Hiding in plain sight
Highland Springs’ offensive line plays key part in Springers’ success
The Highland Springs offense has accounted for 82 touchdowns through 14 games this season. With little fanfare, offensive linemen like juniors Evan Robinson and Suirad Ware own some responsibility for every one of them.
When Robinson, the left tackle, and Ware, the right guard, return to Armstrong Stadium at Hampton University for Saturday’s Class 5 state football championship against Stone Bridge, they’ll do so with a complete understanding of the task at hand and a deep appreciation for the opportunity.
They’ll also continue a proud tradition of Springer linemen, honoring past players and teammates and attempting to become the third team in Virginia High School League history to win four consecutive state football championships.
It takes a special young man to crave a position on the offensive line, said
Highland Springs assistant coach Brad Alston, who, along with Kevin Dent, oversees the unit.
“At our position, we don’t get the limelight, but we definitely get the spotlight when something goes wrong,” Alston said. “I’m always on them about executing. But to play offensive line, you’ve got to love the game. You’re going into physical, hand-to-hand combat every play. There’s got to be a little twitch in you that enjoys that.”
Robinson’s Springer career began replacing a legend, Mekhi Becton, who is currently starting at Louisville. Robinson’s opening start, in 2017 against Hermitage, provided motivation that lasts to this day.
“It was the most nervous I’d ever been, ever,” said Robinson, who began playing football at age 5. “That loss fueled me to give my all on every play. That was my mindset.”
While always preaching execution and communication, one thing Alston doesn’t need to ask for from Robinson is effort.
“Evan shocked us all his freshman year,” Alston said, noting how summer workouts are broken up into two parts, one for new players, one for returnees. “Evan practiced at both, with nobody asking him. We had to try to get him to stop because, as a freshman, you’re going to burn yourself out.”
Alston described Ware as “a diamond in the rough” when he arrived on varsity, experienced at linebacker. Knowing the depth at linebacker, Alston suggested the offensive line. Ware readily accepted, proving to be a quick study to earn a starting nod for a then two-time defending state champion.
“Footwork and inside penetration. No A-gap penetration at all,” Ware said when asked what were the top tasks to learn. “No pressure inside to the quarterback at all.”
Winning the war inside, play after play, gives quarterback D’Vonte Waller time to throw, the running backs holes to burst through and the entire offensive line satisfaction. From first downs to touchdowns, Robinson, Ware, center Deandre Owens, right tackle D’onte Griggs and left guard Jason Wright savor the fruits of their labor, even if most fans don’t play close attention to their detail.
“We’re doing our part just like the quarterbacks, running backs, and wideouts,” Robinson said with a smile. “It’s a team sport. A little recognition would be nice.”
The majority of the recognition for this unit perhaps comes from the very group it looks to emulate.
“The culture we’ve created here, the older guys come back. Tavian Anderson, Becton, Michael Greene, Aaron Motley, those guys who laid the foundation for what’s going on, they come back,” Alston said. “And when they do, they don’t watch the skill kids, they come to us. We do have our own fraternity.”
It’s a fraternity that is experienced, still hungry and, Saturday in Hampton, looking to make history.
Highland Springs’ Evan Robinson (right) had his first start on the Springers’ offensive line in the team’s loss to Hermitage last year. He said he was more nervous than he’d ever been that game, but that the loss fueled him to give his all on every play.
Highland Springs strength coach Robbie Jackson talks with players Thursday as they prepare for Saturday’s state championship game.