A Fine Line
Experience up front could be key to Lions maintaining winning ways
The offensive line is a projected strongpoint for Queen Anne’s County High’s football team this season.
But it wasn’t until three days ago that the Lions’ starting unit actually practiced together for the first time since last season.
“Monday when we were doing our offensive part of practice, I think it was Tyler Bonner that looked around and said, ‘Man, this actually looks pretty good in here for a change. We’ve got some old faces back,’” Lions head coach Donny Graef said of his offensive line. “There’s going to be some rust and things and we just have to work through it and keep moving forward.”
Now all seniors, tackles Kean Shanahan (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) and Trent Riggs (6-3, 225), guards Garrett Deese (6-0, 225) and Chuckie Lansinger (5-11, 265), and center Jordan Waters (6-2, 270) have gotten plenty of playing time over the past two years, which ended with the Lions qualifying for Class 2A East Region playoffs.
If Queen Anne’s is to notch a 13th consecutive winning season and 13th postseason berth in Graef’s 22 years as head coach, a lot will be expected of the seasoned cast up front, that includes Bonner lining up at tight end at times.
“Bigger, stronger than what they were two years ago,” Graef said of the offensive front, which will also include at times guards Aaron Rovenolt and Kole Gunther, and tight end Jordan Bennett. “A lot of three-year starters. Just looking forward to see what they can do. I think as our season goes it will be how well our offensive line is playing as far as our offensive success is. It’s going to kind of hinge on that offensive line.”
One of the first things Graef does every year in assembling a team is trying to place personnel in the right positions, based partly on what he’s seen during summer lifting and conditioning sessions. A good portion of that guesswork has been removed this preseason with the return of a large crew of starters from last year’s 7-4 squad, which lost to North Caroline in the 2A East Region semifinals.
Among that group are senior running backs Jykel Garner and C.J. Rogers, and senior fullback Brandon Hickman.
“We’re strong at running back,” Graef said.
Though they didn’t get a lot of snaps a year ago as backups, Graef also thinks the Lions could be strong at quarterback, where
seniors Mike D’Angelo and Pat Freeman have battled to succeed the graduated Tommy Bull.
“I think we’re going to be able to throw the ball better than what we did last year,” Graef said. “That’s not a slight on Tommy Bull, but Tommy was more or less just an athletic running quarterback. I think we’ll be able to throw the ball better. And I think both these quarterbacks also have the ability to run. So it will be a little bit more of a dual look.”
When D’Angelo and Freeman do throw, Graef thinks they’ll have capable targets.
“I think we’re solid,” Graef said of split ends Wyatt Pinder and Jordan Callahan. “We’ve got kids with good hands. They aren’t speed burners. They aren’t the fastest kids on the team. But throw it their way and we feel comfortable that the ball is going to be caught. And they do a good job at blocking on the perimeter.”
Queen Anne’s defensive front could be among the Bayside Conference’s toughest. Bennett starts at nose guard flanked by Deese and Waters at tackles, with Rovenolt and
Lansinger in reserve. Bonner and Gunther are the inside linebackers, while Jordan Wilmer and Riggs return as outside backers, with Jack Sweetak and Noah Evans in backup roles.
If Graef has a concern, it could be the secondary, which lacks depth. Rogers and Callahan are at the corners, Mike Monroe is at free safety and Chris Crow lines up at strong safety.
“We’re thin in a few positions, but we might have to kind of piecemeal a couple of things together,” Graef said. “But we’ll make it work somehow.”
Queen Anne’s also returns a familiar face in the kicking game, with Luke Metrinko again handling placekicking duties.
The Lions have four playoff teams from a year ago on their schedule, starting with Friday’s opener at home against Class 1A Kent County, which has won the last two meetings between the two rivals, and has arguably one of the more dazzling talents in the state in Marcquan Greene.
“Marcquan Greene had been a thorn in our side for the last two years,” said Graef, who earned his 150th career victory last season. “I think once we get through the Marcquan show I’ll have a lot better idea (of what we have).”
Queen Anne’s County’s Tyler Bonner (24), Mikey Monroe (1) and Jordan Wilmer (18) look to make life difficult again this season for opposing offenses.