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WCHS building OL depth
Dellan Watson.jpg
Dellan Watson is hard to miss on the Pioneer practice field. The 6-foot-7 center has been a welcome addition along the offensive line for Warren County.

Offensive line is one of the most looked over positions on the field, but the success of the Pioneer season will likely be decided in the trenches this fall.

With the team working to install a new Pistol T look, opening holes has never been more important. Warren County wants to ground and pound its way to victory, but it won’t be possible if the Pioneers are overpowered at the point of attack.

New coach Matt Turner, a lineman in his playing days, and OL coach Isaac Slatton are trying to make sure their team is packing a punch. At the very least, there are plenty of options at their disposal.

“We can go two- or three-deep at most positions,” said Slatton.

An influx of new, big bodies, added to some returning talent, gives the Pioneers options this fall. 

Kaden Jordan, Noah Martin, Austin McBride, Douglas Wells and Dillon Haley bring back a wealth of experience. Dellan Watson is new, but is already making his presence felt. Likewise, Cristian Espinoza, perhaps the team’s strongest player, could make an impact immediately.

How they’re deployed will be decided by what fits the blocking scheme and what responsibilities each carries on the other side of the ball. Like in years past, many Pioneers will be pulling double duty. Luckily, the Pioneers are already building depth in the trenches, as evident by the team’s work in Chattanooga last weekend. 

Warren County took many of its linemen to an offensive lineman camp against some of the state’s best. The Pioneers were able to hold their own, a promising sight for this season.

Caleb McCormick, Clay Myers, Ethan Bernhardt, Elijah Fults, Brayan Loreto, Jessie Lira, Dean Galloway, Alex Juarez and Ojani Hernandez are also fighting for playing time as the team counts down to kick off against DeKalb County on Friday, Aug. 23. 

Here’s a 3-2-1 breakdown of the Pioneer offensive line:

Three observations

The Pioneers will look good walking off the bus – Nobody will be asking, “Where’s the beef?” when Warren County arrives to games this year. Watson, playing his first football as an upcoming junior, towers over opponents at 6-foot-7, 295 pounds. Espinoza, another first-timer playing as a senior, turned heads at the Lift-A-Thon with a 500-pound squat. Jordan doesn’t lack for size, nor do many of his counterparts.

Swiss-Army knife – Surrounded by some of the bigger guys on the team, Noah Martin looks like he should be in the backfield taking hand-offs. That notion is dispelled quickly when he starts moving people in drills. Martin started most games last year at center, but he can shift along the line with ease. Wherever he lands, he’ll be a vital part of the blocking scheme.

Waiting in the wings – It will be interesting to see how quickly Fults emerges along the front. The 250-pound junior was beloved by the former staff, but injuries kept him off the field for most of his sophomore campaign. There are big bodies and experienced players in front of him, but Fults has all the tools to emerge.

Two questions

Will the front pick up the offense? – Everything on the Pioneer offense is new, so even those with experience are having to learn new things. Turner and Slatton are going to have to make sure whatever five they pick to put out there on opening night know who to block. If it clicks, this line can open holes that garbage trucks could drive through.

Are the Pioneers strong enough? – It’s going to take multiple years before the Pioneers, as a whole, are at the level in the weight room that Turner wants. The guys are working, but some of their opponents, especially in the region, are probably going to be bigger and stronger. Warren County’s new offense should mitigate many of those issues until the work in the weight room really pays off down the road.

One prediction

A few times a night, this offensive line is going to resemble IHOP - They’re going to be handing out pancakes to opponents. When defenses start playing slow to figure out the Pioneers motion, Martin and Jordan are going to plant opponents.

This is part four of a 10-part series breaking down the Pioneers. Next up is the secondary coming Wednesday, July 31.