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Jesuit offensive line reshaping, not reloading for season

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit's Paul Vickers and Matt Woodruff push a blocking sled around at the Metro Area Linemen Challenge at Tualatin High School. Both Vickers and Woodruff are penciled in as starters up front for the Crusaders.

The Franchise is repelled by the term “reload.”

When the Jesuit offensive line experiences turnover as any starting five (or in the Crusaders’ case sometimes six or seven) does, there is no “reloading.”

What the reigning Metro champs do continuously year after year is more reupholster its front line, ushering in already-groomed newcomers schooled in the Crusader ways to fill the voids left by graduated seniors and mesh them with whatever incumbents remain from the previous year.

Waiting in the wings are about seven-to-eight rising trenchmen, such as senior center Matt Woodruff and right tackle Brendan Rude, hungering to step into the starting lineup, cut their teeth as Crusaders linemen and etch their place in “The Franchise” — a nickname bestowed on the Jesuit front line years ago.

And, unlike last season when the majority of Jesuit’s o-line was unknown in August, the Crusaders have Nick Miller — a mauling, on-the-field mean, two-way, all-state senior who plays the game like a bucking rodeo bronco — protecting quarterback Eric Restic’s blindside and plowing holes for returning running backs Chase Morrison and Jason Talley.

“I think we have a talented group coming back,” said Nick Miller. “It’s great to finally see everyone play and start getting that bond we need to have to have a successful season. It’s a testament to our coaching staff as well. Even when we lose guys, we have great coaching so we can get those new guys to where they need to be to start the season and pick up where we left off.”

“It’s a family,” said senior offensive guard Paul Vickers of the Crusader o-line. “We all support each other and work together for the common goal. We’re always there to support each other, and we go out and compete together as a unit.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior offensive lineman Matt Woodruff said he learned a lot by watching last years strong offensive line plow holes for the Crusader running backs and hopes to apply those lessons to his own game.

As a senior, the 6-foot-2, 270-pound Miller will stick at left tackle while also playing more snaps along the defensive line. Vickers — who started at guard after moving over from center as a junior — will man the right side of the offensive line at guard and anchor the d-line at defensive tackle.

“Coming back is going to be a lot easier to work into the system because I know what I’m doing,” said Vickers. “It’s going to help me help the guys around me. We’re going to be back, and we’re going to be good.”

Rude is “one of the most athletic lineman” Vickers has ever seen and Nick Miller said he was impressed with the efforts of Woodruff who showed well at the Metro Area Linemen Challenge at Tualatin High School. Junior Griffin Marler and seniors Darius Mianji and Nate Hartmeier each put on strong displays of athleticism and strength at The Challenge — two all-important traits in head coach Ken Potter’s pound-and-protect-the-pigskin offense

“You have to know you can go up against anybody and not have doubt,” said senior defensive end Nathan Hartmeier. “That’ll take you a long way.”

“You know the guy to your right and to your left have your back,” said Woodruff. “You go all-out and at the end of the day, put a smile on your face like (offensive line coach John Andreas) says. That’s something we try to live up to.”

They line up with seven or eight guys on the line of scrimmage with a blocking back in front of Morrison or Talley, get off the ball like a gunshot, and get grimy through the whistle, all the while mincing opponents into dust long into those chilling fall evenings.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuits Nathan Hartmeier and Matt Woodruff try and lead the Crusaders to a tug-of-war victory over Reynolds at the Metro Area Linemen Challenge.

Jesuit’s never had a shortage of talented running backs, such as Joey Alfieri and Morrison, but each would be the first to credit the efforts of their big guys for their respective success.

“It’s the greatest thing in the world,” said Miller with a smile. “It’s a lot of fun to know you can just grind, get it done and know you have your teammates to back you up.”

“We run the best offense in the state as an offensive lineman,” added Vickers. “Pass blocking isn’t nearly as fun as run blocking. We use every play to show people who we are and how we play football.”

Miller said some of the problem hindering Jesuit’s hogs is “some are a little too nice”, so competitive settings such as the Metro Area Lineman Challenge are good measuring sticks to see who needs to toughen up and take off the kid gloves. Losing the state championship last year to Central Catholic in a hotly-contested game in chilly December conditions lit a fire under Vickers and Miller to return this season, make amends and fulfill last year’s unfinished business.

“We had a great season last year, but this year we’re trying to go back and finish it this time,” said Vickers. “It drives us to know we’ve been there and can do it, but it’s a new season. We have to move past last year.”

Woodruff and Hartmeier said watching and learning from the likes of Landgraf, Jarrett and Mike Miller gave him the intel needed to carry on the tradition set before him.

“Those are definitely big shoes to fill, but I think as a group we’re looking to be a strength for our team,” said Woodruff. “Leadership is definitely a big thing we can learn from them. We can take that forward and be leaders for the junior and sophomore classes also.”

“Communication and working together is a lot more important than overall talent,” added Hartmeier.

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior lineman Darius Mianji pushes toward the finish line of the Metro Area Linemen Challenges fireman carry at Tualatin High School.

Last summer, Rude remembers skeptics questioning whether Jesuit could hold its own with the sturdier, stronger teams in the state, only to see those now-graduated seniors toil and work together in the weight room every day, getting themselves primed for what turned out to be a season for the record books.

“They came in every day and put the hours in the weight room,” said Rude. “I’ve been trying to get in there as much as I can and follow their example and be the best I can for the team.”

“Last year might not have been one of the most talented teams Jesuit has ever had, but it was definitely one of the closest,” said Woodruff. “That was a major part of our success.”

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