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Unsung heroes back up Badgers’ headliners
by Bridgette Matula
KARNES CITY -- Helmets crash and the crowd roars as the quarterback throws the ball down the field for the winning touchdown. However, that touchdown would never have happened without one very important element.
“The offensive line has a really important job to do every play,” senior wide receiver Philip Vaughan said. “If they don’t block, then we will not be able to move the ball or throw the ball -- but our line blocks hard every play. The defensive line is a key part in the whole defense because they disrupt the running game if they can get through to the backs. Our defensive line is one of the main reasons we have kept every team from scoring more than one touchdown on us.”
The success of the Karnes City Badgers this season -- as of Oct. 26, they remained undefeated in District 15-2A and a 7-1 overall record -- had a lot to accredit to the offensive and defensive lines, dominated by senior athletes who have played together since junior high. Zack Pawelek, Chance Leal, Lucas Janysek, Steven Starnes, Nick Guzman, John Garcia, Israel Hernandez, and Austin and Weston Block are the nine seniors with crucial -- but often overlooked by the public -- jobs on the team.
“I love seeing them execute the play and blocking scheme,” Athletic Director Jim Wood said. “Linemen don’t get a lot of recognition, but they really play the most important part of the game. Offensive linemen have to communicate and work together on every play in order for success.”
The linemen also realize that they don’t get as much credit for the points that are put on the scoreboard, but they don’t really seem to mind.
“I think as far as the general public, people don’t give the linemen as much recognition,” said Weston, who plays guard and defensive end. “But as far as the team goes, we get as much recognition as everyone else, and that’s really all that matters.”
The total pounds of this year’s senior linemen equals 2,025 and, academically, their combined grade-point average sits in the A range.
“The phrase ‘lead by example’ comes to mind when I think of these boys,” line Coach Bobby Perez said. “They’re not the ‘hoot and holler’ type of leaders, but their actions on and off the field are what make them true leaders.”
Left tackle and defensive end Steven describes how significant their job really is.
“We are usually the first to get blamed if anything goes wrong on offense,” Steven said. “We do have the biggest job, though, of protecting the ball carrier.”
Aware of the importance of their positions, tight end and linebacker Chance Leal said he enjoys defense the most -- and, in fact, hears his name called over the PA from time to time. His stats show he has two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery for a touchdown, and an interception.
“It’s pretty great,” Chance said. “I get to hang out and play next to my friends that I’ve grown up with. I really am going to miss it. This is the last time I get to be a part of an actual team and a part of something bigger than myself.”
Seven of the athletes have been playing together since their eighth-grade year.
“Having played with these guys for several years now, I think it has helped with our success,” defensive tackle and left tackle Zack said. “We have formed a family bond together, and we’ve known each other almost all our lives, so that helps, too.”
John -- who also kicks for the Badgers and hit the tie-breaking field goal to propel them over Poth in overtime Oct. 26 -- said that he can trust his fellow linemen and will definitely miss football after this year.
“Of course I’ll miss it,” John said. “I cherish every moment I have with my team because I know I’ll probably never ever get to put a helmet and pads on with them again. I like making memories and I’m never going to forget about my high school football years.”
John played running back last year and has had to transition to the line, while Israel rejoined the team for his senior year.
“My involvement in football will help me in the future in many ways,” offensive and defensive tackle Israel Hernandez said. “It has taught me to be dependable and most of all, taught me to be a team player. Family, jobs and other aspects of life are based on acting as a team.”
Not only have most of these guys played together since junior high, Coach Perez also has trained them since junior high.
“Having Coach Perez with us for so many years has helped us in several ways,” offensive guard and defensive end Austin said. “It allows him to know us and tell when we are working hard or slacking off, and it allows us to know when we can joke with him and when we have to be serious.”
“They have progressed well since junior high,” Coach Perez added. “In junior high, we stress the basics, from lining up with the proper technique to learning all the terminology. These young men are special in that we don’t have to reteach everything. I’ve always said they are the most intelligent group of linemen I’ve coached.”
Nick Guzman also feels as though Coach Perez and Coach Wood -- themselves linemen when they participated in Badger football -- play a big role in their success.
“Coach Wood and Coach Perez have had a really big influence on me,” senior center Nick Guzman said. “They always push me to give it my all and know when I’m not, so then they push me even more.”
Five of these linemen -- Austin, Weston, Lucas, Zack, and Chance -- also made All-District selections last year.
“These guys are great leaders,” Coach Wood said. “These guys come to work every day and are always giving 100 percent. They are like brothers to each other -- a couple of them even act like twins. But more than anything, these guys are great young men who represent Badger pride to its fullest.”
Lucas said he wishes he had more years to play football with this group. Yet, he made sure to add, “No matter what, we’ll always be Badgers,” after giving advice to the younger players.
“Give it your all,” Lucas said. “Time really does go by fast. Before you know it, you’re going to be a senior in high school, and you’re going to be wishing you were still a freshman or a sophomore working for a spot on that varsity team. So give it your all and don’t be afraid to go out there and prove yourself. As long as you’re doing what you can do 100 percent of the time, you’re going to make it.”
Junior Journalist Bridgette Matula is a Karnes City High School senior and editor-in-chief of the Badger Times. A member of the Highsteppers dance team, Drama Club, FCA, FFA, and National Honor Society, she plans to attend Texas State University to major in speech pathology.
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