By George Ferguson
From the very beginning of the 2002 football season, one thing was very apparent to Havre High head football coach Troy Purcell, his offensive line was undersized and somewhat inexperienced to say the least.
Back in August when asked to assess what type of team he had, it was one of the first things that Purcell admitted he was worried about for the upcoming season.
But Purcell isn't worrying anymore. No his offensive line hasn't experience any major growth spurts. They simply have fought, scrapped, clawed and willed their way into becoming one of the main reasons why Havre will play in the Class A state championship game Saturday afternoon against Laurel.
It hasn't been easy. There were times when they were pushed around, pummeled and struggled to establish a consistent Pony running game. But they never once, not for a second considered quitting. It made life easier for their position coach Ryan Joy.
Joy, who is in his first year as offensive/defensive line coach, is a former Havre High graduate and standout offensive lineman himself, and he has been delighted with what his troops have accomplished over the season.
"I've been very pleased with their performance on the field," Joy said "As a first year coach, I couldn't have asked for a better group of kids to work with."
While Joy agrees with the references to his offensive line's size or lack thereof, he knows as a group they make up for that in many different ways. It's those qualities that have allowed them to become a very good unit.
"These guys all work really hard both in practice and in games," Joy said. "The group as a whole may lack size, but they make up for it in tenacity and heart. They just have that will to get the job done."
The one player who saw significant playing time last season, senior Tyson Roe, doesn't actually fit the text book definition of "undersized" unless you're comparing him to a college offensive lineman. Roe stands six feet tall and is an agile 260 pounds. He possesses all of the skills and qualities that make an outstanding offensive lineman and a solid college prospect. He has quick feet and is very mobile when it comes to defending inside pass rushes. He embodies great technique and according to Joy, Roe has gotten that way through a great practice work ethic as well as some obvious natural athletic talent.
"Tyson is a very, very talented player," Joy said. "I would hate to go up against him as a pass rusher. I can't say that he has had one bad game all season."
Teammate Todd Sharp is also very mindful of Roe's talent.
"Tyson does a really good job for us," Sharp said. "He works really hard and he almost never gets beat by his man."
Sharp might be the most important new addition to Havre's front five.
A 6-2, 210 pound former tight end, Sharp moved to the O-line at the beginning of the 2002 campaign in order to plug some of the holes that were left after 2001 graduation.
According to Joy, Sharp has been an important to the offensive line maturation period, adding that Sharp's footwork and quickness have allowed him to become a very solid offensive tackle in a short amount of time.
"Todd has really good feet and he is also a very physical player," Joy said. "He matches up very well with any defensive end that is out there in front of him. He's a very important player on that line."
Going from catching passes to blocking for them isn't a move that most players would want to take, but Sharp has made the move and flourished.
"The way our offense is, it makes it fun to play on the offensive line," Sharp said.
Probably the toughest job on the offensive line falls to senior center Tyler Thompson. The center position not only requires tough blocking, but also recognizing and calling out defenses. Thompson stands 6-2, but weighs just 175 pounds.
His work ethic and heart are very respected among his teammates. Joy said that despite giving up pounds to defenders, Thompson is a very solid one-on-one blocker. And he makes solid decisions when calling out defenses.
"Tyler is a very solid player, who definitely gets the job done," Joy said. "He is such a hard worker and he is always working to improve."
Perhaps no member of the offensive line fits the description of undersized more than senior Buck Christofferson. At 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, Christofferson certainly doesn't look intimidating to many defensive lineman. However, those same defensive lineman don't often get past Christofferson into the backfield.
"Buck may be small, but he is full of fire and determination," Joy said. "He uses his quickness to his advantage and he makes teams respect him."
Christofferson not only has the respect of his opponents and his offensive line coach, he also has the utmost respect from his teammates.
"Buck has one of the biggest hearts I have ever seen and he is a great player," said teammate Tyson Roe. "He has probably been injured through most of the season, but he has played hard throughout the whole year and all he cares about is his team and helping win games."
While there are four seniors on the line, sophomore Chad Seely has definitely become one of the biggest pieces of the cog. Standing 5-10 and weighing 180 pounds, Seely isn't small for a wrestler. And it's Seeley's participation in wrestling that Joy believes has brought a certain toughness to Seely and helped him grow and mature during his first varsity season.
"Chad is a wrestler and he is a very tough kid," Joy said. "He has worked very hard to improve and he is getting better all the time. I think he has a bright future as an offensive lineman."
Besides the five starters, junior Chris Peterson, no giant himself at 5-9, 185, has also filled in amiably when one of the starters has gone down.
Throw in tight end Ben Mader, who, when he isn't catching touchdown passes, is lending his whopping 170 lb. frame for a little blocking.
With the exception of Roe, the rest of the offensive line weighed less than many of their opponents' defensive backs. But Tyson and the six dwarfs they are not. They are one group. The sum of their individual parts makes a greater whole.
Lack of size may be an excuse for another team. Not this one. They know what their skills are and how to use them. They know they are a good unit.
"I don't think of us as small," Sharp said. "I think we are very quick. It is an advantage for us. And we get the job done."
Said Roe: "First we have great coaches, and we have faith in ourselves and our abilities. We just look down the line at each other and know we're going to go out there and get it done."