Charlotte Catholic senior running back Elijah Hood has rushed for 2,037 yards and 26 touchdowns in nine games this season. He averages more than 225 years a game.Ask him about the most important part of the Cougars’ offense, and he responds like the answer is obvious: the offensive line. “They are the offense, what are you talking about?” he said laughing. “I mean, I get everything off them. ... “I don’t go anywhere without the offensive line. I mean, they do it all, so my yards are their yards.” The Charlotte Catholic offense averages more than 300 yards rushing per game in the run-heavy Wing-T offense, which features three running backs and no wide receivers. The rushing success relies heavily on the blocking of the Cougars’ five offensive lineman and two tight ends. The starting line is anchored by senior center Joe Hurney (6-foot, 280 pounds) with junior Matt Dean (6-foot, 200 pounds) and sophomore Nick Bruno (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) at guard. The tackles are juniors Jake Lavender (6-foot-3, 295 pounds) and Chris Fiato (6-foot, 225 pounds) and the tight ends are senior Tyler Pumneo (6-foot-2, 185 pounds) and junior Jack Fassler (6-foot, 205 pounds). Only two of the unit started last year: Pumneo and Hurney, who also started their sophomore year. This season, the unit has been riddled with injuries. Of the seven original starting offensive linemen and tight ends, all but two – Pumneo and Hurney – have been injured at some point this season. Two of the original starters – junior tackle Matthew Kowalewski and junior tight end Drew Demaine – are still out with injuries. The injuries especially hurt when the Cougars played four tough games to start the season. They started with a 35-28 win over Gonzaga (Washington, D.C.), lost 38-17 to Rock Hill’s Northwestern, a nationally ranked team, beat rival Charlotte Country Day 21-20 and lost 52-7 to Mallard Creek, the top ranked 4A team in North Carolina and another nationally ranked team. “We definitely lined up the four most physical games I’ve ever played in, and coaches told us the four most physical games and tough games Catholic’s ever played, competition-wise,” Hurney said. “We got banged up a little bit.” Only two of the original starters suited up for the Mallard Creek game. Young players, like Fassler, Fiato and junior Steven Gileta, were forced to step up quickly against the state’s top team. “The first varsity game that I played in was one of the hardest games that I’ll ever play, probably,” Fassler said. “It was confusing. I didn’t know what I was doing. ... “It was nerve-wracking. Joe’s been a three-year starter, so has Pumneo. So they know what they’re doing and they’ve always been able to count on people and we had to try to step up.” The starters have slowly started coming back to the starting lineup. Dean and Bruno are back after missing three weeks. Lavender is back in the lineup after missing two weeks. And Fassler and Fiato seem to be more comfortable in the offense. Since the Sept. 13 Mallard Creek loss, the Cougars (7-2) have won five straight SoMeck 8 4A conference games. (Story went to print before the Cougars’ Nov. 1 game against Ardrey Kell.) “I just think they picked it up and played hard,” head coach Jim Oddo said. “They just learned and (are) coming off the ball better every week and just getting to be better football players as time goes by. You know, we knew they would. They’re good kids, they’re good hard workers and we knew they eventually would respond.” The Wing-T offense is based around three running backs and the quarterback. Each play relies on misdirection, with fake handoffs and sometimes double handoffs in the backfield. It also relies on offensive linemen knowing their assignments on every play to make holes for the running backs. “Our offense is a little complicated, to be honest with you,” Oddo said. “We do a lot of different things so it gets complicated a little bit for them and it takes a little while to pick it up.” Many of the players have been playing in the same offense since middle school. It’s the same scheme that Holy Trinity runs. “It’s definitely physical. You’ve got to play the game with an attitude,” Hurney said. The line gets to learn the offense from two experienced coaches. Oddo is in his 41st year at Charlotte Catholic and played offensive line at N.C. State. Catholic’s offensive line coach is former Carolina Panthers lineman Frank Garcia. The linemen say they work harder than anyone else in practice. The line is run blocking on nearly every play. The Cougars have thrown just 34 passes all season, averaging 32 passing yards a game. Pumneo, a tight end, only has five catches, but four of them have been for touchdowns. “For me personally, I always loved run blocking,” Garcia said. “I think if you’re a lineman at heart, really you’re a guy that loves to get after it and you want to do the hitting.” The line is clearing the way for Hood, a North Carolina commit and the No. 5 senior recruit in the state according to ESPN. “Elijah Hood is Elijah Hood,” Hurney said. “He does some really incredible stuff and, even when you’re playing on the field with him and on the same team, sometimes you just stop and you just watch him, because it’s like you’re watching college football. He’s at the next level already.” Hood is the first to credit the offensive line for his success after games, and his lineman appreciate it. But they are used to not getting the recognition and the headlines. Garcia said the line doesn’t need it. “I think they take pride in Elijah Hood doing well,” he said. “They take pride in running the football. They take pride in averaging over 300 yards a game. They take pride in going out there and winning football games. “There’s a lot of tradition and history in this program and they take pride in each and every one of those things.”
Friday, Nov. 01, 2013
The Charlotte Catholic offensive lineman ‘are the offense’
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.
Have a news tip? You can send it to a local news editor; email firstname.lastname@example.org to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Charlotte Observer.Read moreRead less