BIG HORN— In high school football, the recipe for a quality lineman varies. Size helps, but it is far from the only ingredient. Quickness, bursts of strength, good footwork and a high football IQ are also key factors.
The Big Horn offensive line has a wide range of players, from Nolan Rader, a 5-foot-8, 190-pound tackle who is faster than some receivers, to Seth Mullinax, a mauling 6-foot-4, 260-pound All-State guard.
Sometimes, different styles inhibit an offensive line’s consistency. That is not the case for the Rams, as their unit has paved the way for Big Horn’s incendiary offense, which is first in the state in points, total yards, passing and rushing yards.
Experience blocking with each other is a vital element to their success. The starting offensive line — left tackle Aidan McCurry, left guard Jaxon Parker, center Ryan Johnson, right guard Mullinax and right tackle Rader — have all started for multiple years, and this is the second season they have all started together.
Three of them are two-way starters, as Mullinax is the defensive nose guard, and Parker and Rader play defensive end.
The defense is third in 1A in rushing yards per carry, allowing 4.4 yards per attempt.
Assistant coach Andrew Marcure said the unit has played well this year, but not up to its potential. Marcure joined the coaching staff the same year as head coach Michael McGuire and has been the offensive and defensive linemen coach every year. He was an offensive lineman in high school in Montana and also at the University of Montana-Western.
He said this group is probably the second-best he’s coached during his six years at Big Horn, just behind his first unit in 2012. When the current linemen are all playing well, Marcure said they are the top group, but their performance has been a little inconsistent this season. When the line doesn’t play well, Marcure said it is usually due to lack of physicality and focus.
The fly in the ointment for the linemen was their performance against Pine Bluffs in Week 3. Mullinax left the game after the first quarter with a concussion, and the line was subpar in the first half. The second half was even worse, as Pine Bluffs took control of the game on both sides of the ball, running at will and repeatedly stuffing the Big Horn running backs.
Mullinax missed the next two games, but returned in Week 6 and has shored up the line. Marcure said Mullinax can be an ideal two-way lineman when he is playing well. He creates huge holes on offense, and completely stops opponents from running the ball inside.
The most decorated player of the group, Mullinax knew from a young age what position to play on the gridiron. His flag football coaches wanted him to be a quarterback, Mullinax said. He told them he was going to be a lineman.
Parker, a 5-foot-10, 250-pound junior, was a running back in his younger days, but has started at guard for three years. He tore his meniscus last season, but hasn’t had any notable injuries this year. Marcure called Parker a staple of the program, as he has started both ways when healthy.
Johnson, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound junior, is the brains of the operation. He has the unit’s highest football IQ, and can call out line shifts on the field as he sees them.
McCurry has started the past three seasons due to a tremendous work ethic. He didn’t go out for the team as a freshman but is now the team’s only senior starter at 6 feet, 210 pounds.
Rader, who has the build of a running back, has started every game in his first two years. Marcure said he has the potential to be one of the best linemen in school history because of his agility and technique.
There are no stats for offensive linemen, and they are usually noticed only if they make a mistake. McCurry said he sometimes thinks about the lack of recognition but doesn’t mind it.
“It’s hard when you get knocked around every play, but it’s a lot of fun,” he said.
For the most part, each lineman enjoys the duties the game entails, but also admits scoring a touchdown, or even catching a pass, would be a career highlight. Rader said a touchdown is on his bucket list, and Parker said he “dreams of it every day.”
The linemen will face a huge challenge Friday afternoon against Cokeville, who is ranked first in 1A in rushing yards and total yards allowed per game. The Panthers are also first in sacks and tackles for loss.
The recipe for success against Cokeville is difficult. If any line in recent Big Horn history is up to the challenge, though, it is this one.