Donoho offensive line sets tone for high-scoring team
by Brandon Miller
Oct 29, 2013 | 2265 views |  0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Donoho offensive line from the left: Axis Heathcock, Jake Ulrey, Jesse McWilliams, Parker Morgan and Reaves Nelson.  (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
The Donoho offensive line from the left: Axis Heathcock, Jake Ulrey, Jesse McWilliams, Parker Morgan and Reaves Nelson. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Donoho has scored points this year like only one other team in school history, and one of the keys to it all that production may be the guys up front.

Through nine games, the Falcons have ridden an experienced offensive line to 321 points, which is an average of 35.6 points a game. The school’s football program began varsity play in 1972, and only one other Donoho team has averaged more points than the 2013 group.

The 2006 squad averaged 37.2 points. The 2011 team is third with 30.5 points. Both of those teams are the only ones to win two games in the state playoffs, with both making the quarterfinals.

This season, Donoho is 7-2 and finished in second place in Class 1A, Region 7. The Falcons will face Berry at home in the first round of the playoffs Nov. 8, with the line helping lead the way again.

Sophomore center Jesse McWilliams, junior right tackle Axis Heathcock, junior right guard Jake Ulrey, junior left guard Parker Morgan and sophomore left tackle Reaves Nelson all returned from a season ago, giving the offense a base of stability as some of the other positions underwent change, including Chris Carr taking over as the starting quarterback.

“It all goes back to confidence and getting an extra year together,” McWilliams said. “Most of us are still learning and really the whole offense is. We’re gaining more confidence week to week. Chris (Carr) is doing a really good job getting everyone focused for practice and the games.”

Shannon Felder has served as Donoho’s head coach since 2004, and when he thinks back to that 2006 squad that scored so many points, he said this year’s team has some similarities to that one, mostly Donoho’s run game. With the offensive line providing most of the blocking, Felder said it’s the intelligence of the five players that plays a huge part in the running game.

“You can give them a lot of information,” Felder said. “Some teams may have better talent, but our understanding of what we’re doing equalizes that in some points. We can recognize defense and recognize when we need to make changes. When we’ve done a really job of that we’ve ran the ball well.”

The five lineman have combined for a grade point average of just less than 4.0. Add that intelligence to the year of experience, and they say it has created five solid players who work well together.

Nelson said last year the line was more concerned with making blocks in general rather than making quality blocks. Heathcock and Ulrey both said the line gains confidence through practice during the week, as well.

“The coaches do a great job preparing us and have a great plan each week,” Heathcock said. “They make sure that we prepare it perfect so that when things do go wrong we know what to do and how to do it.”

The responsibility toward academics is an important part of being on the football team. So, if the linemen are shining in the classroom, that means they get a chance to shine for Felder.

“At our school you never can say anything about next year,” Felder said. “You’ve got academic rules that fall in place. You can’t have anyone academically ineligible, and that’s not something we play around with. We’ve only lost one player this year for academic reasons.”

The 2006 team won its first 12 games, but Felder said one fault cost the Falcons in their only loss – a state quarterfinal loss to Cedar Bluff 28-25.

“We had some academic issues,” Felder said. “The thing about our school is academics come first. In ’06, for 12 straight weeks, guys did what they were supposed to do academically. Going into the 13th week, we had some guys that didn’t get it done in the classroom, so they didn’t play. Unfortunately for us, they were starters.

“We ended up having to put linemen at safety positions that we wouldn’t have had to do otherwise. So we ended up losing.”

Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star
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