Paving the way: veteran O-line leads Comets
They speak their own language, carry the weight of their football team’s offensive hopes and yet toil in relative anonymity.
Such is the life of an offensive lineman, where everything you do is shrouded by a chaotic mass of bodies, each play results in a collision and typically the only time you stand out is when you’ve done something wrong.
And yet there is a certain honor in their existence.
“We don’t really get the recognition but we’re not in it for the recognition,” says Crater senior right guard Gerritt Warner, “we’re in it for the team and we’re all just trying to do our part out there.”
Mind you, the “part” that Warner has played with fellow seniors Jacob Memmott and Crayton Gillispie and juniors Dawson Davis and Vincent Cottini has been no small feat.
The five starting offensive linemen have paved the way for Crater (11-1) to reach Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game against Thurston (12-0) at 5 p.m. at Roseburg High School.
With them at the forefront, the Comets have averaged 48 points and 453 yards per game in an unparalleled season that has them in the state final for the first time in school history.
“We tell them that all the time, I don’t know if they believe us, but we go and not go based on them,” says Crater head coach Randy Waite. “We’ve got guys that can make plays but there’s no plays to be made if you can’t get the ball to them. They know they’re a valuable part of this team, for sure, and they’re kind of the unsung heroes.”
From left to right, the Comets fill the trenches with Davis at left tackle, Gillispie at left guard, Cottini at center, Warner at right guard and Memmott at right tackle.
“It’s a tough position to play because you’re banging all the time,” says Waite of his offensive linemen. “I think that’s where my heart is. If I was just a position coach it would be offensive line coach because those guys are the ones that play football for the right reasons in my mind.”
It was the sealing efforts of Warner and Memmott who helped free senior Brady Brock for last Saturday’s go-ahead 69-yard touchdown run en route to a 30-24 semifinals victory over West Albany.
Likewise, Davis, Gillispie and Cottini helped create space earlier in the game for senior Gavin Acrey to race his way to a 77-yard TD run.
All told in Crater’s first-ever semifinal game, the Comets racked up 380 yards of total offense and nearly four times as many points as West Albany had previously allowed on average.
Despite its overall size disadvantage, Crater’s offensive line was able to give senior quarterback Trever Davis and company space and time to do what they do best.
“I personally love just being down there in the trenches,” says Warner, who is 6-foot tall and 235 pounds. “For me it’s the most chaotic part of football. Linemen don’t really get that much recognition, which is fair enough because we don’t really always make plays, but we’re definitely a big part of the team.”
“There’s nothing else like it down there,” he adds. “Right before that first snap goes you’re all nervous and then you hit somebody and get all the jitters out and just keep driving your feet and the next thing you know you’ve got Gavin or Brady Brock cutting off your butt for a 70-yard touchdown. You just never know.”
Warner and Memmott have been staples of the starting lineup ever since Waite took over at Crater in 2017, and Davis made it into that first group that season midway through his freshman campaign. Gillispie and Cottini were key additions to the group one year ago, making experience one of the main ingredients to the squad’s success.
“We’re just so close together,” says Memmott, who is 6-3 and 210 pounds. “We’ve played with each other since Pop Warner so we’re really in sync together.”
“We’re really familiar with the play calls and the offense that (coach Waite) wanted to develop over the years and wanted to bring to Crater,” he adds. “Because we know what he wants as a coach, that just gives us a lot of insight on how to be successful and helps us play our best.”
Davis (6-1, 250) and Gillispie (5-11, 255) provide much-needed size to the group but it’s within the group’s technique that Crater really gets into gear, allowing Cottini (5-10, 180) to shine with his larger cohorts.
“I really just think it’s all about our technique,” says Memmott. “Brad Eaton, our offensive line coach, goes over a lot of footwork and hand placement and I feel like that empowers us because we all understand it pretty well and it goes with us into our games to where we can use our technique to our benefit.”
While the players work under blocking assignments from their coaches, they have also created their own specific calls at the line to help in their pre-snap communication and provide alerts to their linemates.
“I feel like when we make those calls,” says Memmott, “some of the receivers close by or even our quarterback will look at each other kind of wondering what that means, but then it all comes together perfectly.”
Trust and respect helps ensure that cohesion.
“It’s just a good position for us to be in right now,” says Warner, “because we all respect each other’s opinions and we always take what the other says to us at heart so that we can all just work together and become better.”
Adds Waite: “That’s really a tribute to these guys, they just work so well together. They know what the other guys are going to do and they also know our blocking schemes and they give tremendous effort.”
For Warner, it’s simply a continuation of things happening throughout Crater’s lineup, where no one figure stands above another.
“I feel like our whole team has bought in and that truly just makes me proud,” he says. “At any moment I would trust any one of those guys to do my job or anybody else’s job because I know at the end of the day they’re going to put everything they have on the line.”
Each offensive lineman has his own unique skill-set and attributes that make it all come together for the Comets.
“Dawson’s one of biggest linemen we’ve got,” says Warner. “He definitely can just flip the switch and when it comes to game time he’s ferocious, he’s vicious out there. He’ll put you on your butt if you’re not careful.”
“Crayton’s a big kid who has his footwork and handwork down pretty sound,” says Memmott. “His pass set and how he punches is really good, and he just knows what it takes to get it done.”
Although the smallest, Cottini may bring about the most praise.
“Vinny weighs probably a buck-60 wet but he’ll lay his hat on you and you’ll go flying for a bit,” cautions Warner. “That’s one fun kid to be around honestly. Just his determination and the demeanor that he holds himself to is pretty interesting. He really helps give a different point of view on the O-line because we’re all bigger than him and he’s not afraid to ask for help if he needs it if he’s blocking a 6-5, 360 guy. I think that’s what I admire about him most, he’s not afraid to ask for some help if he needs it.”
Warner has been attached to Memmott’s side since their freshman year and that has created a unique bond that has steadily developed over the years.
“Me and him are really the ones who make up a lot of our own little calls and plays,” says Memmott. “His footwork is great and we get our double-teams down perfectly. He’s one of the quicker ones out of all of us so he can pull around me when I pin a kid down and he’s got good strength and good size to handle anyone.”
Memmott considers Warner to be the best run blocker of the bunch, and Davis the top pass blocker.
Warner says his teammate may be selling himself a bit short, with his long reach able to keep pass rushers at bay and his combination of strength and footwork making a lot of plays possible.
Then there’s the other side to their long-standing relationship.
“Me and Jacob have been friends for a while,” says Warner. “I have so much fun out there with him. Even if I mess up on a play or something, he’ll get a little snippy at me and I’ll get a little snippy at him and then the next play we come back up to the line and it’s like, ‘I’m sorry man, I didn’t mean to do that,’ and then we just focus back in and we get going again.”
“I truly think me and him have a good friendship and a good connection,” he adds, “and I feel like that really helps us communicate and make our calls better.”
The other thing that helps is that while the group is all business when it comes to gametime, they’re anything but outside the field of battle.
“You’ve got to be a little goofy to do what they do day after day,” says Waite. “They’re a fun group and they love each other, so that’s a great thing.”
Adds Warner: “We just try to have fun together in the locker room and when we see each other at school because once we step on the field, we know it’s business. You’ve got to have some fun when you’ve got that business going on, too.”
That especially extends to the separate locker room that holds all the linemen, where John Denver’s “Country Roads” is among a favorite rotation that blares from the speakers and has the group singing along.
The music is loud, songs range from just about every genre and, oh yes, there is dancing.
In the case of Gillispie, singled out by Memmott and Warner as the best of the group, sometimes epic dancing.
“I’ve seen Crayton have some pretty damn good dance moves, I’m not going to lie,” says Warner with a laugh. “He’s just got to have the right song.”
With continued success and some good fortune, the group hopes it will become a victory dance come Saturday night.
“It’s a great feeling to be where we are,” says Memmott. “We’ve definitely battled to get to this point, and I feel like everyone on our team feels like we’ve earned it and we’re here to battle and we’re here to win it.”
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry