MOULTRIE — When it was pointed out to Justin Rogers that Colquitt County had rushed for 246 yards in the 41-0 win at Tift County last Friday, the Packers coach quickly pointed out that the Packers had also run for nearly that much in the win over Lowndes the week before.
And he was more than willing to talk about where much of the credit for the Packers success on the ground this season should go: to an offensive line that deserves more than the usual anonymity.
There were, in fact, some questions about the group before this surreal season began.
Four 2019 offensive line starters were gone, as were the program’s all-time leading rusher and a quarterback who had thrown for 62 career touchdowns.
But Rogers and — perhaps especially — offensive line coach Buck Hanson have painstakingly cobbled together an efficient unit that has quietly opened the running lanes and provided the pass protection that has helped lead the Packers to a 7-0 record and a place atop the Class 7A rankings according to MaxPreps.
“Obviously, they are doing a great job,” Rogers said. “They are not the biggest in stature. But they cover up the right guys, they play so hard and they continue to get better.
“They won’t ‘wow’ you, but we have very few mental busts.”
Since he arrived in Moultrie last year, Rogers has been unstinting in his praise for Hanson, who also has worked successfully with offensive lines at Enterprise, Ala., and at Lee County.
Also adding to the line’s success is that the Packers have been able to run out the same five starters in all seven games.
“We have been able to maintain some health there,” Rogers agreed.
Trey McCoy, a 6-foot-2, 275-pounder, has been a key performer at left tackle after serving as the Packers starting center last year.
“We knew after last year that we were going to move him,” Rogers said. “So he had his mind wrapped around that before all the quarantines happened.
“He is a big body, but he also is a great kid.”
Next to McCoy is 268-pound Nakia Benefield Jr. at left guard, a senior and first-time starter.
“He is one of those guys who has done the work, continued to improve and as a senior got a chance to start,” Rogers said of Benefield.
Like Benefield, center Tyler Meads is making the most of his opportunity to start as a senior.
Among Meads’ duties are identifying the defense the Packers are facing and finding the middle linebacker on each play. And he is uniquely suited for that role.
“He is super smart,” Rogers said. “And he is a bulldog. He will flat get after you.”
Junior right guard Cam Strange is easily the most improved offensive lineman.
“And maybe the most improved player on the team since last year,” Rogers added.
“He has gotten so much better. He plays hard and will occupy the right guy. If they are fighting Cam Strange, they can’t make a tackle.”
Ja’Quavian “Turk” Daniels, a 285-pound freshman, took over the right tackle position in the first game and has refused to relinquish it.
“He’s young, but he has such great feet,” Rogers said. “He is a big, thick kid and he is so strong. He is going to be really, really good.”
And while that five-player unit has been stalwart, there is a group behind them that is talented enough to make the near future a promising one.
Rogers is especially pleased with the work of sophomores Jon Vaughn, Dylan Holweger and Cole Holmes and juniors Isaiah Palmore and Tyson Shepherd.
“And we’ve got a strong freshman class too,” he said.
Also helping clear the way for Xavier Williams, Jamaree Hill and Nick and Charlie Pace are tight ends Ontavious Carolina, who also doubles as a defensive end, and another freshman, Landon Thomas.
The future appears especially bright for the ninth-grader.
“He is your more traditional tight end,” Rogers said of the 6-foot-4, 210-pound Thomas. “He is still trying to find out his footwork. When he does, he is going to just get better and better.”