TAMPA — Not one of Tampa Bay Tech’s offensive linemen on Tuesday afternoon said they wanted to play on the line.
“We wanted to play anything else,” left guard Kai Gadson said. “Any other position.”
But the TBT coaching staff went to every one of them — left tackle D.J. Porcher, Gadson, center Jshon Scott, right guard Shaun Lango, right tackle Fred Neal, tight end Tristan Pless and versatile Sidney Hanner — and said they wanted them to stick their hands in the dirt and block.
“We all said, ‘Okay, whatever is best for the team, then that’s what we’ll do,’” Neal said. “The next thing you know, we’re all on the offensive line.”
Now, they’re loving it.
A year after they made the switch from everything from defensive lineman to receiver, the group — all juniors — can’t get enough of practicing, traveling and, most importantly, dominating opponents together.
TBT coach Jayson Roberts said the line is one of the biggest reasons the Titans are 4-0 heading into a huge home game Friday night against Armwood (4-1).
“Our offensive line is the lifeblood of our program right now,” Roberts said. “And every coach and player here knows it. Our offensive line is leading us down the road.”
Like gigantic bulldozers.
Porcher (6-3, 290 pounds), Gadson (6-3, 290), Scott (5-10, 263), Neal (6-2, 255), Hanner (5-9, 260), Lango (6-1, 350) and Pless (6-0, 195) prefer to simply mow over defenders.
“We love pancakes,” Hanner said. “That’s pancakes on the field. We would rather eat waffles. But on the field, we love pancakes.”
Added Porcher, “We love to run. There is nothing better than seeing one of our running backs take off, seeing him run and run.”
So far, TBT’s backs, led by James Evans (64 carries, 550 yards), have averaged 250 yards rushing per game, including 255 in a 28-14 victory over Gaither, which features two four-star defensive linemen, Tawfiq Thomas and Mario Eugenio (who is committed to Michigan).
“Neither bothered us,” Gadson said. “We’'ll take on four-stars. We’ll take on any stars.”
Gadson said this while sitting alongside his linemates on a bench after practice, sharing jokes, nicknames and stories.
“Smurf”? That’s Hanner, because his mom, a hairstylist, dyes his hair blue.
“Hollywood”? That’s Pless, due to his long locks.
“Freddy”? “Because my name is Fred,” Neal said, chuckling.
“Lunchbox”? That’s Lango, because the guys say he eats the most.
“Drip”? That’s Scott, resulting from an incident involving his cleats during a junior varsity game his freshman year.
“My cleat size was 12, but I had these size-14 blue high-top cleats that looked goooood,” Scott said. “So of course I had to wear the size-14. I didn’t care, because I was looking good and that was all that mattered. Then Coach told me, ‘You’re trippin’ over your feet. They’re too big, change your cleats.’ So I start changing my cleats, but I could only switch out one cleat before I had to run back out on the field.
“So we went down the field on a long drive, and I wore one size-14 high-top blue cleat and a regular size-12 gray cleat. When I came to practice the next week I told coach, ‘You messed up my drip,’ meaning he messed up my style with the cool blue cleats. Then after that, everybody always called me, ‘Drip.’”
They all laughed. And laughed.
Gadson and Porcher said they really don’t have nicknames, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that their group remains focused on plowing forward together.
“We do everything together, we even love to work out together, which is why we’ve all gotten so much stronger,” said Gadson, who like every other TBT lineman, benches more than 225 pounds. (Hanner and Scott can bench 315 three times in a set.) “And we’re only going to get stronger.”
Said Hanner, “We’re going to do whatever we have to do help this team win.”
“That’s who we are,” added Neal. “That’s what we do.”