensive line a formidable bunch
12/04/2008 12:55 AM
12/04/2008 1:05 AM
CHESTER -- The Chester Cyclones are getting to a point now where they reload each year instead of rebuild.
A year removed from a state title run in which four starting offensive lineman graduated, the Cyclones are back in the Class AAA title game. They take on Myrtle Beach at 6 p.m. Saturday at Clemson's Memorial Stadium.
The offensive line is where it starts for Chester. The team has averaged 406 yards per game in offense through the playoffs.
The line is big -- really big -- and perhaps better than a year ago.
The center is junior RJ Canty, a 6-1, 270-pounder who played himself into a starting role last year as a sophomore. He is flanked by senior Zane Smith (6-3, 255) at left guard and either Quintin Griffin (6-3, 255) or Ira Minter (5-10, 285) at right guard.
Jeremy Price (6-1, 260) plays right tackle. At left tackle, Kalon Davis (6-5, 310) is the biggest of the bunch.
There was some anxiety after the Cyclones lost to Wilson in the state championship game last year. Coach Victor Floyd left to take a coaching position in Georgia. The team pushed through a period of time without a coach.
Offensive line coach Eric Park was with the team through it all. He knew he was going to stay at Chester.
"We didn't know who was going to coach. But these kids still worked on their own in the weight room through the spring," Park said.
When Maurice Flowers was hired to coach the Cyclones, Park learned pretty quickly he would need to prepare his linemen for a spread offense.
"We looked at video from West Charlotte and Olympic (Flowers' previous schools). We knew they threw a lot of passes," Park said.
No matter the offensive scheme, Park's stance is to get his line ready to let the playmakers make plays.
At Chester, that translates into giving sophomore quarterback Tony McNeal time to throw and opening up holes for another sophomore -- running back Julius Pendergrass.
"We are working really well. We're clicking as a unit," Canty said.
Park, in his fourth year at the school, identified Canty a couple of years ago as a leader.
"I've been with these seniors. They are the first class I've seen all the way through. (Canty) is a natural leader in that group," Park said.
Canty and Price started in the championship game last year. That can't help but be a positive for the rest of the unit.
Chester has become more balanced offensively as the season has progressed. McNeal has thrown for 3,378 yards and 35 touchdowns through the year. But the ground game has put up big numbers in the playoffs. The Cyclones have run for 221, 215, 127 and most recently, 270 yards in four postseason games.
Pendergrass ran for 156 yards and three touchdowns in Friday's 27-24, come-from-behind win at Daniel to put them in the championship game for the second straight year.
"At every level, to be successful, you have to have a running game," Park said.
"We have gained the trust of the coaches and the team," Canty said of his line. "Early in the season, we weren't finishing plays. We stepped it up when region play started. We stepped it up again with the playoffs even more."
The Cyclones don't plan any changes to their game plan Saturday. They will do what they do, and hope to do it well. For the offensive line, that means continue their solid run blocking and pass protection.
At Wednesday afternoon's practice, there was a sense of urgency and determination. Flowers emphasized several times to his team huddled around him after they had stretched, "This is the last full practice."
The offensive line went through its drills, led by Park, in the last full practice of the season. Come Saturday, they'll be ready to take on Myrtle Beach for the Class AAA title.
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