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Buford's offensive line paving the way

Wolves may not have typical size up front, but still dominating

POSTED: December 2, 2010 5:44 p.m.

Class AA state semifinals preview: Lovett at Buford

Buford High football coach Jess Simpson talks about the role his offensive line has played this season.

Scott Rogers/The Times

Buford offensive lineman Vadal Alexander goes through drills recently during practice at the school.

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BUFORD — Christian Hunnicutt insists that it wasn’t as difficult a task at it may have appeared from the outside.

Coming into the 2010 season, Hunnicutt, the offensive line coach at Buford High, was perfectly at ease with the task of plugging in four new bodies to replace a group that in 2009 that included three future college players — two that were headed to Southeastern Conference schools.

“It wasn’t tough at all,” said Hunnicutt on Wednesday as the Wolves prepared for Friday’s state semifinal game at Tom Riden Stadium against Lovett. “They all have the right intangibles and are not hard to coach at all.”

The only holdover from 2009 is junior left tackle Vadal Alexander (6-foot-6, 320 pounds), who missed much of the regular season due to an autoimmune disorder contracted during the summer. He wasn’t able to play until the sixth game of the regular season against Decatur.

At many high schools, not having the face of the offensive line not able to play, much less move without assistance due to a condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome, might cause a panic. However, the Wolves (12-1) just rolled with the punches and plugged another eager lineman into the rotation without as much as a hiccup.

“Every great team has a great offensive line,” said Alexander, a top lineman prospect for the Class of 2012. “We just all work so hard and continue to push to get better.”

Without Alexander in the lineup early in the season, it was 230-pounder Reid Ferguson who moved over from right guard to fill his vacancy. The rest of the Buford offensive line features junior center Tyler Burge, guards Ferguson and Devonte Mack and Josh Cardiello at right tackle. Ben Sweatt, a senior, has also been valuable off the bench, according to Hunnicutt.

Without Alexander in the lineup in the season opener against Gainesville, Hunnicutt said none of the starters had played a snap of varsity football before.

“What sticks out is that we replaced four out of five starters this season and they just played outstanding,” head coach Jess Simpson said. “They play together, jelled as a group and play fast.”

At a school like Buford that produces Division-I players on the offensive line practically every season, this year’s crew took up the challenge to mold itself into one of the best the school’s seen. While it isn’t fair to compare one class to another, this year’s offensive line has certainly held its own as Buford goes for its fourth consecutive state title in Class AA.

“We took it as a challenge to be great this season,” Mack said. “We came out with a lot of intensity from the start of the season and want to be perfect on every play.”

The offensive numbers give credibility to the fact that the Wolves have plenty of support from the line. The running backs, led by Seon Jones and Dominique Swope, have rushed for almost 3,000 yards this season, and senior quarterback Alex Ross has thrown for close to 1,600 yards.

Hunnicutt is not surprised by the results; he knows the attention to detail his offensive line puts into getting better.

According to Hunnicutt, they never miss practice and are always punctual to team functions.

And more times than not, this group of linemen can be found together when they’re away from school whether it’s eating, playing video games or watching sports.

Like most offensive lines, Buford’s group up front isn’t searching for the individual recognition. They get their joy from watching the skill players make big plays from holes they opened, and racking up the victories, which came easy during the regular season for the Wolves.

With all its cohesion, once the season started, the Wolves’ offensive line was ready to go. Against Gainesville, Buford scored on its first two offensive plays of the season: A 30-yard pass from Ross to Jamal English and a 72-yard touchdown run from Jones (930 yards, 10 TDs).

Buford’s offensive line also earned another badge of honor when Jones rushed for 319 yards in the regular season against Lovett in Atlanta. Now, the Wolves’ big men are going to try and keep opening holes en route to earning the school’s fourth straight state title.

“We haven’t achieved our goal until we win the state title,” Burge said.



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