CLEARWATER — Countryside spent most of the offseason recounting its faults. By all accounts, a 6-4 record a year ago was unacceptable. The inconsistency had to stop.
To get back to becoming a traditional power, the Cougars settled on an area that had to get better if they were to smooth over the bumps and divots that dotted the 2013 season.
The offensive line, a staple of the program's successful teams from the past, needed to become a strength again.
So far, it has. Countryside (5-0) seems like a different team, thanks to an offensive line that is constructing a path toward a potential playoff berth.
"We took our lumps last year," offensive guard Max Fuller said. "We just worked a lot harder and became a lot smarter in what we were doing. It's easy to see the difference between last year and now. We're so much closer and better as a group."
There were reasonable explanations for the struggles last season. The line returned only one starter, and the inexperience showed, particularly in pass protection.
"We knew there was going to be a maturation process," offensive line coach Ray Schroeder said. "We had a lot of guys who were young or playing in new positions. They had some pressure of living up to the prestige of what we've had on the line in the past. I mean, that's what the school is known for.
"But there was really no panic with us. …We knew these guys would eventually grow into their roles and into their bodies."
The key was building chemistry. Unlike players at the skill positions, linemen literally move as one, which is why building continuity on the line was critical.
Every starter had some playing experience from last season. The only newcomer was tackle Riley Metheney (270 pounds), a transfer from Dixie Hollins. Metheney and Fuller (240) have teamed to form a solid tandem on the right side of the line. The other starters are Wyatt Panaccione (280), Gordon Sandorf (250) and Cameron Pettway (225).
"I was excited when I came here because this school always has good offensive lines," Metheney said. "I was able to pick things up pretty quick, and we all bonded quickly."
The line, which weighs an average of 250 pounds per starter, isn't as massive as past units. Their biggest attributes are being quick and adept at both run and pass blocking, all of which is needed in an offense that strives to be as balanced as possible.
It also helps that quarterback Trent Chmelik is in his first full season as a starter and has more pocket awareness. Running back Dante Satcher is more knowledgeable at finding the open holes.
"I could see the difference from the first game," said Satcher, who has run for 750 yards and nine touchdowns this season. "The holes were huge. It's a pretty easy job for me running behind an offensive line like this."
The linemen, with little acclaim, have helped the offense flourish. That is exactly how they like it.
"We don't mind others on the team getting the headlines," Fuller said. We know that the skill players are not going anywhere without us doing our job up front. "They're only as good as the offensive line. Right now, we're doing a pretty good job."