BROOKLET — Any good house must start with a great foundation. And any solid football team must first find a great line to build off of.
This season, Southeast Bulloch will enter the fall with three senior offensive linemen. With SEB hitting hard times a couple of years ago, offensive tackles Alex Viljoen and John de Merlier, and center Will Collins, were pressed into duty as sophomores. The trio took its lumps, but also continued to grow.
In 2012, Collins and Viljoen earned All-Region 1-AAA honors and the Yellow Jackets enjoyed their best season in nearly a decade. Now in their final year with the team, the elder statesmen of the SEB line wan to make it their best one yet.
“There’s a little bit of pressure to keep improving, but I don’t think that’s on our minds too much,” Viljoen said. “We’ve all worked hard since our first day here and we want one more good season.”
The Jackets’ record in 2013 remains to be seen, but SEB head coach — and Will’s father — Pat Collins knows exactly what he can expect out of the core of his offensive line.
“These are three solid young men,” Pat Collins said. “And that doesn’t just go for what they do on the field. They’re dedicated in the weight room, in the classroom, and in the community. They have been a great example of what we expect out of our players.”
Along with the line’s physical and mental maturation, one of the biggest benefits for Southeast Bulloch is the familiarity amongst the personnel. The Yellow Jackets return 10 of 11 starters on offense this season. For the offensive line — which depends on dozens of subtle variations on blocking schemes in the Jackets’ Wing-T attack — it’s a huge benefit for everyone to already be on the same page.
“Continuity is huge for us,” Pat Collins said. “These guys have grown up together, they go to class together, and they perform as one solid unit on the field.”
His son is in agreement.
“We have to be really close with each other,” Will Collins said. “Everyone has to know what they are doing and what the rest of the line is doing on every snap in order for plays to work. We have to have a lot of accountability. If you don’t do your job, the entire team is going to suffer.”
None of the offensive plays will find success without good blocking, so it helps when the message is always the same.
Pat Collins is entering his fourth year at SEB while Brandon Peterson begins his fourth season as the Jackets’ offensive line coach. John McAfee has worked with tight ends and the offensive line for three seasons and former Yellow Jacket offensive lineman Cody Brannen also returns to his old stomping grounds to join the coaching staff this season.
“It’s nice when you’ve got the same coaches out there every year,” de Merlier said. “It’s a lot easier to go from one season to the next and to pick up on new things when we’re being coached the same way.”
All three lineman figure to be in the running for more All-Region recognition this season. With solid performances, they could also pave the way for a couple of other Jackets to do the same as running backs Antonio McMillan and Tyler Epps add to the team’s veteran experience.
Offensive linemen don’t often get all the glory of quarterbacks and running backs, but there’s no doubting that the latter can’t succeed without the success of the former. SEB’s front line will undoubtedly pile up the pancake blocks this season, but they know where the real fruits of their labor will show.
“It’s always great when you can dominate your man,” Will Collins said. “But I’ll take a touchdown any time. We just do our part on every play and hope to see one of our guys running downfield when we look up.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.