Lake Norman & Mooresville

Deep offensive line pushes Eagle attack

Offensive linemen don't usually get a lot of the credit or the headlines surrounding the SouthLake Christian football team.

But the seven-player unit - made up of Thomas Bolen, Stephen Bolten, Kenny Bumgarner, Josh Furrow, Taylor Jurney, Troy Lowden and Micah Nelson - is the driving force behind the 2011 squad's aspirations to be one of the best teams in the state.

They are also a big reason why SouthLake Christian started off 3-0 this season. Behind the line, the Eagle offense had accrued 1,148 total yards, heading into Sept. 16's game against Hickory Grove, and averaged 40 points per game.

"They set the tone and tempo at nearly every practice and in every game," SouthLake coach Rich Landis said. "If the other kids aren't living up to what they should be doing, our linemen will be the first to let them know."

The group, led by offensive line coach Steve Malloy, is not only deep, but Landis said it's probably the biggest and most talented in school history. The average Eagle lineman is a bit taller than 6-foot-1 and weighs more than 224 pounds.

"We've had some great individual lineman in the past, like a Charles Hazzard (all-state in 2010)," he said. "But we've never had seven guys who could all start. They are a group that has played together and are very smart and understand their assignments and how that fits into the game plan every week."

The Eagle spread offense revolves around its skill players, like quarterback Randy Schroeder, running backs Adam Gilkerson, Alex Rose and Andre Diouf, as well as its wideouts like Demitri Allison.

"It's just natural for the guys who score the touchdowns to get most of the glory," Nelson said. "But without the offensive line, they wouldn't get that far."

The SouthLake Christian offensive line has designed its own competition, which they call the "pancake award." Each week, the lineman who gets the most knockdown - or pancake - blocks gets a syrup charm that goes on a necklace they keep.

At the end of the year, the player with the most syrups will be named the team's top lineman.

"This is a unique group, and it's kind of a funny way that we compete with each other," said Furrow, who designed the competition. "But we are all about working together, and we work just as hard in the offseason as we do during the season."

As a result, a line that has mostly been together for the last four years is able to do things that no line before has done at SouthLake.

"The difference between this group and our lines in the past is that they communicate so well," said Landis. "In this day and age of spread offenses, you've got to be able to adjust within a game on the fly."

To find hard evidence of the Eagles' offensive front's improvements, you need to look no further than the balance on offense, as SouthLake Christian has rushed for 480 yards and passed for 686 yards in its first three games.

It is that kind of production that the Eagles hope leads them to even bigger things in the postseason after last year's 9-3 squad advanced to the 2A state semifinals.

If the Eagles are to get back to the final four or even better, the offensive line will be a big part of that success.

"We definitely feel like leaders on this team because we have all been a part of this program since we were freshman," Bolten said. "We try to help the younger guys learn what this team is all about."

The linemen are focused on doing what it takes to keep SouthLake Christian winning.

"Together as a group, we are a lot better than we would be individually," Lowden said.

"That is what this team is about, that is how we are going to win."