Players of the Week: Bulldogs’ tackles

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 13, 2005

Pre-season observers who might have said “all the pieces are in place” for a Sweet Water repeat championship were almost right. But not quite: with nine starters back on offense after the departure of senior tackles Tony Johnson and Patrick King, there were still two pieces to plug in on the offensive line.

“We lost two good tackles,” coach Stacy Luker said at the beginning of fall practice. “Now the challenge is finding two more.”

Luker has been more than satisfied with the two he’s found. Sophomores J.D. Barnhill and Scottie Nelson have stepped in and the Bulldog offense that tore through the 2004 playoffs hasn’t missed a beat, as Sweet Water’s quartet of talented running backs has found as much room to run as ever.

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But before the success, Nelson says, came the pressure of being the only unknowns on an offense full of players that had already proven themselves at a championship level.

“There always is [pressure],” he says. “Especially stepping up and filling the seniors’ shoes after we won a state championship…that gives you something to work for.”

It’s become something Nelson and Barnhill have indeed put in plenty of effort towards, working with Sweet Water offensive line coach Mark Davis. Barnhill says, unsurprisingly, that he and Nelson didn’t quite jell with their teammates on the line overnight.

“We’re all getting along, but it took a while,” he says. “It took some getting used to.”

“We kind of thought it was some kind of glamorous job, and then we found out how much work it is,” Nelson says with a laugh. “It’s been tough. We’ve worked really hard. It’s tough facing some 260-pound defensive lineman. But all the work paid off.”

It’s paid off not only in a 6-1 record and the highest-scoring offense in the state, but in what both tackles says is plenty of respect from the guys–QB Deon Williams, RBs Anthony Landrum, Dominic Holt, etc.–getting their names on the scoresheet by lining up behind them and the rest of the offensive line.

“They really do [ respect us],” Barnhill says. “They know what we do for them and the team… If we do our job, they can do theirs, and when they do theirs it helps us do ours. It’s a team thing. One little mistake can change the whole game.”

“It feels good,” Nelson says of the team unity and the promotion to the starting lineup. “You feel really important when you know the whole teams needs you and is counting on you. [The offensive line] is what makes the team go.”

Nelson and Barnhill, like the rest of the Bulldogs, will need to be at their very best to record another victory this week as American Christian comes to town.

“It’s always great to play ACA,” Nelson says. “It’s the biggest game of the season.”