GARNER — Nyheim Hines takes the pitch, reaches the line of scrimmage and finds a wall of blockers sealing off the defense. The Garner junior cuts upfield, turns on the jets and streaks down the sideline for a long touchdown.
That scene has been repeated numerous times this season as Hines has piled up 2,622 rushing yards and set a Trojans single-season record with 50 touchdowns (40 rushing, eight receiving and two kick returns).
Hines is a special talent, a national recruiting target who is being courted by the best programs in the country. But he is also a back who knows that it starts up front for the Trojans, whose veteran offensive line has meshed into one of the best groups in the history of the perennial power.
The main weapon on this team is the offensive line, Hines said. We have our guys locking down on offense, handling everybody. Pretty much all I have to do is find holes. On those long runs, when they block like they are doing, I just have to beat the safety.
The offensive line is comprised of seniors Najee Simpson (6-foot-3, 337 pounds), D.J. Epps (5-11, 180) and Dillon Counts (5-11, 245) and juniors Nazell Jackson (5-5, 247) and Christopher Elston (5-9, 242). Throw in senior tight end Terry Whitehead (6-1, 235), who played offensive tackle last season, and its a formidable group.
But it took a while for the line to mesh this season. Injuries hit early, with starter Caleb Pipkin sidelined for the season with a staph infection in his forearm and Counts missing several games after suffering a high ankle sprain in the second game of the season.
This group has played together for about five games since Counts came back, said offensive line coach Brandon Perry. Now, you are seeing the cohesion. We were moving guys around from week to week, but now we have had that same group together and it has made a huge difference.
Against Holly Springs in the first round of the Class 4AA playoffs, the Trojans ripped off 474 yards rushing. Hines rushed for 186 yards and five touchdowns to surpass Anthony Barbours single-season record of 47 touchdowns (all rushing) in 1987 when the Trojans won the state championship.
With a player like Nyheim, you give him a crease and he can take it all the way, Perry said. What we have done better as the season has gone along is block downfield.
The toss sweep has long been a staple of the Trojans attack. This years line has helped that play work countless times as Garner has averaged 320 yards per game rushing tops among area teams.
What it amounts to is that we run about six or seven plays and there are just variations of blocking each play, said assistant head coach Stancil Hines, a 31-year coaching veteran who helps coach the offensive linemen. As coach (Hal) Stewart used to say, Weve got the sweep and we can block it 10, 12, 15 different ways. It all depends on how (the opposing defense) lines up.
Against Holly Springs, Hines scored three of his touchdowns on toss sweep plays. One was a 25-yard burst and the other two were short runs of 4 and 2 yards. He also scored twice out of the Wildcat formation in which he takes a direct snap in the shotgun. On the first one, he faked a handoff to a back in motion and then ran through a gaping hole in the middle of the line and went 37 yards untouched to the end zone. He repeated the play the next time the Trojans had the ball, going 21 yards for a score.
Its those breakaway plays that make the offensive linemen smile, Epps said.
That is what we play for, Epps said. We dont care about them calling our names. As long as Nyheim or whoever is running makes that touchdown, were all happy.
The linemen have become a tight-knit group, and it shows in the cohesion on the field.
Every day after practice, we meet at McDonalds, Epps said. With that bonding time we have grown real close to each other. We never let anybody get down. If they are tired, we push them on and keep them going. We just make sure we are all pushing on all cylinders.
The offense was on all cylinders against Holly Springs. In addition to Hines exploits, Raekwon Britton had 94 yards on just three carries bolting 40 yards for a score on the toss sweep. Jermaine Royster added 83 yards, including a 50-yard jaunt for a touchdown.
We feel like we are not a one-man team even though Nyheim makes us a whole lot better, Stancil Hines said. The whole offensive group is working together. They work hard. Offensively Ive seen the backs go up and slap the linemen and say, Thanks for blocking, good job, good job.
The line is only about six deep, but those six weve got are pretty good.
Its been a season-long process, but the Garner line has developed into a special unit.
Everybody is working hard and they are looking out for each other, Stancil Hines said. They take coaching well. You know you have to make adjustments because what you look at on film may not be the same on Friday night. When we make adjustments on Friday, they understand what we are talking about. Once we make an adjustment on the sideline they usually pick it up.
And when they make those adjustments, Hines and the other Trojans pick up yards, often in big chunks. For Perry and Hines, both former offensive linemen, there is not a better sight than to see a running play that develops to perfection and sends a back off and running toward the end zone.
Nobody is going to run without blocking, not Nyheim Hines or Anthony Barbour or anybody, Perry said. They have to have some blocking. The special backs, they take it on to the house with a little blocking. But you have to block first.
There is nothing more satisfying to an old offensive line coach when you teach them all week and you see the kids grow. They understand the offense and then they get on their blocks and stay on them (and a running back breaks a long run), its really satisfying.