The Press Newspaper
If the guys up front who block for 1,300-yard rusher Mark Konieczny didn’t feel any pressure to perform in Oak Harbor’s first four games of the season, they probably will now.
The Rockets’ hopes for a Sandusky Bay Conference title and the program’s first appearance in the postseason since 2007 lies with the offensive line, according to fifth-year coach Mike May.
“Our goals are always to win the SBC, and we definitely have a goal to qualify for the playoffs this year,” May said. “The biggest key in us accomplishing our goals is the offensive line. That’s the most important position on the field.”
Oak Harbor enters Friday’s game against rival Port Clinton with a 3-1 record (1-0 SBC). The Rockets opened the season with a 63-6 rout of Sheffield Brookside and won their conference opener last Friday, 42-20, over Margaretta. Their lone blemish is a 43-21 loss to fourth-ranked Genoa.
May and the Rockets welcomed back three starters, all seniors, on the offensive line in tackle Dalton Reau (6-1, 235) and guards Mitch Hayslett (6-0, 210) and Nate Segaard (6-0, 230). All three also start on the defensive line, and Hayslett and Segaard are team captains.
“Dalton is a real strong kid, one of our best kids in the weight room,” May said. “Hayslett and Segaard are guards, and in our offense the guards are the most important position on the line. They do a nice job for us; they pretty much make our offense go.”
The other tackle is junior Aaron Hopkins (6-2, 200) and the center is senior Zane Troknya (6-2, 220). Both are first-year starters. Troknya replaced three-year starter Alan Boss.
“Aaron is a kid who, coming into the season, we felt had to step up and be a starter for us and he’s done that,” May said. “He’s done a solid job. Zane has worked extremely hard in the weight room and he’s put on a lot of weight the last couple years. He’s really stepped up as a senior and picked up right where Alan was. We haven’t missed a beat at center.”
Two other blockers who have contributed to Oak Harbor’s successful I-formation attack — Konieczny is averaging around 180 rushing a game – are junior tight ends Cliff Biggert (6-0, 175) and Josh Sarahman (6-3 165).
“Cliff is very similar to Aaron Hopkins,” May said. “He’s a young man coming in who we knew had to step up and be a starter and a contributor. He’s done a nice job blocking and catching the football, and he’s one of our best athletes.
“Josh has really come on. He’s a tough kid. He got a lot of playing time against Margaretta when we used a two-tight end formation. He’s improved quite a bit since we started two-a-days.”
May added that assistant coaches Scott Schulte and Doug Slagle, who both coach the offensive line, have done a good job getting the line to play together. Schulte is also the Rockets’ offensive coordinator.
“We constantly stress to our kids to finish and play to the whistle,” May said, “and I think they’re a very well-coached group. The key to our season at this point is we’ve improved up front every week. They push each other and they get along real well. They’re a close-knit group and they play really well together.”
Every coach worth his salt knows that while the skill-position players always get the glory, it’s the guys in the trenches who can make or break an offense.
“We have some pretty good skill-position players,” May said. “Mark Konieczny, I think, is one of the top running backs in the SBC and Austin Wiegand, our quarterback, has done a nice job. A.J. Cecil, our top receiver, has done a nice job, but the guys up front have made us go. They often don’t get the credit they deserve.”