Madison Heights Madison’s linemen were too young to know that coach Drake Wilkins was paying them a compliment Monday afternoon.
He called his offensive linemen “hogs.”
When the guys heard that word they were confused, not knowing he was favorably comparing them to the Washington Redskins offensive linemen of the 1980s and ’90s.
“He called us the what?” Brandon Downing asked.
Wilkins was asked about the strength of his team, and he quickly pointed out his studs along the offensive and defensive lines. The units are the main reason the team is 8-1 and has a chance to host three straight playoff games starting tonight against Warren Michigan Collegiate. The way the Division 6 bracket is set up, the Eagles could reach Ford Field and possibly avenge last year’s 41-27 playoff loss at Ithaca.
The assistant coaches said the officiating at Ithaca reminded them of the movie “Remember The Titans,” when the integrated T.C. Williams High School football team out of Alexandria, Va., had to not only fight the 11 players on the field but the prejudiced referees.
“It was tough, but the experience made us better,” junior running back Lance Mitchell said.
Mitchell is the main beneficiary of the offensive line.
The starters are the 305-pound Downing, who plays offensive tackle and defensive tackle. Trevor Barndollar is 6 feet, 270 pounds and plays offense and defense. Chase Mitchell is the lightweight of the bunch at just over 200 pounds. Justin Robland is an offensive/defensive tackle, and all-state candidate Mike Kibzey rounds out the starters at 6-4, 240.
In reserve are offensive guard George Fonkeng and offensive guard/defensive tackle Herbert Geeter.
Lance Mitchell, Chase’s younger brother, is just 5-5 and 160 pounds but packs a punch. He has run the ball 151 times for 1,415 yards and caught six passes for 126 yards. He has 25 rushing touchdowns, one kick return for a touchdown and one receiving TD. In all, he has accounted for 1,835 all-purpose yards.
They were all at Ithaca and felt the pain of that setback.
“Everything that happened at Ithaca happened for a reason,” Geeter said. “It made us a better team.”
Added Robland: “It was the toughest loss I’ve ever took in the four years I have been here. I just remember we fought and we fought and came up short in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.”
Wilkins said he hasn’t had a group work harder over the winter and spring to get to this point, especially the linemen. That’s saying a lot since the Eagles have won at least five games since 2005 and are a playoff regular.
“They are the powerhouse of our team,” Lance Mitchell said of the offensive line. “They are the reason I’m doing so well right now. They work hard every day, and it shows on game day.”
Wilkins doesn’t toss around a lot of praise, but he knows any playoff run hinges on the play of his hogs.
The only blemish was a 26-25 loss in the opener at powerful Pewamo-Westphalia. Madison captured the Macomb Area Conference Silver Division with an impressive 56-42 victory over previously unbeaten and talented St. Clair Shores South Lake.
“We had a rough first game, but since then every week we’ve grown and matured,” Fonkeng said. “I’ve seen something in this group — that we’re not going to lose. We learned a lot from the first game and that helped us against South Lake.”