Kamiakin OL provides backbone for offense

By Kevin Anthony, Tri-City HeraldNovember 18, 2011 

KENNEWICK — The earth is round, the sky is blue and life is tough for offensive linemen.

They protect the quarterback for 4, 5, 6 seconds, and then "give up" a sack when he doesn't finally get rid of the ball.

They pull across the line and cave in an entire side of the defensive front, only to hear the "ooohs" and "aaahs" when a receiver peels back and earholes a corner on the sideline.

They work in the trenches and are called grunts. The most famous O-line in the history of the NFL: The Hogs.

The Pittsburgh Steelers won four Super Bowls in the 1970s and have a quarterback, running back and two receivers from those teams in the Hall of Fame. And just one lineman.

Running backs pile up yards and get named MVP. Quarterbacks stand tall in the pocket and get the glory.

What do offensive linemen get? Called for holding?

"Pancake blocks when you can get one," Luke Bare offered.

"There's nothing like having the running back run right behind you when you have a good block," T.J. Tolliver added.

"The 'W,' " Sean Clausen declared, and as he has so often, provided the best answer.

Victory is the ultimate statistical measure of an O-line. Have a good one, and the 'W's will come. You don't, and they won't.

It's as simple as football logic gets.

The Kamiakin Braves head into Saturday's state quarterfinal showdown against rival Kennewick with an 11-0 record. The Braves reached 13-0 last year before losing in the 3A state championship game.

That's 24 wins and 1 loss in two seasons, the best stretch of football in Kamiakin history.

And who has done most of the heavy lifting in that run? These guys: Bare, Toliver, Clausen, Nate Brandhorst and Joe Hunt.

All are seniors, all got at least some starting experience last season, and they've been together since Day 1 this year.

Actually, before that.

"We had a workout the Monday after the state championship game last year," Brandhorst said. "We've been going hard since the championship."

It has paid off.

Kamiakin finished the CBBN 3A season as the top-ranked offensive team in the league in yards (366.3) and points (32.8) per game.

The Braves feature the best mix of rush and pass: running back (and league MVP) Zach Umemoto finished second in the league with 1,173 yards and 14 TDS; QB Jason Hutchison led the league with 21 TD passes against just two interceptions, and his 1,930 yards passing were second.

"They've done everything I asked in the offseason," said offensive line coach Gilbert Marquez, a two-year starter for Pasco who blocked for his head coach, Scott Biglin, in 1998 and was on the Bulldogs' '99 state championship team.

"I ask the impossible from them, and they get it figured out."

They all bring different pieces to the puzzle.

Left tackle Bare doesn't quite weigh 200 pounds, but he squats 505 and cleans 300. Toliver, at 6-7 and 350, can manhandle most defensive tackles.

Brandhorst is listed at 250 but is closer to 220, but he lives in the weight room, can bench 345 and runs a 1:02 400 meters. Hunt, on the other tackle, is "the most gifted, talented, athletic lineman in the league," Marquez said.

And Clausen, the center and leader of this group: "He's the brains of the outfit," Marquez said. "We wouldn't be where we are now without him. Last year, when we were all young, he was telling them what to do all the way out to the tackles."

Hunt was named offensive lineman of the year -- and catches more than a little ribbing over that from his linemates -- to go with his defensive player of the year award. Both he and Brandhorst were named first team all-league, Clausen second and Bare honorable mention.

"Size is my downfall," said Toliver, the one linemen left out of the all-league honors, "because it makes me that much slower. But when you get a full head of steam and you're upwards of 350 pounds, that helps."

Toliver played through a bad ankle last weekend against Seattle Prep, when Kamiakin came back from a 14-0 hole to win 28-14. The Braves rolled up 253 yards and scored three TDs with the ground game.

"Seattle Prep was the best game by far," Marquez said. "That was the best game I've seen on the front at Kamiakin. They stayed on their blocks, they played to the whistle. They played through pain.

"They played with heart and emotion."

Two more measures of a great line.

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