It’s a pregame tradition at Cherokee Bluff to let the offensive linemen get their plate first for dinner.
Call it reverence or simply giving way to the players with the biggest appetites.
Either way, it’s a group that is the "heartbeat’ for the third-year Bears, according to its coach Tommy Jones.
“Our offensive line is all so unselfish, unsung guys,” Jones said. “They all have the right mentality. They play the next play and don’t get rattled.”
Even though the Region 7-3A champion Bears (10-1) don’t have the biggest group up front, they have six players who do everything to keep the wheels running smoothly on offense.
And, without question, these linemen with varying levels of experience up front, have glommed on to every word their coaching staff has said, as Cherokee Bluff approaches its second-round playoff game against Carver-Atlanta (5-4) on Friday in Flowery Branch.
So when the skill players get the accolades and glory for scoring touchdowns, letting the big guys up front get first pick on food is only fair, said Bears offensive line coach Kenneth Czar.
“Our offensive line is a great group of kids,” said Czar, who has been at Cherokee Bluff since it opened in the fall of 2018. “Prior to coming here, I’ve only started a freshman, maybe once. We have three guys on the offensive line who started as freshmen and are now juniors. They’re all doing a great job, and it’s been awesome to watch them grow.”
For the Bears, one of the most unique features is that their offensive line is a mesh of players who are naturals up front, led by junior tackle Mateo Guevara (6-feet, 4-inches, 265 pounds) and junior center Cason Moore (6-2, 245), both three-year starters and the biggest of the bunch.
Having experience means they can recognize different looks by the defense and have unspoken communication where they need to be.
“It feels good to have the success we’ve had,” Moore said. “Since Day 1, our coaches have taught us to play low and play fast.”
Then, there are the inside grinders, Garrett Davis and Nick Richardson (both about 200 pounds), who Jones and Czar hand picked to put in at the two guard spots in 2020, — not because of their size but because of nonstop work ethic and ability to move bigger defensive linemen off the line of scrimmage.
Meanwhile, Carver-Atlanta has a distinct size advantage with its defensive line, but Guevara isn’t questioning his group's ability to get the job done.
“Carver has some big guys and is a good team, but we just have to be better,” said Guevara, who is starting to garner attention from Division-I programs. “To see those bigger players just lights a fire under me and lets me know we have to play as a team.”
Jones consistently references a team motto that is finding players who will do whatever it takes to make the team better.
And, certainly, Davis and Richardson filled that role. Both are three-year starters for the Bears and had no qualms about playing on the interior part of the offensive line when given the news in July.
“It was very unselfish for them to be willing to play offensive line, and it’s paid dividends for our team,” Jones said. “Both were completely willing and on board with our decision. It takes an unselfish attitude and willingness to do what’s best for the team and those two have certainly done that.”
Czar, who is also offensive coordinator and was on Jones’ staff for five seasons at Dacula, said that his 2020 offensive line has shredded the myth about needing to be the biggest to win the battle in the trenches.
“We actually like having smaller offensive guards and found that it works to our favor,” said Czar, who said he was a smaller offensive lineman in his playing days. “What matters most is being fast and physical and having good footwork. The players we have do that just like we need them to do.”
Up front, Cherokee Bluff also has sophomore tackle Jacob Benjamin, who is still filling out physically and has the potentially to be special. Also, Keller Atkinson is a rotational guard who sees plenty of playing time, according to Jones.
All six, along with tight end Eric Gohman, give the Bears a solid wall that opens up big running lanes for junior Jayquan Smith (952 yards, 13 touchdowns) and senior Charles Tolbert who has almost 500 yards on the ground. Bears quarterback Sebastian Irons (1,400 yards passing) and a multitude of wide receivers who get in on the passing game have also been the beneficiary of an offensive line that keeps a clean pocket and pushes back everyone on the opposing defense.
Czar said all the offensive linemen he plays have a jovial spirit and get a big kick out of putting the pieces in motion for big plays.
They don’t get most of the credit for putting points on the board, but they all know it starts with doing the dirty work up front.
“Nothing feels better than when I pancake (tackle) a guy and have him on the ground or drive a guy 15 yards back and open up a big play,” Guevara said.
So while others get to celebrate touchdowns, Czar makes sure the offensive linemen are held in high esteem at Cherokee Bluff.
That starts with getting in line first when it’s time to break bread together.
“It means the world that they appreciate us and care about what we do as offensive linemen,” Moore said.
Guevara said that having to play varsity so early in his career, and go against opposing linemen who were much bigger, made him strive to get better and certainly appreciate the success Cherokee Bluff is having in 2020.
“I’m fired up that as a third-year program and we’re in the Sweet 16,” Guevara said.
Friday’s second-round playoff schedule
Flowery Branch at Marist, 7:30 p.m.
Cherokee Bluff vs. Carver-Atlanta, 7:30 p.m.
North Hall at Greater Atlanta Christian, 7:30 p.m.