By ZACH SMITH, Hill Country News
One thing stands out the first time you see the Vandegrift offensive line together.
“We’re all massive human beings, that’s pretty obvious,” junior right tackle Blake Frazier said.
The nearly impenetrable front for the Vipers starts with 320-pound Ian Reed at left tackle and continues with left guard Sam Perry, center Gage Garrison, right guard Ryan Jeffries and Frazier.
Every starter is at least six feet tall, and they total nearly 1,500 pounds as a unit.
“They’re the biggest and tallest offensive line we’ve had,” offensive coordinator and Offensive line coach Blake Mouser said. “And their athleticism might surprise some people. They can do it all. They care for one another, and they’ve done a great job building the identity with this group.”
That identity at Vandegrift has been dominance.
The Vipers have won at least a share of the district title four years in a row, and advanced to the fourth round of the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
The offensive line is one of the things that can help the Vipers get over the top this season.
“We’re going to be a team to be reckoned with, and I’m excited to be a contributing factor,” Frazier said.
BUILDING THE WALL
Mouser was an assistant at Temple High School and worked with some really good offensive line coaches, one of which was Mike Bloesch, now the offensive coordinator at North Texas.
When Mouser came to Vandegrift and was given the keys to the offensive line, he started calling the group ‘The Wall.’
No two offensive line groups are the same, but every group has the same togetherness.
“They work out together and lift together, and they have the big boy eating club,” Mouser said. “It just gives the guys an identity.”
The Vipers saw quarterback Brayden Buchanan throw for more than 3,000 yards last season and then-senior running back Ryan Sheppard rush for more than 1,000 yards.
Those eye-popping numbers probably don’t happen without a dominant offensive line.
With Buchanan poised for another big year and senior running back Alex Witt ready to take over top duties, in the backfield the offensive line is sure to be counted on once again.
“Whenever I think of ‘The Wall,’ I think that a wall doesn’t get pushed back,” Jefferies said. “We will move everybody forward and protect our quarterback and our running back, and we won’t be moved.”
If family history is any indication, Frazier, Jeffries and Reed were destined to be offensive linemen.
Frazier’s dad was a guard/center at the University of Michigan, while Jeffries’ dad, Craig, was on the offensive line at Texas A&M. Reed’s dad, Eric, played rugby for the USA Eagles, debuting for the national team against Australia at the 1999 World Cup.
“It’s a lot of technique,” Jeffries said. “Being big always helps, and you can have strength, but if you don’t have the footwork down and you’re not aggressive, you’re not going to be a good offensive lineman.”
The family history helped Frazier out in particular after. This will be his first season on the offensive line after spending last year as a tight end. Mouser told him he was behind two starters at that (and) his best chance to play was to switch positions.
He put on more than 50 pounds, continued to work with the coaches and his dad on the techniques of the position and took spring practice extra seriously.
“It was challenging, and it was fun,” Frazier said. “You get to move someone from point A to point B against their will. It’s the most fun thing in football I think.”
It made the transition even easier for Frazier with a coach like Mouser, who has been coaching offensive linemen for 14 years, coupled with Reed, a four-star recruit headed to Clemson next season.
“He embraced the role for sure,” Reed said. “He took the challenge head-on. He has questions here and there, and I help him out as much as I can, since I have more experience. He’s been amazing, and is a great teammate.”
THE LOCK AND THE 8-MAN
Football was not the first sport Reed picked up.
Following in his dad’s footsteps, one of the first sports he played was rugby, which he took up when he was in the fourth grade.
“The thing with rugby, it helps a lot with your mental game and also a lot of your lateral and horizontal movements,” Reed said. “When you’re running a lot, it helps with fitness as well. It helps with the little things for O-Linemen. It’s a match made in heaven.”
Jeffries always wanted to play sports in the offseason, and after trying out soccer, baseball and basketball found his way to the rugby pitch.
He played with the Austin Huns during his seventh-grade year before joining Ian and his dad with the Four Points Ruby Club before his eighth-grade season. Eventually, they won a state championship.
“I kind of play the same role (as an offensive lineman) in rugby, too,” Jeffries said. “I’ve kind of taken to it. I never needed any of the yards. I take pride that the team can’t function without us. I’m used to it, and I’m proud of it.”
When Vandegrift played Westlake at DKR in the fourth round of the playoffs last season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was looming on the sideline.
He was, of course, there to watch Westlake quarterback Cade Klubnik, but he also noted the Vandegrift offensive line, particularly Reed, and after some back-and-forth, an offer came, and Reed committed last month.
“Coach Dabo is a true leader at heart, he’s a man of his word, and he’ll push you hard and love you at the same time,” Reed said. “Clemson is just an amazing town with amazing people. It just feels different out of all the colleges I visited.”
Clemson is just one stop on what Reed hopes is a journey to the NFL.
The process has been a little different for Frazier, just a junior that is still learning the intricacies of the position. Still, his DI offers include Michigan, Texas A&M, Colorado and UTSA.
“I still have a lot to learn,” Frazier said. “I have a long way to go, and I know a lot of these coaches are betting on my potential. I’ve still got two years of high school, and I want to prove what I’ve got and prove what they see in me.”
Mouser feels blessed to have an offensive line with size and strength.
But perhaps he’s more impressive is the unselfishness that comes with being the only position on the field where the sole job is to protect someone else.
“That is the mentality between a starter and not,” Mouser said. “We’ve had some really good offensive linemen in the 10 years I’ve been here as an offensive line coach, but in college, size matters and height matters. They don’t grow on trees.”