The East Valley football team’s troubles with turnovers in the first six games of the season have been well-documented.
Then there were the wholesale position changes, most noteworthy of which concluded with a sophomore at quarterback and a sophomore at running back. This, too, has been a hot topic.
No spot on the Knights’ roster has undergone more change, though, than at offensive line.
There have been three different starters at center, three different starters at left guard and three different starters at right guard. All because of various injuries.
For the first time this season, coach Adam Fisher will send out the same set of starters across the front for a second straight week when the Knights’ improbable season continues Saturday in a semifinal game against Tumwater (10-1) at Albi Stadium. Kickoff is at 1.
Only seniors Joe Friot (right tackle) and Jake Reynolds (tight end) have started all 12 games. Joining them for a second consecutive week are seniors Bubba Hansen (left tackle) and Aaron Christiansen (left guard) and juniors Brandon Heide (center) and Zach Harris (right guard).
Fisher praises his father, Ed, and John Phelan, the Knights’ offensive line coaches.
“They do a fabulous job of teaching our rules,” Fisher said. “We’re very rule-oriented (in how they block). No matter who we put in they know what our rules are and what to do. The kids obviously have to go out and perform, but it’s our job to come up with a plan. We’ll do our job to the best of our ability and we just ask them to do their job to the best of their ability.”
The linemen have responded.
Christiansen, senior Nick Guthrie and Heide were starters a year ago. Going into the season, the plan was for them to anchor the left side of the line.
Guthrie separated a shoulder and Christiansen missed most of the regular season with a broken hand.
When Guthrie returned, Fisher felt his presence was most needed at middle linebacker. He’s also been in the rotation at fullback.
Heide also missed time when he suffered a concussion. So the game of musical chairs across the front continued from game to game. And in many cases from practice to practice.
The blessing in disguise, Fisher said, is the injuries allowed the Knights to develop depth. Fisher figures he has at least five experienced players behind his starters and can put any of them in at a moment’s notice in the event of an injury.
“That is the weird thing is depth has developed,” Fisher said. “And success breeds success. The nice thing is they’ll all be back next year.”
Friot and Reynolds have provided stability. Friot was named to the Great Northern League first team and Reynolds, a two-way starter, was named the league’s co-defensive most valuable player as a defensive lineman. In the Knights’ 48-28 win over Prosser last week, Reynolds knocked down four passes.
“Joe’s been steady all year,” Fisher said. “Jake’s been our best lineman all year. He’s had a huge impact. He’s a great blocker and has excellent hands. He’s what you ask for as a tight end.”
The skill players have piled up the yards and touchdowns as EV (7-5) has won six straight since its 1-5 start. But the piecemeal line, led by Friot and Reynolds, have opened the holes and provided protection.
“I’m pretty impressed that guys have stepped up and filled spots,” Friot said. “I’ve been hurt but not so hurt that I couldn’t play. I’ve had a few pulled muscles and mashed fingers, but nothing that would keep me out of a game. As a lineman you expect to get the bumps and bruises. I’ve been pretty lucky not to be hurt as bad as some of the other guys.”
“I’ve hurt my knee a few times,” he said, “but I’ve just manned up and played through it because the team needs us.”
Reynolds admits said that on first glance he didn’t think some of the backups could perform at the necessary level.
“It’s amazed me because to look at some of them you’d think there’s no way they can play, that they can keep up,” Reynolds said. “They’ve all stepped up nicely and helped us win when we needed them.”
The Knights hope to keep things patched together and rolling for another week.
“I’m not surprised at all where we’re at,” Friot said. “We’re still making mistakes and we have a lot of room to improve. That’s why I feel really good about our chances of playing for a state title.”