Friday Night Heroes: A.L. Brown offensive line

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 3, 2008

By Mike London
KANNAPOLIS ó A.L. Brown right guard Chris Shaw is the Wonders’ most cerebral offensive lineman.
And the most emotional.
Last Friday, with Brown trailing 27-21 late and in danger of losing to Charlotte Catholic for a fourth straight season, the fiery Shaw was on the verge of tearing down a goal post ó and eating it.
“After we had to punt on our next-to-last series, Chris comes to the sideline going out of his mind,” offensive line coach Todd Hagler said. “I told him, ‘Hey, if you can’t calm down, you’re not going back in there.’ ”
There were no guarantees Brown’s offense would return to the field, but the defense got a critical stop.
Then Hagler gathered his guys ó Shaw, left tackle Darius Norris, left guard Cameron Gulledge, center Tavis Bailey and right tackle Markus Deel.
“There was 1:30 on that clock,” Hagler said. “I looked in their faces and said, ‘Boys, this is it. We won’t get another shot. It has to happen now.’ “Five linemen looked back and nodded in unison.
Brown’s coaches emphasized two words during the week of practice ó finish and believe. Coaches harped on finishing every drill, then finishing every play, every series and the final quarter at Keffer Stadium.
“Believe no matter what happens ó and finish,” Deel said. “In the past, we hadn’t finished against Catholic.”
Jamill Lott’s slant pass to Colby Reid produced a tying, 37-yard TD with 10 seconds left, and Morgan McDaniel’s PAT won it 28-27.
Shaw and Deel screamed and chased Reid as he pinballed past the last Cougars.
“I was sprinting hard as I could,” Shaw said. “If I had to knock someone off Colby, I was going to do it.”
Hagler has formed a solid O-line out of a group with few can’t-miss prospects.
“Coach brought me from way down there to way up here,” Shaw said with a grin.
Gulledge and Norris, a 300-pounder, have overcome major injuries. Bailey is an unexpected surprise. Shaw (5-foot-10, 245 pounds) and Deel (6-4, 235) had experience but had never led.
“Guys like Deel you know will be good all along,” Hagler said. “But we’ve also got some that when they were freshmen we never expected them to play. Shaw was this short, dumpy kid, but he made himself strong, and he’s smart. If I have a heart attack Friday, Shaw could coach the O-line.”
Deel said the linemen bonded last spring when Hagler took them to an overnight camp at Tuscola.
They meshed when Gulledge returned from an ankle injury six weeks ago.
“When you can put the same five out there it helps your timing,” Shaw said.
The offense found another gear, and the Wonders scored 52 and 56 points to close the regular season.
Brown made thorough preparations for Catholic, but it still was a dogfight in a nerve-wracking atmosphere in which it was often impossible to hear verbal signals.
“Chris and I dressed at Catholic as sophomores,” Deel said. “We didn’t play, but it still helped us Friday. It’s just different there. The fans are like 2 feet away.”
Even with the noise and constant shifts by Catholic’s defensive front, Wonder linemen got to the right place and blocked the right guy. Brown rushed for 246 yards and threw for 154.
“We didn’t have a single catastrophic breakdown on the O-line,” assistant coach Jeff Brandon said.
The Wonders hung in, believed and finished.
“Jamill made great runs, delivered great balls, and our receivers made plays,” Hagler said. “But Jamill didn’t get hit a lot. That’s a tribute to those kids upfront.”