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Sunday, July 14, 2024

Mansfield’s O-Line May Be Undersized, But They Won’t Be Underrated In 2024

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Experience is a vital part of any sport. The longer a player or team has played their part, the more likely they will be better at it. Last season, the Mansfield Tigers boasted one of the state’s youngest, smallest, and least experienced groups of linemen. Mansfield’s 2023 starting offensive line consisted of four sophomores and one senior while only having two backups to rotate in games. That kind of lineup is likely why the line was pegged as the Tiger’s weakest link in the 2023 preseason polls. But don’t expect the same kind of underrated treatment from the preseason polls this season. Nearly every player from the group of linemen that helped lead the Tigers in multiple offensive school records last year will be back again in 2024. Still, this time they’ll have a year’s worth of in-game experience and extra coaching to help them become even better.

The Tigers pushed with an even flow against Prescott in Mansfield’s 2023 State Semifinal game

The Tigers offense pushed their way to having not one, but two 1,000-yard rushers in 2023 behind the pads of then sophomores Logan Ore (5’11 / 235 lbs), Cadien Ore (5’10 / 230 lbs), Ethan Martin (5’8 / 215 lbs), Zander Walters (6’0 / 220 lbs), and senior All-State lineman, Turner Wright. None of Mansfield’s starting linemen were larger than the linemen they faced in their Tigers conference opponents or even in the State Playoffs against Centerpoint, Hoxie, Salem, and Prescott but the Tigers still were able to hold their own in the trenches. After showing their grit against the massive behemoths they lined up against all season, both Ores, Martin, and Walters found their names on the 2023 3A-1 All-Conference list when the season ended. With four of the five linemen only being sophomores, Mansfield will return four All-Conference starters on the offensive line this season which would make just about any coach in the 3A jealous. Tack on the fact that this group will have a full offseason under head coach, Whit Overton, to get bigger, stronger, and more skilled in the Tiger’s flexbone offense and one can only imagine what they’ll be able to bring to the table in 2024.

Zander Walters (#55) gives a Hackett defender the ol’ “heave ho” while Ethan Martin (#78) and Logan Ore (72) earn themselves a pancake block.

Last season, veteran lineman coach Keith Stovall, had to quickly train the youngsters in a matter of just one month to fit Mansfield’s newly installed flexbone offense. Stovall was successful in doing so again proving how important having experience is to a program. Coach Stovall will not have to do it solo this year though as the Tigers added a new face to work with Stovall and the linemen. Overton was able to hire Trevon Moore, one of his former players, to the coaching staff. As a protege of Coach Overton’s time coaching as an assistant in Lavaca, Moore came in last season as a student coach for Mansfield and worked his magic from the press box during games. Coach Moore brings an extra factor of firsthand knowledge of Overton’s offense to the players and is always eager to help each lineman in the details of their job. They say that old age and treachery always beats youth and exuberance. While that may be true, the Tiger’s new duo of lineman coaches work extremely well with each other’s different attributes. Stovall’s treacherous knowledge coupled with Moore’s youthful exuberance creates one heck of a coaching combo for an already dangerous group of players to work under.

Mansfield linemen were nearly flawless goal-line plows in 2023.

While returning four All-Conference linemen is great, replacing an All-State lineman such as Turner Wright is never an easy task. This holds especially true when there’s a minimal number of linemen to choose from. That is the way of the game in high school football for small schools so the Tigers will be working overtime to fill the void left by Wright. Players such as Dakota Deer (6’2 / 210 lbs), James Bausley (6’0 / 285 lbs), Matthew Burton (5’8 / 190 lbs), Alex Hecox (6’2 / 180 lbs), and Nathan Dyer (6’1 / 230) have been pushing their way through the offseason to help Mansfield’s overall line continue to improve. Deer was an unstoppable All-Conference monster on the defensive line in 2023 but will likely be pulling double duty this season working on both sides of the ball as the only senior lineman on the 2024 roster. Upcoming juniors, James Bausley and Matthew Burton will bring size, strength, and some bonus experience to the group as both subbed in multiple times during the Tiger’s regular season games and Mansfield’s State Playoff run last year. Junior, Alex Hecox, has a beanpole build which would not be considered that of a lineman. That being said, Hecox stepped up to the challenge and is catching on relatively quickly with his new position. Sophomore, Nathan Dyer, has the physical attributes to be a difference maker once he gets into the groove of the faster-paced game at the senior high level.

Matthew Burton showed that it’s not the size of the Greyhound in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the Tiger that matters against Salem in 2023.

With the Tigers linemen having a year of experience under their belt, the Mansfield coaching staff has focused heavily on getting them stronger over the offseason. Overton’s weight room regimen has proven to be quite effective with these trench warriors too as Deer, Martin, Burton, Bausley, Walters, and both Ore’s have earned their way into the 1,000-pound club. Many of Mansfield’s linemen even competed well in the State Lifting competition in early May. The added strength has already shown to be very beneficial so far in Mansfield’s summer practices and camps as the Tigers have looked impressive thus far against the likes of Ozark, Pottsville, Mena, etc. Unlike the 2023 season where the Tiger’s offensive line was limited on speed, strength, knowledge, and experience, this season Mansfield has all of those attributes as well as two proven lineman coaches to lead them into their 2024 battles. While none may measure up to the 6’4 and 250-pound dream blueprint that most coaches desire, they will still be a nightmare for their opponents. Simply put, the Tigers linemen will not be their weakest link this year. Not by a long shot.

Top, Left to Right: Ethan Martin, Daniel Burton, Matthew Burton, Andrew Burton, Samuel Burton, Dakota Deer, Zander Walters
Bottom, Left to Right: Cadien Ore, Logan Ore, James Bausley
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