Many football coaches will say “it all starts up front.”
Tyler Junior College head coach Danny Palmer is no different.
“Our offensive line has continued to improve each week,” said Palmer, whose club is ranked No. 10 in the nation. “At the beginning of the season, that was a big question mark.”
Palmer said the key has been returning starters Samuel Jenkins and Idong Okon.
“The line is listening to (offensive line) coach (Ryan) Taylor,” Palmer said. “Coach Taylor has been in the trenches (Denison native played center at TJC and UCLA) and knows what to do.
“I credit the leadership of Sam Jenkins and Idong Okon. These young men have helped the line tremendously.”
The starting unit includes right guard Jenkins (6-1, 321, Duncanville), left guard Okon (6-2, 279, Tyler, Lee HS), center Brandon Upshaw (6-1, 261, freshman, Chapel Hill HS), right tackle Andreu Kirby (6-9, 349, freshman, Euless, Trinity HS), left tackle Spencer Hendee (6-3, 281, freshman, Austin, Round Rock HS) and tight end Buddy Tuamasaga (6-5, 244, freshman, Pago Pago, American Samoa).
Running backs Chaston Bennett (who leads the nation with 15 touchdowns and is third in average per game at 140.4 yards) and Kenneth Burks have heaped praise on the unit.
“The line is opening up big holes,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t do anything with without the line.”
Burks echoed the same thoughts.
The Apaches (4-1, 3-1 Southwest Junior College Football Conference) are the fifth leading offensive unit in the nation, averaging 524.4 yards per game. They are third in points at 59.8.
Palmer points out the backups are key as well — center Jonathan Aguilar (6-0, 290, freshman, Lubbock), right guard Henele Lea’aetoa (6-2, 325, freshman, Euless), left guard Christopher Abo-Shear (6-4, 346, freshman, Cypress), right tackle Ian Chase (6-3, 316, freshman, Tyler, Lee HS), left tackle Gustave Guilloux (6-7, 299, freshman, Monroe, Louisiana, originally from France) and tight end Stoney Hawkins (6-3, 245, freshman, Frisco).
TJC will try to win its fifth straight game on Saturday, traveling to Santa Fe to play Texas A&T (formerly Southeast Prep). Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Santa Fe is in Galveston County just south of Houston and southeast of Alvin.
The Spartans enter the game with a 0-5 record.
Following the game with A&T, the Apaches will head east to Milledgeville, Georgia to meet Georgia Military College. Kickoff is 1 p.m. (noon Central).
The Apache baseball team was well-represented in the Region XIV All-Star Game held overall the weekend at Dell Diamond in Round Rock.
TJC head coach Doug Wren, who led the Apaches to the NJCAA Division III World Series title in May, coached the Region XIV North All Stars. He was joined by TJC assistant coaches Chad Sherman and Taylor White.
Two TJC players, Zane Otten and Cody Brown, were also chosen to participate. The North All Stars fell in the first game 9-3 to the Region V North All Stars, but rallied the next day to claim a 10-9 win of the Region V West All Stars.