Dominant linemen pave way for Pine-Richland
Saturday, November 14, 2020 | 11:01 AM
Jared Miller and Coleman Mazur paused a drill during a Pine-Richland practice before the Class 5A WPIAL championship game to explain gap responsibilities against a specific Peters Township offensive set.
The Rams’ defensive line coaches positioned each of the starters and repeated their roles until Miller addressed the group.
“I know you guys are physical as heck, but we’ve got to be smart,” Miller said. “The best football players I ever played against were smart. If we’re smart and if we put them 2 yards behind (the line of scrimmage), we will win.”
The Rams ran their next rep and fired off the ball to their coaches’ specifications.
“Good, good, good,” Miller shouted. “I love it. I love coaching you guys. That’s a really good way to finish (this drill).”
Pine-Richland was three days away from playing in the championship game, and coaches in each position group made it a point to remind players to be smart and to finish.
For Miller, Mazur and offensive line coach Tim Sasson, the memo was particularly important, because they know the end to every successful play starts with their linemen working cohesively.
“It’s an unheralded job up front,” coach Eric Kasperowicz said. “Those guys on the line are completely selfless, and they’re tremendous.”
Miguel Jackson is the emotional leader of each group and the only one to play both ways.
He’s joined by speedy defensive end Connor Lenz and defensive tackles Jacob Domer and Cole Shurman, who weigh a combined 580 pounds, to stuff the run.
“I think what sets them apart is their eagerness to make sure they keep up the tradition of Pine-Richland football,” Miller said.
The defense’s schemes, Miller said, are designed for linemen to own their gap, enabling the Rams linebackers, who have a combined 30 tackles for a loss this season, to make plays.
“If I only get one tackle in a game, that’s OK,” Domer said. “I don’t really look at the stats. I know if I did my job, and the linebackers’ stats are more reflective of how I’m doing anyway.”
Pine-Richland takes the same ego-free approach on the other side of the ball, where Jackson is joined by fellow seniors John Swisher, Harrison Hayes and Spencer King.
They are all returning starters for an offense that totals about 450 yards from scrimmage per game and scores more than 50 points per game.
“I just love playing with my guys, honestly,” Swisher said. “On my first team I ever played on, the right tackle and left guard were Harrison and Spencer. Miguel got here in middle school. We’ve been getting after it for as long as I can remember.”
The one question mark entering the season on the offensive line was at center, where Sasson and assistant offensive line coach Kraig Urbik filled the hole with sophomore Isaiah Kerns.
“We have five kids who are on the same page, and they are athletic,” Sasson said. “Isaiah is the only one who didn’t play (varsity) before, and they’re great together. They work hard, they’re very disciplined, and they’re also really smart kids who can adapt to any situation.”
If their linemen can start each play the right way, the Rams are way ahead of the game.
“The key thing we have to focus on, even though I know we’re physical and know what our plans are, is correctly identifying the other team’s fronts and blitzes and things like that,” Swisher said. “The physicality side comes from size and conditioning. Once you get the mental side, the game slows down and it becomes a lot easier. If we can play smart, we’re good to go.”
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