Adrian Peterson led the NFL in rushing last season, Archie Griffin won two Heisman Trophies with Ohio State back in the mid-1970s, and Northwood junior running back Dominik Bermejo is bound to get some postseason honors in a few weeks.
What do all three running backs have in common? They had very good offensive lines in front of them.
Bermejo has rushed for 1,169 yards and 14 touchdowns on 126 carries in eight games, including a 30-carry, 213-yard effort in last week’s 38-20 win over Toledo Area Athletic Conference rival Toledo Christian.
|Northwood lineman Luke Laviolette (77) pushes a Toledo Christian
defender out of the way for senior running back Jacob Davenport.
(Press photo by Dan Thompson/www.picasweb.google.com)
Certainly, Bermejo knows where his bread is buttered: Up front.
“Usually when we’re in the locker room at halftime he’ll come up to everybody and say, ‘You guys are doing real well moving the ball,’ ” senior right guard Travis Whitmore said. “He’ll come up to us individually after the game and congratulate us.”
Whitmore was the lone returning starter on the offensive line this season, and it took some time for that unit to jell. Northwood’s offense relies heavily on rushing the football. The Rangers (6-2, 5-0 TAAC) threw just three passes in the win over TC, while rushing 57 times for 287 yards.
“We ran the same play over and over, our off-tackle play,” coach Ken James said. “They were doing some blitzing, and with the front they were running it allowed us to get in a certain play and formation. We’re not geniuses, but we’re going to keep running it. We had a size advantage and that helped impact the game in the fourth quarter.”
Northwood, which graduated the bulk of its starting offense and defense last season, opened with losses to Ayersville and Lake before reeling off six straight wins. The slow start was eye-opening for a program that is used to winning TAAC titles and making playoff appearances, but it wasn’t entirely unexpected because of its youth.
“We have improved significantly,” James said. “We still haven’t put a complete game together, but we’re getting closer.”
The Rangers average 330 yards rushing per game and had 560 in a 49-26 win over Woodward in Week 3. Whitmore said the offensive line finally started to click in the win over the Polar Bears.
“We’re a young team and we were just getting used to each other and getting in a rhythm,” Whitmore said. “I think we’re in a rhythm right now. We’re communicating and getting in the spots we need to go. Against Woodward we were driving off the ball and doing real well together. We jelled real well together and we were able to move the ball. It felt good.”
James no doubt breathed a sigh of relief once the line started dominating.
“The onus is on them to control the line of scrimmage and get us first downs,” he said, “because we’re playing some young guys on defense. The O-line has been a huge part of why we’ve rattled off six wins in a row.”
Joining Whitmore (6-1, 225) on the line are senior left tackle Kyle Corbitt (6-2, 215), senior right tackle Luke Laviolette (6-4, 313), junior left guard Myles Habel (6-2, 261) and junior center Travis Singlar (6-1, 225).
James said Whitmore, a three-year starter at right guard, was already a known quantity coming into this season.
“He was the only guy who had a huge number of starts, and he’s done a great job keeping everybody together,” James said. “We had certain expectations and that’s exactly what we’ve gotten. He’s played defensive end for most of the year as well and he’s been a consistent performer every week.”
Laviolette was a part-time starter last season, and Corbitt is a two-year starter at defensive end.
“Corbitt is a really good athlete and has been our leading pass rusher the last couple years,” James said. “He has really good speed and uses his hands really well. We asked him to play two ways and he’s done a phenomenal job for us. Luke’s big advantage is his size. He’s quick enough to pull, so we have him pull and trap. He moves pretty well for a big man. He does a good job knocking people off the ball.”
Habel also started in the past and is one of the team’s strongest players, according to James.
“He can move and he runs real well,” James said. “He’s got good foot speed. He also plays linebacker and we just moved him down to the D-line. We use him to pull a lot and he’s a real good pass blocker. He’s been one of our most consistent linemen.”
Singlar, a first year-starter, was moved from guard/tackle to center this season and played defensive end on the junior varsity team last year.
“We wanted somebody in there with some size and strength,” James said. “He had some growing pains early in the year, but he’s developed into a good center for us. He’s been physical and he comes off the ball, and that’s been a huge help.”
James said there is a 75 percent chance the Rangers will make the Division VI playoffs if they end the regular season with wins over Ottawa Hills (3-5) and Cardinal Stritch (0-8).
“It would feel real great,” Whitmore said. “This is my last season and couple of the other linemen’s last season, being seniors. Knowing we got off to a poor start and we were able to recoup, I’d like to see us make the playoffs. I’m sure the rest of the team would, too.”