Norland center Hunter Clark said the best thing about blocking for All-American Duke Johnson is that often times he doesn't need much more than "a little bit of space" before "he'll do the rest."
Vikings coach Daryle Heidelburg, though, believes his offensive line deserves a little more credit than that and says much of the success of the team's high-scoring offense is owed to his big guys. Who are they? From left to right: 6-6, 300-pound left tackle Ereck Flowers, left guard Alex McIntosh (6-1, 270, Sr.), Clark (6-2, 265, Sr.), right guard Joshua Mincey (6-0, 260, Jr.) and right tackle Clifford Delva (6-2, 235, Jr.).
"Everybody points to Duke and [receiver] Darren Owi, but these guys are the reason our offense is good," Heidelburg said. "They allow us to simplify a lot of things. They're smart guys. It doesn't take long for them to get it when somebody tries to confuse us with a different look on defense. They can make adjustments. Teams try a lot of things to try and stop Duke and the running game. They make the adjustments."
This week against No. 1-ranked Glades Central (12-0) Heidelburg said he's going need his offensive line to be on top of their game.
Glades Central has one of the stingiest defenses in the state. How stingy? Outside of a high-scoring 41-34 win over Class 3A state semifinalist Delray American Heritage, the Raiders have given up 40 combined points in their other 11 games. They've shutout five of the last seven opponents they've faced -- including Fort Lauderdale Dillard 31-0. In last week's 35-0 win at Merritt Island, Glades Central's defense allowed just 104 yards total offense and produced two interceptions.
"No doubt they're a pretty good defense," Clark said. "They wouldn't be if they weren't 12-0. We know they're aggressive. But we have our own game plan. We feel like we'll come out on top. They have a personality that is very intimidating. But we're not intimidated."
The Vikings offense has hardly been intimidated this season. They're averaging 41 points a game this season -- 52.6 over their last five wins, four of which came against playoff teams.
Heideburg said it's going to be up to his offensive line to open holes for Johnson (1,352 yards rushing on 134 att., 18 TDs) and protect quarterback Tony Thomas (62-120, 935 yards, 15 TDs, 3 INTs) against a blazing fast and pressure-oriented Raiders defense that reminds him of Miami Northwestern.
"I'm looking forward to it," said McIntosh, the strongest lineman on the team (he benches 375 pounds and squats 555 pounds). "When people blitz that means I get to do a lot of hitting."
Of course beating Glades Central in the Muck won't be easy. Glades Central, a six-time state championship program, might as well have a sign posted up somewhere near Effie Grear Stadium that reads: Where opponents' dream seasons come to die. Since 1997, the Raiders have gone 30-1 at home in the playoffs.
The only team to beat them during the span was 2001 state champion Rockledge, who pulled off a 21-14 win. The Raiders are 15-0 all-time in the post-season at home against teams from Dade or Broward. Belen, Chaminade, Pace, Hallandale, Cardinal Gibbons and St. Thomas Aquinas are all among Glades Central's victims.
"That's a pretty interesting stat," said Vikings offensive tackle Ereck Flowers, a University of Miami commitment. "But I don't think any of us are really scared."
Heidelburg said the unit has started every game together this season and boasts a collective GPA of 3.5.
McIntosh and Mincey, whose sister Donesha is the team's trainer, are the only two returning starters from last year's state runner-up team. Clark, who owns a 4.0 GPA and has offers from Ivy League schools, is a transfer from Killian. Delva is a first-year starter with a 3.3 GPA. Flowers, who was at Krop last year, is the bona fide Division I prospect.
"We're not scared," Delva said. "It's just another game in the playoffs. You have to face somebody. I heard the Muck is a very rowdy place, fans get rowdy. We'll be prepared."