TARPON SPRINGS — No matter how you dissect them, Tarpon Springs' rushing statistics are scary good.
The Spongers produce more than 250 yards a game. Tailbacks Adrian Golden and Darius Daniels each have more than 1,000 yards, and both gain 10 yards per carry. Heck, even reserve Ladarius Only has a 9-yards-a-clip average.
The talent of those players is undeniable, but so is this: If not for the play of the offensive line, they wouldn't be producing these kinds of eye-opening numbers.
"Honestly, if we had an average or below-average line, they'd all be averaging 4 or 5 yards a carry," Spongers coach George Kotis said.
Certainly, this is no average group.
The Spongers line, which prides itself on its ability to get down and dirty, is big, athletic, tough and, perhaps most importantly, intelligent.
"They have like a 3.7 GPA between them," Kotis said. "More than half are at 4.0 or better."
Friday night at home against Gainesville (10-1) in the second round of the Class 4A playoffs, Tarpon Springs (9-2) will start Clay Paino (275 pounds) and Kameron Romaelle (275) at left and right tackle, Ian Koch (230) and Gavin Rogers (225) at left and right guard, Kevin Donovan (280) at center and Zach Melendez (250) at tight end.
Technically, those are the first-stringers.
"There's not really a first or second team," Kotis said.
That's because Kotis and his staff have just as much confidence in the second unit, which sees significant time each week and includes junior Zach DeBell (who recently earned a scholarship offer from Minnesota), as the starters.
And so do the team's other players.
"They're all great," said Golden, who has a team-high 1,232 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns on 119 attempts. "They make the right blocks every play."
That affection is mutual.
"They're exceptional (running backs)," Donovan said. "They make the right cut 100 percent of the time."
The line has been strong since the team's opening-day rout of Palm Harbor University, but Donovan said things really started to click during the Spongers' 28-20 win over Largo on Oct. 2.
"When we drove it down their throats on our first drive, I think that's when we realized we could be pretty good," Donovan said.
In a 54-20 first-round playoff victory against Lake Weir last week, Golden and Daniels, running through gaping holes, combined for 246 rushing yards and four touchdowns on only 25 carries, all but one of which came in the first three quarters.
Once again, the dynamic duo got all the press. But for the guys up front, that was just fine.
"Every time they score, that makes us feel good," Paino said. "It means we're doing our jobs."
Keith Niebuhr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org