Salem's unsung heroes
O-line gives 'Noles big advantage in the trenches

CONYERS - Everybody in Rockdale County that follows high school football has heard of Salem playmakers Terrence Davis and Alex Miller.

Everybody knows about the tenacity of the Salem defense.

But one unit that doesn't get the respect it deserves is Salem's offensive line.

The O-line, which consists of center Sam Watts, guards Danny Quach and Brandon Sheppard, tackles Blake Hullett and Josh Taylor, and tight end Blake White, has been a big part of why Salem's offense has been able to put up such strong numbers this season.

"Most teams that end up being successful have good offensive lines, and we've got one," Salem head coach Chad Estes said. "They've got a great work ethic, and a large part of that is due to coach Jeff Blount. He's a great motivator. He's built a relationship with them, and they have a good camaraderie because of that."

Four of the six starting linemen - Watts, Quach, Sheppard and Taylor - are two-year starters, while Hullett and White are first-year starters.

"Last year, we felt that our offensive line would be one of our concerns because of their inexperience. This year, we feel that it's one of our strengths," Estes said. "The big thing is that they've continued to get better. They work very well together as a unit."

Just ask Miller, who has rushed for 974 yards and 12 touchdowns behind the blocking of the offensive line.

"They are the reason why I've been able to have success this year. I feed off their energy," Miller said. "They wear out defensive lines and that's why I've been able to do what I do. They're a great group of guys and we have great chemistry. We know that the other person is going to get the job done."

But to really know what makes this offensive line special and unique, one would have to sit down with Blount and the offensive line and talk about their weekly spaghetti dinners.

Blount and his wife, Tina, cook a spaghetti dinner for the offensive line and others once a week to talk about school and football, but mostly just to enjoy each other's company.

And that's just one reason why this unit has been so successful on and off the field.

"The biggest thing about them is how well they work together. They all get along great and their support system is within," Blount said. "It's been a fun group to coach."

But Blount also had something interesting to say about each one of the offensive linemen.

"We moved Sam (Watts) to center late last year, and since then, he has really solidified the center of our offensive line. He's 6-foot-5, 280 pounds. He's also a real smart kid and a hard worker," Blount said. "Danny (Quach) is our smallest lineman at 190 pounds, but as far as technique, he's our best technician. He's a tough, hard-nosed player. He's also a team leader that a lot of the players look up to. Blake (White) used to be a kicker, but we moved him to tight end two years ago and he's done a great job for us. He's a very good blocker.

"Blake (Hullett) is a guy who came over from the JV. This is his first year starting, and as the year has progressed, he's become a valuable asset for us at left tackle. Brandon (Sheppard) is another one of our second-year starters. At 6-3, 255, he brings a lot of size and strength. He's also been one of our team leaders. Josh (Taylor) is a hard worker and does a great job for us at right tackle. He's very strong and physical. He's 5-10, 245 and his nickname is pork chop."

So far this season, the line has blocked for and protected an offensive unit that has rushed for 2,390 yards and passed for another 894.

Brandon Evans can be reached at brandon.evans@rockdalecitizen.com.

SideBar: Football playoffs

Who: St. Pius X Golden Lions at Salem Seminoles

When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Reid Memorial Stadium

Records: Salem (9-1); St. Pius X (7-3)