When opposing coaches and players take a look at Ryan’s offensive line, one can only envision them rubbing their hands together and salivating at the thought of facing guys like seniors Jake Hays and Austin Coker.
Hays and Coker don’t look like offensive linemen. Hays stands 5-8 and Coker is 5-6. Coker’s almost a full foot shorter than senior left tackle Matt Griffin (6-4, 290 pounds).
“I think people underestimate people like Coker and Jake because they’re not 6-4,” Griffin said. “They come out there, then they hammer them out, and then they’re shocked about what it feels like to be hit by good offensive linemen.”
Ryan’s offensive line will have plenty to deal with tonight when the Raiders face the undefeated Coppell Cowboys at 7 p.m. at C.H. Collins Athletic Complex. The District 5-5A game will be broadcast live on Verizon FiOS 1, which Verizon cable customers can find on Channel 1.
The Cowboys (8-0, 3-0 district) are ranked No. 4 in Class 5A by The Associated Press. Ryan (4-3, 2-1) is tied with Hebron for second in 5-5A, and an upset of Coppell would put the Raiders in a tie for first place.
Ryan first-year offensive line coach Adrian Eaglin said his players have shown steady improvement since August, becoming more physical and playing smarter. But it takes much more than that to please Eaglin.
“All O-line coaches are internal pessimists,” Eaglin said. “We’re always going to be that way. We’re always going to see what we did poorly, you know what I mean? We’re always going to try to improve upon that. It’s hard for me to be objective about this, because my objective is perfection and anything short of that is disappointing.”
The line comprises Griffin at left tackle, Hays at left guard, Coker at center, junior Tucker Cross at right guard and sophomore Dakota Laws at right tackle.
The Raiders will have to contend with possibly the best defensive line they’ll face all season. Senior defensive end William Udeh has orally committed to New Mexico, while junior defensive end Solomon Thomas has offers from the likes of Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Texas and UCLA.
This week the line will have the duty of protecting senior Kevin Ray. Ray is Ryan’s fourth-string quarterback and has the pleasure of making his first start against a Coppell team that allowed only 75 total yards to Hebron in a 29-3 victory Oct. 12.
Junior starting quarterback Mitchell Bridges suffered a right knee injury last week and is out for this week at the very least. Backup junior quarterbacks Xavier Gray (ankle) and Preston Compton (illness) are out for this week as well, leaving Ray as Ryan’s only viable option.
Last week, in need of a comeback against Lewisville, junior running back Tyrone Williams ran through the holes created by his line and scored the Raiders’ game-winning touchdown in a 28-24 decision.
“Oh, it felt great,” Williams said. “I think that was the best game they had all year.”
There’s experience on the left side of the line — the side Williams said he prefers to run behind. On the right side is the youth of Cross and Laws, guys who will anchor Ryan’s line next season. Eaglin spoke highly of Laws and the sophomore’s maturation this season.
“It’s been a challenge for him,” Eaglin said. “If you asked him, I don’t think he would have envisioned himself being in the position he’s in right now, and it was kind of thrust upon him. I think he’s answered the call and he’s handled himself with an aplomb that surpasses his age.”
Of Coker, Eaglin says: “Coker’s a stud.”
Coker’s early growth spurt allowed him to be the tallest guy on the line until middle school, where everyone else’s growth surpassed him.
“I’ve struggled with that the entire time I’ve played football, and I take pride in it,” Coker said. “I’m one of the shortest guys out there in 5A.”
Eaglin essentially described one of Ryan’s shortest players as one yearning to stick opposing linemen into the turf each play.
“I wish I had 10 Cokers every year,” Eaglin said. “He’s one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever had. I love that kid. I wish he was a junior. I wish he was a sophomore. I wish I had more of him. I wish there was a way to guarantee I’ll have kids that will work that hard, that will be that committed, that’ll be that coachable.”
Griffin, Hays, Coker, Cross and Laws — listed at a combined 1,330 pounds — will attempt to keep Ray upright and Williams from being stuffed at the line of scrimmage and will attempt to please their offensive line coach, who says things are going in the right direction.
Eaglin said his players are beginning to share his aspirations, all of them always wanting more.
“But I think our kids are buying into that, and striving to be closer to perfect,” Eaglin said. “Striving to be more physical, striving to be more dominant, striving to be better football players. If they’re doing that, we’re going to be all right.”
BEN BABY can be reached 940-566-6869. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .