The demeanor in which the Sunset football team wants its offensive line to possess can be summed up in one word.

“Nasty,” said assistant coach Damien Merrick. “We talk about things that moms don’t always want to hear. We want that controlled aggression snap-to-whistle. You have to have that to play that position because it’s a tough position. You’re not playing it for the accolades or the touchdowns, so you have to have a different mindset going into it.”

Off the field, the Apollos want their big guys to be respectable young men who are role models in the community. Sign autographs for youth football players. Volunteer for good causes. Get good grades in the classroom, you know, good deeds. But, when the Friday night lights flick on, it’s time to get down, dirty and surly in the trenches. by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset offensive lineman Alex Betancourt uses his leverage and strength to turn over a 350-pound tire.

To that point, whenever the Apollos break a huddle they holler, “Nasty!” before hunkering down at the line of scrimmage. Being ill-natured and ill-tempered toward an opponent could also make up for Sunset’s comparative dearth of prototypical specimens.

“That’s something we take to heart,” said senior Alex Betancourt. “We still follow the rules, but we have to play nasty. It all comes down to how hard we work, and lately we’ve been working really hard in the weight room just grinding. We’re making big improvements all across the board.”

“In the end, you want tough guys,” added Merrick. “You want guys who aren’t going to back down from a challenge. When people are watching, that’s when they compete at their best. In the end, it’s all competition, which is good.”

Strength of the team

Whether it’s the regular season or the summer time when seven-on-seven passing league is the flavor of choice, the offensive line of a football team doesn’t get a whole lot of love.

The big guys up front open holes for their fleet running backs, protect their quarterback’s backside and set the corporal tone for the rest of the squad. Without a good o-line, a promising team has no chance of success.

“I think the line could be the strength of this team, especially if we keep working hard together throughout the off-season — not become complacent,” said offensive tackle Mark Iguidbashian.

The Metro Offensive Linemen Challenge at Tualatin offered the Sunset o-line a much-deserved chance to show off its athletic dexterity while seeing how players stack up against some of the best units in the state.

“It’s good for team bonding,” said offensive guard Sam Alkana. “You have team dinners, position dinners during the season, but the summer training, all the hard stuff, the fun stuff like this is what it’s really all about. The line’s probably the hardest working group out there. We’re kind of the unsung heroes, but we do it for the team, we do it for ourselves.”

Each of the Apollo linemen had to flip a 350-pound tire end over end for a minute straight, testing their total body strength and coordination. All of the Linemen Challenge activities were created in the name of team unity and seeing who was strong enough to manage the physical pain.

“We’re competing against other teams, showing what we got, what we can do. It makes us feel more appreciated,” said Betancourt.

Junior Ellis Parr led the Apollos with 11 straight tire flips. Sunset competed against big-name schools like Tigard and Jesuit, but they were also pitting each other against themselves, to see who was the toughest in the line. by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset offensive lineman Sam Alkana flips a 350-pound tire at the Metro Lineman Challenge.

“The important thing is just getting out here and being together,” said Merrick. “We haven’t done anything like this that was linemen-oriented, so this is awesome. We just wanted them to go out, compete and have a fun time doing it.”

The starting five

The starting five hasn’t been sorted out yet, though Merrick noted the Apollos won’t be very deep on either line. Most of Sunset’s linemen will play both and possibly special teams.

“Alex and Mark are both fairly explosive kids,” said Merrick. “They’re not going to wow you with their height and weight, but they’re athletic and agile. They have a little bit of a mean streak to them that once that ball is put into play, they’re going to do whatever it takes to get it done.”

Merrick said the Apollos’ best offensive seasons occurred when they could pass the ball just as effectively as running it. Formation-wise, Sunset prefers to vary. Occasionally, they’ll utilize a two-back, two-tight-end look, and then venture to a five-wide receiver set on the very next play.

The key to these fluctuations is the offensive line’s ability to seamlessly switch from one look to the next. Sunset yearns to strike an offensive balance because, as Merrick pointed out, the Apollos aren’t all 6-foot-3, 250 pounds up front.

“If we were that big, we might be a little more of a run-dominated team,” said Merrick.

“But, we don’t have that girth, where we can pound it first, second and third down. Some teams have the ability to run with eight (defensive) guys in the box, but we’ve always been a team that has to run on our terms and throw on our terms. If we’re being dictated to, then it’s probably not going to be a very good night for us.”

Betancourt (5-foot-10, 240 pounds) started last season before going down with a season-ending injury halfway through the year. Iguidbashian (5-foot-9, 210 pounds), Betancourt’s replacement last season, started five games in place of his fallen teammate as a junior.

The two returners are surrounded by a group of promising juniors and seniors who either played defensively or were backups last year.

Iguidbashian began last season as Sunset’s backup center, but when Betancourt went down, he slid over to right tackle. Squaring off with some of the Metro’s elite pass rushers, Iguidbashian said, has really helped his confidence heading into this season.

“A lot of those guys are bigger than me, so if I can beat them, it’s a lot of fun,” said Iguidbashian. “I think they gained some respect for me by the end of the game. You have to be a lot more agile (at tackle) than when you’re in the middle, so that took some time to adjust, but practice and repetition helped with that.”

Size-wise Sunset might be smallish, yet there’s a chip on each of the Apollos’ shoulders that serves as the driving force for the 2013 season.

“A lot of people are underestimating Sunset going into this year because of size, but we have some pretty high expectations for ourselves,” said Alkana.

“We’re looking to prove ourselves. I think we’ll absolutely challenge Jesuit and Southridge. Last year, the game against Jesuit was decided on a questionable call, and we’re looking to get after it this year.”

“We can’t help that we’re not the biggest people, but we can work harder, get more athletic,” added Iguidbashian. “We have to push each other to get better.”

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