The Mountain Pointe football roster lists the offensive linemen without specific positions.
No one is listed as a tackle, guard or center. Everyone is listed OL.
It reflects the match-up strategy employed this year by the Pride coaching staff.
The same five players have started the last four games, but their positions change on the basis of on the strength of the opposition’s defensive front.
Four different players have started at center over the last four games. The lineup against Corona del Sol (4-4) this week for the Pride (8-0) will be different from what its lineup last week against Desert Ridge.
“In years past we couldn’t have done that,” Mountain Pointe offensive line coach Aaron Frana said. “Have a center go play tackle? That’s a tough assignment. These are guys are like, ‘You want me to move? OK.’ They never question it.
“I love it. They want to win and they do whatever it takes to do it.”
The key–other than the players’ versatility–is the level of play of senior Eddie Rivas, who is the strategy’s lynchpin as he is moved around to take on the opposition’s top player.
“I take it as a direct challenge,” said Rivas, who has played four of the five line positions. “The coaches put their faith in me to take on the top guy and I want that responsibility, plus I know whoever plays in the position I left is going to get the job done.”
His climb to one of the best linemen in the state didn’t start out all that well when he had a chance to play in the Chandler playoff game as a sophomore.
“I was like, ‘Whoa, tell me what to do,’” Rivas said. “I think (the defense) they were going to be that fast and strong. I knew I had a lot of work do when I pulled and I hit a linebacker and he didn’t move. I was like ‘get somebody else in there.’”
Two years later, he is the key to most versatile line in the state.
“He was a big raw kid,” Frana said. “He’s matured, got stronger in the weight room and now he can match up with anyone on the edge. When you have a kid who can play all five positions, you take advantage of it.”
The idea began to take shape when senior Joe Sales-Lopez sustained a concussion and had trouble getting cleared until this week.
With Sales-Lopez, who was going to be the starting left guard, out, the lineup starting changing. Star defensive linemen Matthew Pola-Moa and Shomari Hayes rotated at tackle.
When they needed a break because of their defensive responsibilities, sophomore Alex Vogel was inserted. And when he handled himself well, it became clear the unit had another capable body.
“I was not expecting it this year,” said the 220-pound Vogel, who has started at both tackle spots and center. “I made way on to the scout team and things progressed from there. I was kind of nervous at first but at the first snap you just play.”
The other three are junior Mason Honne, who has played left tackle and center; and seniors Justice Hudson, who has played center and left guard, and Rudy Rauls, who has played right guard all year.
With all the changes, many people might expect some struggles with continuity and/or rhythm. But the Pride is churning out 345 yards rushing a game with 33 touchdowns.
“Our offensive line has played really well,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said. “We moved guys around in the past, like Natrell Curtis would play tackle or guard, but we’ve never done it at center before. That’s really unusual. They’ve played no matter where we’ve put them.”
Expect more of the same as the regular season wraps up and the Pride tries to clinch the 6A Central Region title this week—and possibly the fourth undefeated regular season since 2009 the following week against Gilbert.
There could be as many as six games remaining and there could just as many starting lineups along the offensive line.
“We will have a raffle to see who starts where,” Frana, who is also the co-offensive coordinator, joked. “It says a lot about them not only as athletes, but they have to be smart, too, to play different positions. We’ve put a lot on their plates and they keep going out an executing at a high level.”
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