Robert E. Lee is averaging almost 250 yards rushing per game.
That stat is even more impressive when considering a few of the Red Raiders’ opponents: No. 4 Euless Trinity (9-0), Lufkin (7-1), John Tyler (5-3) and No. 3 DeSoto (9-0).
The Red Raiders totaled 210 against Trinity, 194 against Lufkin, 414 against John Tyler and 306 against DeSoto.
How has REL been able to accomplish this against some of the best teams in Texas?
Look no further than the five guys up front. Led by two-year senior starters Conner Grooms and Idong Okon, all five REL linemen — Grooms (C), Okon (LG), senior V.J. Herbert (RG), junior Zacchaeus Page (LT) and junior Lane Haeger (RT) — have been together for every snap.
“The group has such continuity; they’ve been the most consistent for us all year,” said Lee coach Randy Huffstickler. “They go hard in practice on every play and it shows on Friday nights.”
The Red Raiders traditionally have struggled keeping linemen on the field because of injuries, but Herbert said this group is special.
“Last year alone they had about six or seven different starting line combinations,” Herbert said. “The fact that we’ve stayed together shows how healthy we are and how much we prepared during the offseason and summer for this year.”
It begins with Grooms. The lone player to start every game last year for Lee, the 6-4, 280-pound center has been a model of consistency. Grooms also played on the defensive line last week at Mesquite, coupled with his continued role as deep snapper.
Seniors Okon and Herbert flank him at the guard positions. Okon, listed at 6-2, 295, suffered an injury during district last year, but has come back strong. Herbert, 6-0, 250, has stepped in and solidified the middle of the line.
“I trust every single one of those guys on the line. We all know what we can do and have been through everything together,” Grooms said. “When I have my head down doing a shotgun snap and a linebacker walks up, I trust that Idong or V.J. is going to see this guy and either tell me or pick him up and things are going to work out.”
At the tackles are 6-3, 290-pound Page and 6-1, 275-pound Haeger. Together, this group has been able to impose its rushing will on defenses this season.
Herbert credits offensive coordinator/line coach, Gary Fleet, with the success.
“I think each week we have a real good scheme and coach Fleet prepares us well,” Herbert said. “The fact that we can go out and work as hard as we do each week, it really shows out on Friday. When you see us pounding the ball, it’s the culmination of a week’s preparation.”
This week the Red Raiders (1-7, 0-3 in District 11-5A) face the district’s best rushing defense as eighth-ranked Longview is giving up 126 yards per game on the ground while forcing 11 fumbles.
Grooms said he and his line-mates understand the challenge of facing the Lobos, but it is not going to deter the Red Raiders from their game plan.
“They are not the biggest we’ve faced, but they are strong, fast and well coached, but we are going to run the ball like we always do,” Grooms said.
Longview held North Mesquite to 74 yards rushing in its 49-13 win over the Stallions last Friday. The Lobos haven’t lost to Lee since 2003 and enjoy a 12-game winning streak at Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
It will be “Senior Night” for the Red Raiders and Grooms and Co. want to walk off Earl Campbell Field with a defining victory.
“It will be a shock to everyone in the state of Texas,” Grooms said. “Everybody wants to step up; it just makes you want to go harder and gives you that added strength.
“Playing at Rose Stadium, I love it more than any other field I’ve ever played on. It’s our home and I am going to sell out and I know everyone else will too.”