Taylor High School, Mustangs, Texas high school football, Katy ISD

Taylor’s ‘nasty’ O-line dominating in playoffs

By DENNIS SILVA II, Times Sports Editor
Posted 12/13/19

After a late afternoon practice on Tuesday, Taylor High’s offensive line huddled up to hear some final words from position coach Travis Sharp.

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Taylor High School, Mustangs, Texas high school football, Katy ISD

Taylor’s ‘nasty’ O-line dominating in playoffs

Posted

After a late afternoon practice on Tuesday, Taylor High’s offensive line huddled up to hear some final words from position coach Travis Sharp.

And then, all together, they met with hands raised in a pile and shouted, “Nasty!”

It’s who they are.

“Being nasty and being physical, that takes out a lot of the thinking,” junior center Abraham Okezie said. “If we can do that, we can just play football.”

If there’s a term that appropriately describes the Mustangs’ front, ‘nasty’ could be it. ‘Dirty’, in an affectionate sense, could also be another, in the way they play aggressively to the whistle, doing anything and everything to win yards. ‘Dominant’ is another.

It’s a line that claims three players weighing more than 300 pounds, and another close to it.

Junior left tackle Hayden Conner (6-foot-6, 315 pounds), senior left guard Michael Tulenko (6-5, 320), Okezie (6-2, 275), junior right guard Bryce Foster (6-5, 330) and senior right tackle Gunnar Elliott (6-1, 195) are the starters. But also not to be overlooked are senior backups Ethan Fahey, Alex Derrough, Nathan Walters and Luke Sykes, the last a two-year spot starter who switches on and off with Elliott.

Sharp uses a quality rotation of players to keep his unit fresh, which is why defensive fronts tend to wear down well before Taylor’s offensive front does.

“It’s not about five guys,” Sharp said. “It’s about five guys playing well together.”

The line is coming off a game where it cleared the way for 302 rushing yards, at 5.6 yards per carry, during last week’s regional final win over Cypress Creek. In all this season, they have paved the way for more than 2,500 yards, at 4.8 yards per carry, and 23 touchdowns on the ground.

If there’s an undeniable force for Taylor heading into its Class 6A-Division II state semifinal against Austin Westlake in Waco on Saturday, it’s the offensive line.

Conner said the line’s communication from tackle to tackle is better. Foster said the line is doing better establishing “power angles” and lining up to fight off blocks.

Drive-blocking is unquestionably the line’s forte.

“During these playoffs, starting with Fort Bend Elkins (in the bi-district round), we really realized what movement on the defensive line will do to linebackers,” Foster said. “That movement from the line of scrimmage, getting reset … that opens up so many yards right there, and it opens up more holes for the running backs.”

It is a confident offensive line, one that knows it almost always has the upper-hand physically in any game.

“We’ve embraced a new identity,” Conner said. “The first drive for every game these playoffs has been phenomenal. We establish our dominance and we establish how physical we’re going to be, and I feel like that’s who we are now. We’re going to be the bigger, stronger guys out there, and we’re going to control the line. Going into games, we know we’re going to mash guys up front.”

Sharp said his boys “are great students of the game of football.” Film study and relentless work during practices have improved footwork and hands.

The Mustangs are not just physically intimidating. Their technique and fundamentals are just as effective.

“We just keep getting better,” Tulenko said. “We’ve played tough teams, and that helped us knowing what looks we’ll see in the playoffs. It got us ready. We know what it’s like to lose, and we don’t want to feel that again. We’re just going to keep on pressing.”

The Mustangs are a team that wants to run first. They are averaging 44.5 rushing attempts per game in the playoffs. More than half of their offensive touchdowns (8 of 15) have come on the ground.

That will be needed again against Austin Westlake. It will be important that Taylor controls possession and keeps the ball away from a Westlake offense averaging almost 50 points per game.

Westlake’s defensive line is not as big or as strong as Taylor’s offensive line, but has speed and quickness Taylor has rarely seen this year.

“They get off the ball really well, and their defensive line moves quite a bit and the linebackers are moving around,” Sharp said of Westlake. “We’ve got to control the chaos, and if we can do that we’ll be alright.”

Basically, the Mustangs have to be nasty. No biggie. They’ve done it all year.

“I feel, physically, we can dominate them,” Tulenko said. “It’s a quick versus strength thing, and if we can just be who we are, we’ll be fine.”

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