High School Football

Warriors' playoff hopes hinge on physical o-line

Burney Bourne knows all too well what Cheraw can do to opponents.

After spending 25 years as a coach there, Bourne is now in his sixth season at Waccamaw. And for the second year in a row, the Warriors will face the Braves in the first round of the Class AA playoffs tonight in Cheraw.

"I know a lot of the guys who are coaching there now," Bourne said. "They're doing the same thing. They're a big, strong team and [they] will pound you."

Finally, Bourne believes he has the type of physical players to keep up with Cheraw.

Primarily, this season's offensive line has the Warriors thinking they can get to at least the second round of the postseason. The Warriors (7-3) rely on that unit, perhaps to a fault. The coach has not shied away from telling his horses in the trenches that the team is going to win or lose depending almost solely on how they play.

If tailback John Gibbs and quarterback Terron Britton are racking up yards for Waccamaw, it's because of the line. When Gibbs (1,322 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing) struggles, as he did in a blowout loss to Manning in the regular-season finale, the line gets an earful.

"You just have to be very patient," tackle Jerome Maybank said. "When you don't get the first down, you have to go out there the next play. That's how we deal with all the pressure. We have to be patient and mean."

At a position where physicality is at its height on virtually every play, players have to be ready to take the nastiness opponents dish out.

In the Warriors' case, they have put together a unit that is not only skilled, but tough. That, the team contends, might be the greatest strength of this year's line.

The right side of the unit has already started to rack up some notoriety. Maybank, a 6-foot-4, 320-pound junior, has already received football scholarship offers from South Carolina, Clemson and North Carolina, and Bourne expects more before the end of the calendar year.

Maybank is about the only player who could possibly overshadow 6-foot-2, 290-pound teammate Ali Robinson, who is often next to Maybank on the line at the guard position. Both players are second-year starters.

Center Tyler Bailey and tackle Jake Horton spot started in the past, but at different positions along the line. Guard Ivan Reid, a senior, spent the past two seasons starting at linebacker.

But as mix-and-match as the line might appear, the group started gelling during the preseason and has continued to improve since.

"That's what they always say about the offensive line; it's the most important unit in football," Robinson said. "You have to be a unit."

Bourne's perception of his current linemen came first-hand. Last season, he took on the unit as one of his own specific coaching duties because of a lack of coaches. Robert Burdette, who had coached the line the previous four seasons, had experience with spread offenses and, therefore, took over the role of receivers coach.

This season, with Gibbs, Britton and Matt Smith in the backfield, Bourne went back to a more traditional, run-first scheme. That allowed Burdette to move back to coaching the line.

And it also allowed a talented group of players to work as one.

"Offensive line, it takes a lot of time to put a cohesive unit together," Bourne said. "The old saying about you're only as good as your weakest link applies to the offensive line. You can have four outstanding football players, and if you don't have a fifth guy, the whole unit can break down."