Football games often are won in the trenches. An offensive line that is big and physical to open holes for runners and protect the quarterback is every coach’s dream.
Coach Rich Wellbrock and Mountain Pointe High believe that they have that this season.
Why wouldn’t they? Mountain Pointe seems to have that every season. Physical play by dominating lines has been their trademark as they marched to the state semifinals or beyond eight of the past nine seasons.
“They’re the cornerstone of this team,” Wellbrock said of his linemen. “You can always count on them to do the right thing on the field, at the school and in the community. It’s a great group to have around.”
In their first season directing the Pride, Wellbrock and his staff inherited starters all over the field, including the offensive line. Seniors Cole Cundary, Alex Vogel, Zach Quihuis and Eriq Williams lead the way up front. The unit also has talented juniors Will Haire, Steven Williams and Kaleb Whitethorne.
The group averages 6-feet, 275 pounds – near the average for prep football teams in Arizona. They believe it’s their work ethic that separates them.
Mountain Pointe’s line will be tested Saturday when it takes on South Jordan (Utah) Bingham High, ranked 15th nationally in MaxPreps Xcellent 25, in the Las Vegas suburb of Henderson, Nevada, as part of the Touchdowns Against Cancer Games. Kickoff is 8 p.m. at Liberty High.
“It’s a position that doesn’t get talked about much, but it’s a group that comes out and does their job,” Wellbrock said of the line. “It’s hard to pinpoint anytime one of them does better than the other.”
Their daily work ethic is inspired by a position coach who has experience. Line coach Frantz Pierre-Louis – known among the players as “Coach Zoe” – is in his sixth year working at the varsity level. He was offensive coordinator and line coach at Phoenix Christian before joining the Chaparral staff in 2017.
The linemen say that the transition to the new coaching staff has been easy because Zoe has a similar coaching style to that of former coach Norris Vaughan and his staff.
“At least from our standpoint, they coach pretty much the same,” Quihuis said. “They teach us all the same types of technique. Coach Zoe may yell a little more but that would be about it.”
A strong bond with Zoe has been built in short order. Playful banter is common in the group.
“These guys are clowns,” Zoe said, laughing. “They speak their mind, they’re free spirits. I think we are the best unit on the team.”
From their time on the practice field to dinner afterward, Zoe says this tight-knit offensive line is among the most important units on the team.
Vocal leaders among the group have emerged, among them Quihuis. His leadership has stood out to teammates and coaches.
“Every day he does his job. He’s ready to go and he pulls everyone along with him,” Wellbrock said. “He pushes everyone to meet his level of intensity.”
That intensity fuels the success of the Pride’s offensive line during Quihuis’ two years as a starter.
Last season, Mountain Pointe had 5,495 yards of offense, most of it on the ground from running back Jakim McKinney, who has built a close bond with the line.
“They mean a lot to me,” McKinney said. “I do love them. We’ve been through a lot, especially in games and even outside of games. We all hang out and sometimes go to dinner. It’s a good connection for us.”
Mountain Pointe opened with a loss to Pinnacle, among the favorites to win the 6A state championship. The Pride rolled up 437 total yards and 34 points, totals that should be enough to win on most Fridays. They lost to the Pioneers by 22.
Zoe says there is always room for improvement.
“On paper, it looked like we had a good game, but I told them we could have done more,” Zoe said. “I told them it was the little things: guys having their hands in the right place, head on the right side. We are going to learn from it.”
Wellbrock said the group has the tools to be outstanding.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have some good offensive lines throughout my coaching career and this group is second to none,” Wellbrock said. “They’re a group that really enjoys being around each other and doing all the things that we need to be successful.”