Before the season Mountain Pointe coach Norris Vaughan threw down the gauntlet with his offensive lineman, essentially challenging them man-to-man.
Vaughan thought the unit would be stronger and more physical than the group he had the season before, his first with the Pride, which was a huge part in Mountain Pointe's standard-setting 2009 season.
Mountain Pointe pounded teams into submission last season, averaging 315.7 yards rushing a game and scored 58 rushing touchdowns, so it was a bit surprising that Vaughan believed this year's unit - with four news starters - was going to be just devastating.
While the numbers (252.4 yards rushing a game) are not as gaudy, the offensive line is starting to meld, become dominating and answer their coach's challenge.
There have been demotions and suspensions along the way, but the last two weeks have been more along the lines of what Vaughan was expecting as the Pride (4-1, 1-0) travel to Mesa Skyline (0-5, 0-0) for a 7 p.m. kickoff.
"I still believe that but they have a lot to learn," Vaughan said. "They are capable of being more physical. We are playing a lot of people right now and that will probably continue."
The rocks have been senior Chris Carl at left tackle and junior center Raynon Blackshire.
"They have been outstanding," Vaughan said. "They are consistent, strong and providing leadership."
The 6-foot-2, 270-pound Carl is the veteran and the 5-10, 300-pound Blackshire is the talented two-way player in the middle of it all.
"This is my third year (on the team, first year starting) and I am trying to get real focused, take school seriously and I love Mountain Pointe," Blackshire said. "So I am just doing what I can to get us better."
The lineup has been influx, but it hasn't seemed to matter. The last two weeks the running game has rushed for more than 300 yards in wins over Desert Vista and Casa Grande.
It was a much better performance than Weeks 2 and 3 as Mountain Pointe gained 143 yards in a win over Gilbert Highland and 77 in a loss to Chandler Basha.
The trust factor is starting to stabilize within the unit even if there is a different grouping each week. Or within a game. Or even a drive.
"We are getting the calls down, and communicating better," junior right guard Kyle Luis said. "Earlier in the season we weren't on the same page, but now we have a better feel for each other."
The 6-1, 205-pound Luis splits time with junior Leighton Cox (6-1, 260) at right guard. Senior Bijan Musgrove (5-10, 275) and senior Jack Nielsen (6-2, 205) have swapped starts at left guard. Right tackle has been more steady with junior Bryce Hurd (6-4, 250) anchoring the position. Freshman Natrel Curtis (6-2, 290) is also seeing some action.
The Highland game, a 21-13 win, is where Blackshire thinks the line started to come together.
"We got cocky because we blew them out last year," he said. "It was a real shocker. It turned us around and sent us into a better direction."
One of the beneficiaries of the line's cohesiveness has been junior running back Dillan Johnson, who has rushed for 281 yards over the last two weeks.
"They are playing great and making it easy for the running backs," Johnson said. "There are holes that weren't there before. I am trying my best to make sure their work doesn't go to waste."
Blackshire and rest of the boys upfront have enjoyed watching Johnson, Isaac Kartz and others get loose for big yardage.
"It feels good," said Blackshire, who worked out with Chaparral's Davonte Neal during the offseason. "After I block for them I run down the field like I am running with them. We all get fired up after that knowing we did our job."
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