When using the eye test to describe the Chiawana High School offensive line, one word quickly comes to mind: big.
The front line that features four returning starters averages 255 pounds per player, a testament to the work the group put in during the offseason.
“All the seniors, we all did our part getting everybody in the weight room,” senior left guard Anthony Reisch said. “We did a lot of bonding, just making it one solid unit.”
The work has paid dividends this year, as senior running back Andrew Vargas has set the world on fire with a league-high 1,858 rushing yards and 32 touchdowns through seven games.
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For Reisch and the rest of the Chiawana line, Vargas having success isn’t enough — they don’t want defenders to put a finger on him.
“We try to open the holes as big as we can,” Reisch said. “He makes us look awesome, so we do our best to get that guy in the end zone.”
Riverhawks coach Steve Graff didn’t hesitate to make the claim that improved play in the trenches is a major reason why his team is 7-0 and has a good shot to knock off the No. 2 Richland Bombers to clinch the Mid-Columbia Conference championship on Friday. Chiawana went 6-4 last year and had its season end with a 24-13 loss to Central Valley in a state play-in game.
“They played together last year and got hit in the mouth a few times because they were 14- and 15-year-olds playing against 17- and 18-year-olds,” Graff said. “That motivated them to get in the weight room and get going, and they’ve done a pretty good job so far.”
Not only is Chiawana’s line dominant, it’s also filled with youth. Reisch (6-3, 270 pounds) is the only senior. Left tackle Josh Alvarez (6-4, 260), center Ford Powers (6-1, 200), right guard Julian Benitez (6-0, 240) and first-year starting left tackle Joey Aikala (6-4, 305) are all juniors. Fellow junior Mitchel Kroner (6-2, 220) has rotated in at both guard and tackle positions.
Graff said the position group’s juniors could be on pace for an even more dynamic senior campaign — if they put the work in, that is.
“It all depends on their work ethic in the offseason. Guys get passed up all the time.” Graff said. “But we’re worried about this season right now, and the Bombers.”
Richland boasts the league’s No. 2 rushing defense — trailing Chiawana — which is allowing just under 75 yards per game.
“It’s going to be a challenge, but we’ve been working hard,” Reisch said of Friday’s matchup. “We’ve got that intensity going.”
When the Riverhawks faced Kamiakin in Week 3, the Braves had yet to give up a point and were allowing opposing offenses to gain just 2.78 yards per play. Vargas ended up rushing for 417 yards and four touchdowns as the Chiawana offensive line imposed its will in a 35-13 victory.