With lean line, Cats stay up to speed

Rachel Mummey/The Herald
Jasper’s Philip Huebschman (7) added 15 pounds to his frame since last season, and other Wildcats have also altered their body types to conform to the changing game. In particular, Jasper’s emphasis has been developing defensive linemen who are leaner and quicker. The Cats hope to see the dividends in Friday’s Class 4A sectional opener at Evansville Harrison, which sports a trio of swift backfield options.

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

More than anything, Collin Bowlin missed the country fried steak.

But the Jasper lineman had a bet to win, so salad had to replace succulent red meat for a while.

Jasper offensive coordinator Geoff Mauck first made the proposition to Bowlin last winter. If the junior lost 30 pounds by the Monday of spring break, the coach would run every 200-meter dash for Bowlin during one of the team’s two-a-day preseason practices.

Bowlin didn’t lose 30 pounds. He lost 60. And now that he’s slimmed to 280 pounds, the changes are noticeable.

Bowlin


No longer is the interior lineman restricted to the area between the tackles. Now, Bowlin feels he can run wild.

“You look back a couple years and linemen could be bigger and they didn’t have to be very fast,” Bowlin said. “But now, you’ve got to be an athlete to play anywhere. I’m obviously not the fastest guy but I have to make do with what I’ve got.”

Just as Bowlin’s capabilities have evolved, so too has defensive line play over the last decade.

“You’ve got these spread offenses where they’re playing from sideline to sideline, and you can’t have big kids in there anymore,” Jasper defensive coordinator Nick Eckert said. “Traditionally, 10, 20, 30 years ago, you just put some big kid ... in the middle and just let him clog up the middle and let your linebackers and your secondary roam the field. Now, they’ve all got to do it because with the quick screens, the reverses, along with the wide receiver screens and things like that, everybody has got to be able to run sideline to sideline. And if they can’t, they can’t play anymore.”

It’s a concept the sixth-ranked Wildcats (8-1) have embraced through their offseason conditioning and in-game design, and one that likely will play an expanded role in Friday’s Class 4A sectional scrum with Evansville Harrison (1-7), which features an offense far removed from the smashmouth scampers of yesteryear.

The Cats’ focal point heading toward Friday’s 7:30 p.m. EDT kickoff at Romain Stadium has been fitting. Pursuit. A simple buzzword looking to foster that ubiquitous chase.

In the trenches, Jasper anticipates it will have an edge Friday. Nonetheless, that power of the push easily could be negated if Harrison’s hazardous blend of quarterback Ryan Hales (651 passing yards, 195 rushing yards), running back Kyndrick Hancock (723 rushing yards) and wide receiver Deayrius Jackson (520 yards of total offense) can scamper to the field’s fringes.

“The quicker we get to those speedsters, those three backs, the better chance we’ve got of shutting them down,” Eckert said. “Once they get out on the edge or get an opening, they’re going to get a heck of a gain. So we’re going to try and eliminate that by moving our linemen. ... Get them in position to make plays.”

They’ve been doing their part.

Besides the diet alteration, Bowlin ran 2 to 3 miles on the three days he wasn’t lifting during the offseason. Add pickup hoops after lifting, and Bowlin saw his stamina improve constantly.

“I was in the gym every single day,” Bowlin said.

That labor streamed onto the football field.

“You get out there and you feel really comfortable,” he said. “You’re in better shape and you know your abilities more. You just feel like you can help out your team better.”

Eckert has molded the defense in other ways as well to counteract the changing offensive landscape. Instead of clogging another dense dude in the line, the Cats have used a collection of more linebacker-esque kids to fuse muscle with motor.

Last Friday against Mount Vernon, linebackers Cole Kreilein and Cal Krueger both lined up in the “Cat end” position, which anchors the weak side of the line and is able to either invade the backfield or retreat into coverage. Kreilein ended up with 11⁄2 tackles for loss. The Wildcats tallied nine in the contest.

Yet it hasn’t all been about shaving size for Jasper. Senior Philip Huebschman tacked on 15 pounds during the offseason to more aptly perform at the flex position. His mom, Kristina, made sure her once lanky 6-foot-3 son took down protein-packed meals every day. Pork chops and steak. Nothing better.

“I get dinner every night,” Huebschman said, “so I’m pretty happy about that.”

When Jasper conditions, linemen and all others run the same distance of sprints, the same number of times, Eckert stressed. The results are easy to see. On the season, Jasper has accumulated 51 tackles behind the line of scrimmage, totaling 194 lost yards. The Cats’ opponents, on the other hand, have just 18 tackles for a loss, equating to 61 yards.

More impressive has been the ensemble that’s compiled the numbers. Eighteen Wildcats have had a hand in a tackle for lost yardage, with Austin Alles (nine TFLs) leading the brigade. When linemen Spencer Otto (hairline fracture in his foot) and Cory Buchta (appendix removal) both missed multiple games, guys like Boone Jahn and Pablo Santos quickly picked up the slack, Eckert noted.

“It’s got to be next guy up,” Eckert said. “You’ve got to be ready.”

Concerning Friday, the Cats feel they are. And in quick pursuit.

“If we can keep them from going outside, that will be a huge play in the game, because with their speed, if they can’t go outside, they’ll have to go through us,” Huebschman said.

“If we can keep them from running around, it’ll make it a little easier on us and it will make the game more physical, which I don’t know if they can handle that.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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