GHS offensive line paving way for successful season

Gainesville High School offensive linemen, from left to right, Colton Bates, Marquis Richards, Jalen Wesley, Trent Wooden, Jared Jerrels, Byers Hickman and Nick McGriff pose on the practice field on Tuesday.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 4:48 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, December 5, 2012 at 4:48 p.m.

Heading into the high school football season, the biggest question mark for Gainesville was the play of its offensive line.

With only tight end Nick McGriff returning, the Hurricanes had to rebuild their offensive front and the success of this unit would be critical to the year. Considering where Gainesville is heading, the offensive line is holding up just fine.

On Friday, the top-ranked Hurricanes (13-0) play at No. 10 Navarre (12-1) in the Class 6A state semifinals, with the winner advancing to next week's state final in Orlando.

Gainesville has plenty of playmakers on offense, with quarterback Mark Cato, running backs Ralph Webb and Tony James, and wide receivers Chris Thompson, Case Harrison and Kenric Young. But the foundation begins along the line, where the blocks are made and the holes are developed.

“Everyone is new there,” GHS coach James Thomson said. “It doesn't matter how good you are, you have to be able to block. We knew we would have a relatively young offensive line. They have been playing great.”

The offensive stats support Thomson's claim, with Webb (1,703 yards, 23 TDs), James (975 yards, 10.6 avg., seven TDs) and Cato (1,907 yards, 26 TDs) totaling impressive numbers. A perfect record, a No. 1 ranking and a state semifinal berth does as well.

The Gainesville offensive line consists of seven players who often rotate in Jared Jerrels, Byers Hickman, Marquis Richards, Jalen Wesley, Colton Bates, Trent Wooden and Carlos Ramos. They do the dirty work to give the playmakers room to run.

“As the year went on, the O-line came together more, got stronger and got better,” Wooden said.

“Whether we sub in or play different positions, we work well together as a unit,” Bates added.

It really showed last Friday at Citizens Field against Seffner Armwood in the 42-10 rout. The 'Canes offensive line pushed around the Hawks, as Webb, James and Larry Prunty combined for 333 yards rushing. Webb finished with a season-high 213 yards and three touchdowns.

“The goals we had all year, to come out and play as good as we could, win district, win the city championship and represent Gainesville,” Ramos said. “Like Coach Thomson said, this is kind of like a revenge season this year. We have to keep grinding until we get to the top.”

Thursday morning, the Hurricanes will leave for Northwest Florida, making the five-hour road trip a day early to help in preparation for Friday's game. Last week, Columbia made the trip the day of the game and came out flat, giving up an opening kickoff for a touchdown and trailed 21-0 by early in the second quarter. The Tigers ended up losing 28-21.

“I think it is a great idea. No one wants to go ride on the bus for five hours and then turn on the switch and play football,” Wooden said. “It would be very difficult to do. Columbia tried to and came up short.”

Bates said the group built a bond with each other that helps going into battle. Hickman agrees.

“I know that we have something here that a lot of schools don't have. We have trust and this family mentality,” Hickman said. “Like, Marquis came in over the summer from St. Francis, and we took him in like he was one of us.”

It has been 32 years since GHS last played in and won a state championship in football. On Friday, the offensive line looks to pave the way for the 'Canes to get back in a state title game.

“We have to come out and hit hard,” Richards said. “We are where we start as a team. We just need to do the same thing as we do every game — work hard, run to the line, run to the ball. And do it over and over.”

“We have all this talent,” Hickman said. “There is nowhere to go but to state and win it.”

Contact Larry Savage at 352-374-5050 or And follow at

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