by Mitch Lehman
On the surface, the seven young men more resemble a United Nations subcommittee than the working unit of a football team, which makes their accomplishments even more impressive.
Hailing from a litany of backgrounds, San Marino High School’s offensive line, tight end and lead blocking back have joined forces to fuel one of the most formidable rushing attacks in school history while accumulating a 9-1 overall record, 4-1 in Rio Hondo League action this season.
The Italian national soccer team calls it catenaccio – the blue chain – that links together in a highly organized system of defense, in San Marino’s model, it’s the guys carrying the football who receive protection, another Italian trait.
From Day 1, Titan head Coach Mike Hobbie began preaching the importance of the offensive line, his chorus soon turning to praise, which he has clearly sung all season long.
“We needed to replace two very good starters from last season and we have done that,” said Hobbie, who insisted upon the inclusion into this missive of tight end Lionel Escajeda and fullback Nick Gott. “I did not know how these guys would respond, but both Zareh [Hairapetian] and Shane [Fox] got into the weight room and got stronger. My only question was whether or not they could play at the necessary physical level and both have done exceptionally well.”
Hairapetian, an offensive tackle and Fox – a guard – were joining a mostly veteran group that had a year under their belts running Hobbie’s trademark offense including offensive tackle Nate Harding, guard Jonathan Yau, center Alfred Huang, Gott and Escajeda.
The results have been nothing short of remarkable. Collectively, the Titans have rushed for 2,796 yards and fifty-two touchdowns in their ten games – video game-crazy numbers.
“We have run up a lot of yardage on some people,” said Hobbie, making his bid for understatement of the year. “The line’s job is to get the running back the first five yards. Anything after that is up to the running back.”
Hobbie doesn’t really mean that last part and he’s the first to prod his linemen to get some more blocks down the field.
Senior tailback Ryan Wood might by a round of slushies at Tony’s Pizza for the seven blocks of granite who have sprung him for 1,236 yards on 166 attempts – good for a stratospheric 7.5 yards per carry average and eighteen touchdowns.
Quarterback Matt Wofford would be happy to toss in a few meatball sandwiches for the boys in blue who have escorted the Rio Hondo League Offensive Player of the Year candidate to 874 rushing yards on 138 carries (6.3 yards a clip) and sixteen touchdowns while buying the senior enough time to complete 60% of his passes for another 903 yards and four scores.
A junior, Harding is a Titan blocking legacy, following his brother Matt, an athletic mainstay of the late 90s. The 6’4,” 250 lb. junior class president has made a significant name for himself.
“Nate is improving, getting better all the time,” said Hobbie. “He is very dependable and assignment-sound.”
Hairapetian was lauded by Hobbie for an incredible effort during San Marino’s only loss – a heartbreaking, league-title deciding 21-16 decision at Monrovia. His father, Shahen, let slip to this reporter the other day that Zareh wants another crack at the ‘Cats. Hobbie loves his intensity.
“Zareh is nasty – in a good way,” said the coach of his 6’3,” 230 lb. tackle. “He is very competitive and comes to play every day, every way. He has really stepped into that position.”
Wildly undersized for a center at 5’11” and 180 pounds, Alfred Huang took the football his freshman year and never relinquished the pigskin or the position. What he lacks in size he makes up for in sweat.
“Alfred is the brain center of our offensive line and our vocal leader on the field,” said Hobbie. “Every week I am surprised to see what he has accomplished against a player who is invariably much larger than him. That says a lot about his attitude and effort.”
Just a junior, Jonathan Yau was one of few sophomores to lock down a starting position during his sophomore year. ‘
“Jonathan has improved a lot and is only a junior,” said Hobbie of the 5,7,” 280 lb. guard who sports the ‘double nickels’ jersey #55. “He is getting more physical all the time and is an excellent blocker.”
Senior Shane Fox had big shoes to fill and fill them he dis at the other guard position. At 6’2 and 215 pounds, Fox employs a game plan based on both size and speed.
“Shane is very dependable and he has stepped into his role rather nicely,” said Hobbie. “He is very smart, knows his assignments and has improved tremendously.”
Though senior Lionel Escajeda’s first love might be baseball, the tight end has allowed Hobbie to add another dimension to his varied offensive scheme. “Lionel rarely makes a mistake on his assignments and has really come a long way this season,” said the coach. “He has a sweet pair of hands and has made some big plays for us catching the ball as well.”
The typical football vernacular probably falls short in describing the contributions of senior fullback Nick Gott, whose position should be renamed to ‘roadgrader.’
Occasionally, Hobbie even lets Gott run the ball, and this season he has picked up 214 yards and ten touchdowns on 42 carries – 5.1 a rush – while sneaking out of the backfield to catch 23 passes for 297 yards and a score. Frequently sent in motion parallel to the line of scrimmage, the 5’11,” 210 lb. Gott is afforded a running start when he lethally plows into hapless defenders after the ball is snapped.
“Nick is a very powerful, smart young man,” said Hobbie, who counts the senior among the best lead blockers he has ever coached. “Nick is competitive, he is a leader and he takes a lot of pride in what he does.”
“This bunch has really come together and played well as a unit,” Hobbie said. “Few people understand how important timing and execution are to line play and these guys are bright and understand their assignments.”
A list of “assignments” that may grow beyond tomorrow’s first round playoff game if the blue chain stays in one piece.
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