Freeport linemen ready to benefit from experience together
Wednesday, August 14, 2019 | 4:31 PM
Elijah Freeman recalled a welcome-to-varsity-football moment early last season as the now-sophomore right guard got comfortable in his spot along the Freeport offensive line.
“In my first game on the first play, I got put on my back,” he said. “He blew me up. I quickly saw how much faster things were. I was like, “OK, this is varsity. It’s time to man up.’ ”
Freeman progressed from there for a young Yellowjackets line that jelled into a unit to help the team earn a WPIAL playoff spot out of the challenging Class 3A Big East Conference.
Four of the five starters up front are back — Freeman, senior center Garrett Ben, senior left tackle Carter Daugherty and junior left guard Logan Manke — and as they enter the 2019 season, they are excited to see where their experience can take them.
“We’re definitely a lot more confident, both in our individual abilities and in the group overall,” said Ben, the most veteran member of the line entering his third year as a starter.
“We understand what we have to do for the offense to do bigger and better things. We want to run the ball a lot, and that means being on the same page. We have to be ready to do our jobs.”
Offensive line coach Tim Walters said things are running much smoother as this season approaches.
“They all hit the ground running,” he said. “We had to slow things down a little more last year, especially in the run game, because we had a freshman and a sophomore starting for the first time in Elijah and Logan. We then had Carter moving over from tight end, so we had to take our time with things and understand they all were growing at their positions.”
Last year, the group, which included the graduated Jacob Leri, a two-year starter at right tackle, opened holes for a run game that totaled 2,131 yards — 213.1 yards per game — and 29 touchdowns.
“This is the first time in a couple of years we’ve had this many come back on the offensive line,” Freeport head coach John Gaillot said. “They got stronger as last season went on, and they’ve continued that and gotten better. They go hard each snap for each other and for the rest of the team. They understand it all starts up front, and how they go is how the offense goes overall.”
The start of preseason camp Monday, Gaillot said, marked the beginning of the main test of the candidates to fill the hole at right tackle. He said they include senior Noah McQuade (210 pounds) and juniors James Kashella (255) and Dennis Daugherty (245).
Walters sees the 210-pound Ben, with his experience and knowledge, as a coach on the field.
“He makes a lot of calls and makes sure everyone on the line is on the same page. I am usually up in the press box, but he’ll come to me at halftime and talk to me about defensive fronts that we’re seeing or where they are showing blitzes. He’s one of the first guys I talk to as we go in to make adjustments.”
Carter Daugherty, at 6-4 and 200 pounds, was a tight end in the Yellowjackets offense until he made the move to tackle about a third of the way through last season. He made the move just a couple of days before finding himself on the field in game action.
“It was an opportunity to get on the field,” he said. “I felt I could do the job. My first game (at tackle) was pretty nervewracking, but Logan really helped me with a lot of the plays. I just kept working at it, and now I have a lot more confidence. We’re ready to have a good season.”
Manke, a second-year starter, is up to 235 pounds from 220 last year. He said his first year as a starter in the trenches, with his own early-season wake-up call, was valuable.
“It was a little nervewracking to hop into varsity games right away,” Manke said.
“During the first scrimmage, I was a little skittish. On one of the first couple of plays, this big senior put me on my back. After that, I realized there was no need to be skittish anymore. I just kept playing, and things started rolling a little better.
“With the experience we all have, we know what to expect. It’s all about getting the reps in and continuing to get bigger and stronger.”
Following up on experience gained last season, Freeman added 25 to 30 pounds in the offseason and now is at 200.
“A lot of rice, chicken and beans,” he said of the regimen that complemented his time in the weight room.
Freeman said he’s noticed a difference in his strength while not losing any of his athleticism.
“It’s really helped me with momentum out of my stance to move people out of the way,” he said.
The line hopes to quickly get in the habit of moving people out of the way starting with Saturday’s scrimmage at Apollo-Ridge.
“Even though they are more experienced, they’re not taking anything for granted,” Walters said. “They are working hard to become more of a unit every day.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .
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