NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. – It’s often said that the offensive line are the unsung heroes of any great football team.
In the case of the young men upfront for the Wilmington Greyhounds, there is nothing underrated about them.
They are tough, nasty (in a good way) and pave the way for a rushing attack that has helped lead the Greyhounds to a third state championship game appearance in four years.
It’s a group that includes five seniors – tight end Jordan Hess, right tackle Connor Vass-Gal, right guard Weston Phanco, left guard Morgan Whiting and left tackle Jake Chimak – as well as junior center Brayden Penwell.
“I think first of all, you know, if you look at the offensive line, you’re including the tight end five of the six are seniors. And this is an exceptional senior group and our offensive line is no exception to just how coachable the senior class has been, how hardworking the senior class is,” said Wilmington head coach Brandon Phillian. “All of those traits would certainly be present in our offensive line. I think that this past offseason, they all made a major commitment, they dedicated themselves to the weight room and getting stronger becoming and more explosive. I think that that showed in their play this season.”
It certainly has.
They have paved the way for a rushing attack that has overwhelmed opponents in reaching the Class 2A title game against Southern Columbia.
That includes rushing for over 600 yards as a team in their quarterfinal win over Chestnut Ridge.
Ethan Susen is over 1,000 yards on the season and Darren Miller will likely reach the milestone against Southern Columbia.
“I would say, their work ethic,” Phillian said of what defines the group. “You know, something else that makes them special, I would say their togetherness. They function very very well as a unit.”
With so much experience, that should come as no surprise.
It’s a group that functions as one, and does it as well as any offensive line in Pennsylvania.
Said an opposing District 10 assistant coach: “It’s the best offensive line I’ve seen at the high school level.”
And they absolutely love playing with each other.
“You know no matter what the defense throws at them, they understand the blocking schemes and the adjustments that are necessary, so I think they’re togetherness, their chemistry, that camaraderie, I think would be things that make them very special,” Phillian said.
The juniors all played together last season, a year in which they advanced to the PIAA semifinals before falling to Avonworth.
Penwell and Hess were stepping into starting roles for the first time, but they fit right in, and are a big part of the step forward the unit has taken as a whole.
“We noticed a step up physically from the work that they put in, the dedication they put into their training,” We also noticed a step up mentally with the understanding of the schemes and the concepts so I would say really early on (noticed the improved play). We were very pleased with the steps that they took both mentally and physically.”
Phillian was also quick to praise offensive line coach Dave Welch for how the group has performed.
“He’s done a great job of bringing them along,” Phillian said. “He really deserves a lot of the credit for the outstanding line play that we’ve been able to enjoy this season.”
Most importantly, it’s a group that, as Phillian alluded to, defines the team culture.
Susen, Miller, Luke Edwards and quarterback Caelan Bender are extremely talented players in their own right. They love their lineman, and the feeling is mutual.
“I think that’s a huge point of pride for our linemen (to see the big rushing totals),” Phillian noted. “I think anytime you’re an offensive lineman you can find such satisfaction when as a team when you’re able to run the football well.
“We’ve had a number of backs have been able to do that this year and I think that they not only ran the ball well but they do such a great job of being grateful and thankful to the linemen and our lineman feel a huge part of that.”