Indian Rocks Christian is playing football over Thanksgiving break for the first time in school history. And most of the credit goes to a trio of running backs that has made life miserable for opposing defenses.
The Golden Eagles have won nine straight games thanks mainly to a running attack that has gained 3,347 total yards. Theo Anderson has gained an even 1,000 yards and scored 19 touchdowns. Zeke McGaughy has 911 yards and nine touchdowns, and Damian King has 823 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Overall, IRC running backs have found the end zone 46 times this season.
While those backs get plenty of pats on the helmet, the offensive line quietly goes about its business.
“You don’t play offensive line if you want to get a bunch of credit,” senior center Chris Parish said.
Parish should know. He has been on the line at IRC since he was a sixth-grader on the middle school team. So has senior Jacob McBride. They have been teamed with junior Jake Ellis and sophomore John DeVries for two years to form the core of an explosive offense. Sophomore Kal Miranda and freshman Jay Dempsey have provided depth.
“Parish is the director of the offensive line,” offensive line coach Jerry Wunsch said. “He’s the one who gets everyone to understand the fronts, where everybody is going. The cohesiveness comes from the work they’ve put together in the offseason.”
Wunsch is making sure they are doing their work. He was an offensive lineman at the University of Wisconsin and with the Bucs (1997-2001) and Seahawks (2002-04). He has been at IRC six years and has seen the line get better and better.
“We have a smart group, and they are tenacious,” Wunsch said. “They all want to be good and they are willing to do what it takes to be good. They know that getting to where they want is never easy. They work hard in every practice. They really study the technique and they get it. These guys have the heart and the want-to.”
The fact Wunsch played in the NFL is not lost on his players. They learned early on that when it comes to blocking, Wunsch knows what he’s talking about.
“I could watch film for three hours and not see something that coach Wunsch can see in 15 minutes,” McBride said.
“Coach Wunsch takes the time to teach us every scenario that we’re going to face,” Parish added. “If a team runs a three front, four front or five front, we know what’s going on in all three of those. It’s good to have him on our side.”
While not the biggest line in high school football — McBride is the largest at 250 pounds — the Golden Eagles make up for it with technique. And unlike years past, Parish said it’s nice to know that with three talented runners the offensive line doesn’t have to create a big hole to get a big run.
“When we were sophomores we didn’t have much of a running game,” Parish said. “Once we became juniors, and then especially this year, it’s been much better. It’s so much easier to block for somebody who can run.
“We don’t get the credit for it but it doesn’t matter to us. We’re winning ball games.”
Parish will have the daunting task of facing Hialeah Champagnat Catholic lineman Travonte Valentine, who is 6 feet 3, 286 pounds and headed to Miami next season. Few have stopped Valentine this season, but Parish, who said he will not play football after high school, is ready.
“He’s a good player; I love the challenge,” Parish said.
Class 2A state semifinal
Hialeah Champagnat Catholic (12-0) at Indian Rocks Christian (10-2), 7:30
At stake: State final berth vs. Tallahassee North Florida Christian/Lakeland Victory Christian winner
Who is Champagnat? The school is named after St. Marcellin Champagnat (pronounced Sha-Pahn-Nya), who lived from 1789-1840. He was the founder of the Marist Brothers, part of the Roman Catholic Church devoted to education.
Scouting Champagnat: The Lions were 2-8 last season but have turned things around. They are ranked No. 1 in the state in Class 2A and have steamrolled opponents, outscoring them 508-120. Perhaps their top player is OL/DL Travonte Valentine (6-3, 286 pounds) who is committed to Miami.
Quarterback Kato Nelson was highly efficient in last week’s win over Belle Glade Glades Day, completing 10 of 17 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. Michael Fredrick and Antoine Webster are the top running backs. Steven Claude is the go-to receiver, notching four catches for 160 yards and two TDs against Glades Day.
“This is by far the best group we’ve seen,” IRC offensive line coach Jerry Wunsch said. “We’re going to give it our best shot. They have unbelievable athletes. We have a large task in front of us.”