By Anthony Gagliano
VALDOSTA - Staring at a 24-0 halftime deficit against Albany State on Saturday, Valdosta State coach Chris Hatcher decided to turn the game over to his seniors. So instead of delivering a passionate halftime speech, Hatcher simply walked out. In his place, senior guard Torrey Howard spoke his mind.
"I felt like we forgot what got us there - the team aspect of the game," Howard said. "I just stressed that at halftime because it wouldn't have been a good feeling to go out like that, you know.
"I just told my teammates that I had fun. This is the most fun I've had playing football my whole career. All that just went through my head at one time and poured out."
More than just saying it, though, Hatcher's deeds showed how much faith he had in his veterans. The Blazers ran the ball on all 15 of their offensive plays in the third quarter, scoring a pair of touchdowns.
"It kind of complimented us," senior center Leighton Cooley said. "It lets you know their putting it on our shoulders and when it's on our shoulders, it let's us know we're going to be a big part of making the outcome of the game."
Why not trust that group? The interior of the line features three seniors with Howard at left guard and Kelvin McDavis on the right side. Howard received first-team recognition in the Gulf South Conference, while Cooley and junior left tackle Will Shelton made the second team. Behind that group, senior Tyran Robinson has rushed for more than a 1,000 yards and the Blazers are averaging 34 points per game.
"They're versatile in what they do," Hatcher said. "In our offense, you have to run block and pass protect, and especially with Cooley there, you have to call out all the defenses and make sure everybody is on the same page as far as the blocking schemes. They're very valuable to our success."
Yet, even in the face of all the team and individual success, the Blazers' offensive linemen shunned the glory.
"What's made this team so good is everybody knows we don't have a whole lot of standout athletes," Cooley said. "Just what makes our team so good is our team unity. Just the way we gel together and the way we go out there and play football together."
"Everybody gets along, and I've never seen that before," Howard said.
"It all starts at the top and trickles down," Cooley said.
"When you see the coaches, the way they treat each other and the way they treat you, it trickles down. We treat each other the same way."
That cohesive unit has allowed VSU to rack up nearly 5,000 yards in total offense this season. Robinson joined Howard on the All-Conference first team, and back-up Vincent Brown has nearly 700 yards rushing this season.
The biggest difference has been a zone blocking scheme that allows the two talented backs to pick their hole of choice.
"The gap changes every second," Howard said.
"The whole will just be there when they show up and them finding it is the key to it," Cooley said. "And they're good at finding it."
After Saturday, it would be easy to expect the Blazers (11-1) to come out running. But, the biggest guys on that side of the ball say it doesn't matter what the offense does.
"Whatever puts points on the board is what we like," Cooley said.
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