Paetow High’s rushing attack might be getting the headlines early on this season, and rightfully so after another dominant 424-yard, five-touchdown outing Oct. 11 in a 51-21 Homecoming win against Bryan Rudder at Legacy Stadium, but coach B.J. Gotte noted that his team’s bread and butter has figuratively, and literally, been built on the strong foundation of the offensive line.
It’s a formula for success. Paetow, in just its second year of varsity play, is 6-0 overall, one of two undefeated teams left in Katy ISD, and 3-0 in District 10-5A, Division II.
“When you’re building a program, it starts up front, with the offensive line and the defensive line, and those backs are only going to be as good as what those dudes up front do,” Gotte said. “Our guys understand that, and we invest a lot of time and resources in that, and they’ve responded well.”
The primary linemen for the Panthers are sophomore James Bailey, juniors Johan Campos and Demetrius Elko, and seniors John Bailey, Cameron Gross and Jose Coleman, along with senior tight end Jordan Armstead. Elko, the center, serves as captain for the unit, and he attributes their success to rigorous practices.
“Our Tuesday practice, it’s our hard practice,” he said. “It’s all about high reps and high energy, where we’re really getting after the defense and the defense is really getting after the offense. Our coaches do a great job with that, along with the scouting report each week.”
The work from practice was on full display against Rudder, as the Paetow line dominated its counterpart. The Panthers’ offense only had one play for negative yardage, a fumbled snap between quarterback and running back, and didn’t allow a sack.
However, one of their more noticeable plays came late, with the game already well-decided. Facing third-and-5 with 1:46 left, everyone at Legacy Stadium knew the Panthers wanted to run the ball and kill the clock.
In the huddle, Elko said they knew they could get that first down.
“It was a normal play for us,” he said, laughing. “We were looking at one another and I was thinking, ‘Yeah, we’re about to get a first down and get out on this play and get this (Homecoming) going.’”
The line may have done a little too well, though, as senior running back Jonathan Jolly cut through the large hole created for a 67-yard touchdown, his third of the night. Jolly finished with 296 yards on 24 carries. His teammates in the backfield, juniors Damon Bankston and Randle Kelley, had 84 and 42 rushing yards, respectively. Bankston also had a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Overall this season, Paetow is averaging 343 rushing yards per game on 9.9 yards per carry. Twenty-four touchdowns have been scored on the ground.
The size of the Paetow line is smaller than most in Katy ISD, but Gotte said there was more to a successful line than just size.
“We’d love to have the 6’4”, 285-pound kids, but we just don’t have them,” the second-year head coach said. “But you don’t have to be massive to be successful on the offensive line. You do have to be strong, you do have to have good feet and you have to be smart. That’s what we tell the kids. If you trust your fundamentals, if you trust your training, play hard, you spend time in the weight room in the off-season … you’ll have the chance to be successful, and so far they’ve had success.”
Gotte said the 51-21 final against Rudder was a bit deceptive, as the Rangers were within two scores for most of the second half before the Panthers pulled away late.
“We just have to continue to get better,” he said. “In every single game we’ve played, regardless of the score, there are things that we need to improve on to get where we need to be. We set a goal last November that we want to be in the playoffs, and that hasn’t changed. We’re one step closer, but we still have some work to do there and we’re not done.”
For his part, Elko said he and other members of the line would still be going hard in practice.
“We can improve on getting more physical and getting stronger at the point of attack,” Elko said. “That’s something we can always improve on.”