The ace running backs are the shiny power of attack for which Goodpasture is justifiably proud – but it is the offensive linemen who really put the growl in the Cougars.
Right around Thanksgiving, the Cougars are very thankful for mainstay blockers such as center Kyle Taylor and tackle Matt Ryman.
In large part because of those two, the No. 6 ranked Cougars (12-1), winners of seven straight, find themselves in the semifinals of the Class 3A football playoffs where they host No. 5 (AP) Milan (12-1) Friday night. The winner gets a trip to the BlueCross Bowl final in Cookeville Dec. 3.
Because of the line, leading rusher Carter Tompkins and junior quarterback Keenan Reynolds have more room to operate. And they have better stats because of where it all starts – the Hogs, the underappreciated guys up front for the men from Madison.
As for the 6-foot-2, 240-pound Taylor and the mammoth 6-foot-3, 315-pound Ryman, both are more than happy in their roles.
“We’re all very close,” Taylor said after practice Tuesday. “The O-Line has been together for the last two years. Our backs trust us, and we trust the backs. We are totally committed to each other.”
“There is so much respect and belief for each other on this team,” added Ryman, who also plays defensive tackle. “We believe in the backs, and they believe in us. We know any little crease we might give them can spring them for a long gain.”
That has occurred often, especially when it appears certain the Cougars will have two 1,000-yard rushers this season. Tomkins, a junior, already has rushed for 1,061, and Mitchell Martin, with 957, could hit the mark Friday. Also, Reynolds has passed for 1,643 yards and 18 touchdowns.
The beef up front is a huge reason the Cougars average 37 points a game and almost 400 yards total offense.
As seniors, both linemen will play their final home game at Cougar Friday against Milan.
“I’m glad it’s Milan,” Taylor said. “My sophomore year, we went down there and they beat us pretty good (28-7 in the playoff semis in 2008). That was a long bus ride back home. We play them here this time. Hopefully, we can turn the tables on them.”
“It will be special playing in that last home game after everything we’ve done together as a team,’’ Ryman said. “We had the one slipup against Lipscomb early on (21-20 loss), but otherwise, we’ve been pretty successful.”
Both players are completely aware of the adoration of the press with the star running backs but are content with supporting role.
“Several times, we’ve overheard sportswriters interviewing our backs, and our guys are always giving the O-line credit,” Taylor said. “We’re just one big family.
“We have the talent to make that run, to win it. We have definitely come together as a team over the last month of the season.”
“The coaches have done a great job, and they believe in us,” Ryman said. “If we just do what they say, we’ll be successful.”
Both plan to play in college. Taylor is interested in Harding and Lambuth, while Ryman has UT-Chattanooga, Memphis and Arkansas State on his list.
“Those guys epitomize what this team is all about – they are totally unselfish and they buy into what is best for the team,” 19th-year Goodpasture coach David Martin said.
Asked for one word to describe his team, Martin, whose teams have won three state titles, said, “overachievers.”
“There is a closeness on this team that’s truly special,” Martin said. “Every player is playing for one another, standing up for each other. There is a special trust among the players, and it’s grown through the season.”
Asked if it was the closest team he has ever coached, Martin said, “it’s close. The 1999 team (which won state) had to go on the road all five games in the playoffs and that team showed great togetherness and mental toughness.”
Goodpasture is 1-3 all-time vs. Milan in the playoffs. The lone victory came in 2006 and earned the Cougars a trip to finals.
Martin gave his team off for Thanksgiving, although some other teams, including Maplewood, are practicing that day.
“We’ve never practiced on Thanksgiving,” Martin said. “That day is for our guys to stay close to family.”
But one could make a case that Cougar football family is pretty close, as well. Especially the offensive line corps.
• Martin revealed that Pope JPII and CPA will return to the Goodpasture schedule in 2011.
• The only other Nashville football team in action Friday is the red-hot and No. 2 ranked Maplewood Panthers who host No. 1 ranked and unbeaten Greeneville.