ST. PETERSBURG — At the start of the season, St. Petersburg knew who was going to get the ball. The Green Devils returned nearly every skill player, including a trio of running backs (Ben Sams, Rashad Lewis and Malik Wilson).
The only question was who would pave the way.
The Green Devils lost every starter on the offensive line from last year’s team that went 10-2 and won a playoff game for the first time since 1984.
Cohesiveness up front was needed. After all, no part of a football team is designed to work in such synchronicity as the offensive line, a unit equally dependent on the brutishness of a wrestler and the teamwork of the Rockettes.
During practice and study, linemen learn the orchestrations of all other parts.
And though these Devils truly were green, they have come together in the trenches.
St. Petersburg (10-1) has not missed a beat, advancing to Friday’s Class 5A region semifinal at Bradenton Manatee (10-1).
“Offensive line seems to be the hardest group to develop,” St. Petersburg coach Joe Fabrizio said. “We only had a few guys who were coming back with some playing experience.
“We didn’t know what to expect, but we knew we needed this group to step up if we wanted to commit to running the football.”
The group Fabrizio has are thinking guys. All six starters on the line, counting the tight end, have a 3.0 grade point average. Four of those starters are in the school’s international baccalaureate program. One of those linemen, Chris Davis, has a 1,530 on the SAT.
These behemoths are forever processing defensive formations and alignments and calculating how to attack them, while simultaneously obsessing about things such as which foot to move first at the snap and how to position the hips for optimum leverage.
“This is definitely a thinking man’s position,” said center Tyler Sweetland. “There is a lot going through your head. Most people think we just go out and hit someone. But there’s a philosophy behind hitting someone.”
After a loss to Gibbs, the Green Devils’ line started to jell. In the past five games, all wins, St. Petersburg has averaged more than 40 points per game. And the line has cleared a path for St. Petersburg’s talented backfield to rush for nearly 3,000 yards combined.
“I think we’re really starting to work together,” said left tackle Taylon Culbreth. “There’s no blame game. We take responsibility for what we have to do. Now we just have to prove who wants it more in the playoffs.”