The line that moves the Devils |

The line that moves the Devils

Ian Cropp
Shane Macomber/Vail DailyMaurice Mitchell (57), front, and Kylan Kottenstette (55), left, are two members of the Eagle Valley football offensive line.

GYPSUM – He’s 5-feet-10 inches, and 182 pounds, and runs a 4.94 40, but he’s not listed on the roster. Who is he?It’s the average offensive lineman for the state-quarterfinalist Eagle Valley football team.”Even though we are a bit smaller, we are going to come after you,” said tackle Jacob Rivera.Coach John Ramunno has coached many offensive lines in his long career, but this year’s front five is the fastest he’s ever had.”We’ve had bigger players that play the same spot, but sometimes bigger isn’t better,” Ramunno said. “I want kids that can move. You’ve gotta be able to have guards that can pull.”With the 4.7 40 speed of Maurice Mitchell at one guard, and the 4.9 40 speed of Kylan Kottenstette at the other guard, the Devils running backs don’t need to worry about beating their lineman to the blocks.And sometimes, it’s not just the guards that are pulling.”If we can get away with it, we’ll pull our guards and tackles,” Ramunno said. “We have quick running backs, so if we can get there, we don’t need to hold the blocks too long.”Even when it isn’t pulling, the offensive line uses its speed to its advantage. “We get such a jump off the ball, that even against Cherokee Trail, the biggest team we’ve seen, once they got tired, we blew them right off the ball,” said center Will Britt.The height different for 5-foot-8 Mitchell against Cherokee Trail wasn’t intimidating at all.”I had to go up against a guy last week who was almost 7-feet tall,” Mitchell said. “But I know I’m faster than him, and can get into him before he can get into me.”

TechniqueSpeed coupled with technique have enabled the offensive line to pave the way for the potent Eagle Valley running game all year.”They get the helmet on right side, get a good base, and don’t take big steps,” Ramunno said. “They take a 6-inch step, get their cleats out of grass, then dig them in again.”For Kottenstette, who wreaks havoc as a linebacker on defense, the key to blocking against some of the bigger players is the same for tackling.”I think about staying low and keeping my technique,” Kottenstette said.As much as blocking may seem like an individual task, it’s integral that the five lineman work as a team.”We have a whole bunch of calls, we change assignments to pick up backers,” Britt said.Lined up from left to right, ready for the run or pass, are Rivera, Kottenstette, Britt, Mitchell, and Brendan Best, with tight ends Tim Peters and Nolan Schwan rotating into the equation.When quarterback Mike Medsker drops back to pass, the line provides him with a good look at the receivers. And when it’s time to run, the line jumps ahead, looking for players to pummel.”We’ve gotta blow out the first two lines of defense, and then our backs can beat the corners,” Britt said.Gravity

Four of the five lineman have been transplanted from other positions on the field.”They could play a lot of different spots, but we play them inside,” Ramunno said.Rivera played tight end last year, but Ramunno moved him to offensive line because of his size and blocking ability.”I never really did picture myself as an offensive lineman,” Rivera said.Three years ago, Mitchell played lineman for JV, then the following year played running back, before jumping back to the offensive line on varsity.Mitchell enjoys the physical aspect of the positions, and wouldn’t want to play anywhere else on the field.”I love pulling and knocking people out when they aren’t looking,” Mitchell said.Rounding out the backfield for the linemen in their pre-lineman days are Best, who played fullback, and Kottenstette, who played quarterback.”My decision to go to the line was because I like hitting more,” Kottenstette said.And then there’s Britt, the only non-carpetbagging lineman.”I’m the biggest guy on the line,” said the 215-pound Britt. “I’ve played line since Pee Wee football.”Big dogs

Ramunno always finds a way to use the most of his resources, and as the team continues into the playoffs, he’s drawing on the size of his other lineman.For extra point attempts, Ramunno loads the line with Paul Suther, Jordan VanVoorst, Barrett Barkman, Kottenstette, Louis Romersheuser, Zak Thrall, and stacks the wings with Chris Harvey and Nick Whithead.”We call the unit the ‘Big Dog PAT,'” Ramunno said. “We’ve got them in tight splits, and we told them not to give and inch.”While the Devils have often gone for two-point conversions, Ramunno expects the PAT unit to be an integral part of the team’s game against Steamboat Springs Saturday.UphillSpeed and power drive the offensive line on each play, but it’s the ability for the lineman to do this play after playing in a four-quarter game that sets them apart.Each lineman can bench around 260 pounds and squat more than 300 pounds, and only one runs a 40 in more than 5 seconds, but they take the most pride in their ability to run and run.”We really have endurance,” Kottenstette said.All year, during practice the line has repeatedly run up the hill next to Hot Stuff Stadium, culminating in 35 times in one evening.Saturday, they will be running full throttle for 48 minutes.”Our goal is to wear out the big guys,” Kottenstette said. “We’ll be sprinting off the field, and they’ll be jogging off, barely making it.”Sports Writer Ian Cropp can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14631, or, Colorado

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