Cougars have the legs, line to run with

Central Kitsap offensive lineman Greg Gole (75) and running back Howard McDonald are just one tandem proving that Silverdale-area schools have running games to be reckoned with. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Central Kitsap offensive lineman Greg Gole (75) and running back Howard McDonald are just one tandem proving that Silverdale-area schools have running games to be reckoned with.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

The relationship between a running back and his offensive line is one unique to any sport.

While running backs tend to get the limelight, they can’t do a thing if the line doesn’t do its job.

Central Kitsap found that out last year, when a line anchored by mainly juniors and sophomores struggled against teams that were larger and more experienced. While the team had a formidable running tandem in graduated Derek Smith and a sophomore Howard McDonald, the Cougars had a hard time holding blocks.

That was one reason senior co-captain and offensive lineman Greg Gole joined the line after backing up Caleb Brown at tight end the previous two seasons.

“I wanted to help out the line,” Gole said. “Derek Smith was a really good running back, but he got hit in the backfield every game. I knew we had great talent at the skill positions.”

With Gole’s addition and an added year of experience to the likes of linemen Will Morris, Cecil Spence, David Quichocho and Mike Crowley, plus sophomore add-ons like Connor Chesser and Spencer Williams, CK is opening the holes that McDonald, himself a year older and more experienced, has been running through to the tune of 856 yards and 11 scores in five games.

All have been a big reason CK is 4-1 overall, 1-1 in Narrows League Bay Division play, and in the hunt for the postseason.

“It’s turned into a winning recipe,” CK coach Mark Keel said. “That’s good. Whenever you can rush the ball like we’ve been able to this year, it’s pivotal for the team. Howie has done a lot of that on his own, but so much is improvement on the line.”

Gole said the relationship has to be a mutual one for not only their respective successes, but for the teams.

“He’ll be the first to tell you that it’s not all him making plays,” Gole said of McDonald. “He needs help from us and we need help from him.”

While his own success is partially the result of spinning, slipping, breaking and going right on through tackles, McDonald said he wouldn’t be able to do any of it without his improved line.

“I was just hoping the line would do their job (this season),” McDonald said. “I’m not the fastest guy, but I can get through those holes. They’ve been the reason I’m having this success.”

Perhaps more than any other sport, the symbiotic relationship of the O-line and the running game has to happen to be successful. That hasn’t been a hard environment to foster for CK.

“It’s just a great bunch of guys,” McDonald said. “We’re always having fun. Sometimes you get frustrated, but when you’re having fun, success is just a matter of time.”

Gole agreed, saying the challenge he has is easier when he likes those who benefit.

“It’s easy to make holes for someone you’re friends with like Howard McDonald,” Gole said. “My four best friends are on the line with me.”

But that goes beyond just the running game.

“I’m friends with the offensive line,” Gole said. “I’m friends with my quarterback. I’m friends with my running back, my wide receivers, everyone. I’m friends with my place kicker. We all like each other.”

For McDonald, another year has given the running back, who started playing flag football at 4 years old in California, an idea of what to expect in terms of the speed of the game.

For the line, Keel said the difference came both in the weight room and in determination.

“The first part is maturity,” Keel said. “Having to be under fire last year as sophomores coming in. And recognition; recognizing the defense and what they’re trying to do in the running game. Again, the biggest thing out of that is the guys have had a year to work together. And they got a lot of quality work done this summer.”

Hitting the weight room over the summer was one of the biggest things, Gole said.

“The offseason was huge,” he said. “I know a lot of guys were in the weight room. The sophomores-to-juniors were completely different. I know it helped me out.”

With just three seniors on the line in Morris, Gole and Spence, that growth is already being handed down to next year’s returners.

“The thing that’s good about our linemen is they’re teaching the younger guys,” McDonald said. “They’re teaching them the ways, their attitude.”

Gole has already been a beneficiary of that as he adjusts to his first season on the line.

“It hasn’t been that hard,” he said. “I have good coaching and good teammates, like Will Morris, who’ve helped me out a lot. Cecil Spence has been a big help for me.”

The success of the run game also has been due to McDonald’s moves after hitting those holes.

“(I love) just making people miss,” McDonald said. “For a long time, I didn’t have moves. Or when I’d get hit, I’d always fall down. But since ninth grade, I just kind of turned it on.”

But he also acknowledges that no matter how well the line blocks, and he runs, their success is also tied to other aspects of the team.

“It ain’t just the running game though,” McDonald said. “(Quarterback) Jason (Simonis) is doing a great job. And what do you have to say other than Caleb Brown? And our defense. Defense is the name of the game.”

But for Keel, the glue has been the team’s friendships and trust in one another.

“For the most part, we see a really good chemistry in adversity,” Keel said. “That’s a time where if there’s any division on a football team, that’s when you see it.”

Perhaps no one has embraced that attitude more than McDonald, who both Gole and Keel said has taken on a leadership role not often seen in underclassmen.

“When he came here last year, even at camp as a sophomore, he stepped up,” Gole said. “He was always there being a leader. It’s easy to recognize someone no matter how old they are when they’re that committed.”

“He runs the ball hard,” Keel added. “He enjoys playing. He’s always got a smile on his face. He’s one of our team leaders as a junior. He’s a natural at doing that, which is amazing in such a young kid.”

The success has been a welcome change for players like Gole, who saw CK struggle through 3-7 seasons the past two years.

“Like (the) South Kitsap (game), when we came off the field and seeing all our fans there giving us a standing ovation,” Gole said. “It’s indescribable. Winning is by far the best feeling there is.”

McDonald said it’s just exciting to see the run game doing so well across the Central Kitsap School District. Klahowya’s Andre Moore and Olympic’s Larry Dixon have already topped 1,000 yards, a number McDonald hoped to join Friday when CK traveled to Mount Tahoma. Results were unavailable at press time.

“It’s kind of fun seeing Kitsap coming up in football,” McDonald said. “Larry, I used to play Pee Wees with him for basketball. And Andre, I used to play against him in football. It’s fun to see those guys doing well.”

The biggest key to the rest of the season is continuing that attitude instilled by last year’s seniors like Smith and Jon Sanchez.

“Like we’ve been talking about, the main thing we have to do is stick together as a team,” Keel said. “Things are going to start to happen that are out of our control. We’ve got to stick together though all that.”

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