SHERIDAN — They call them “big uglies.” An unflattering nickname, indeed, for a group of bruisers pushing the Sheridan Broncs to multiple state championships.
But the term has less to do with their appearance and everything to do with the kind of work they do on the football field.
They’re linemen. They get down in the trenches, shove, claw and tackle guys to open holes on offense and close them on defense.
The Sheridan linemen have made a living doing both of those things, but they scrapped the ugly title a long time ago. Sure, they still fight and shove at the line of scrimmage, but they’ve made it look pretty darn good along the way.
The 2016 state champion Broncs had other teams trembling in the trenches. Sheridan’s defense allowed just 141 rush yards per game — a state best and almost 30 better than any other defense in 4A. It gave up only 3.6 yards per attempt, also a state best, and allowed only 11 touchdowns.
Sheridan’s pass defense ranked sixth in the state, yet, the team still ranked first in overall defense. That’s how good the rush defense was a season ago.
Many of those same guys flipped around and blocked for a rushing attack that averaged 176.8 yards per game. Even better, they protected a quarterback — Drew Boedecker — who threw 450 more yards than any other QB in the class and who had 26 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Boedecker could have taken a nap in the pocket before getting off his throws.
Then, as the other nine teams in 4A already started scheming about how to knock the Broncs from their back-to-back-championships throne, those same linemen did what they’d done for 24 games: stood their ground.
Almost all of Sheridan’s starting defensive line returned for the 2017 season. Only a couple of starters left on offense. So while the Broncs filled in the gaps at the skill positions and linebackers and brought in a fresh quarterback, that brick wall up front was going to require a wrecking ball to tear it down.
Even scarier for their 4A foes? Those champion linemen were far from satisfied.
“We have the potential, but we aren’t there right now,” Quinton Brooks said of the mindset coming into the season. “Really, I feel like over the season we’ve progressed. We’ve had several obstacles we’ve had to overcome; every team does. And we’ve done a very good job overcoming those obstacles and going back to work every week.”
The average viewer may have a hard time pinpointing those obstacles. But the linemen have proven they can make adjustments as needed.
Sheridan’s offense flip-flopped this year. With two impressive running backs in the backfield, the Broncs have been a much more run-heavy offense. No problem. The linemen created holes, and here the Broncs sit averaging 259.3 yards per game on the ground — 12 better than Natrona and 82.5 more than a season ago.
Passing yardage has gone down, but quarterback Aaron Woodward still has a state-best touchdown-interception ratio of 21:4.
And the defensive line has been flat out destructive. It dropped to 102.4 yards allowed on the ground. The line has accumulated 75 tackles for loss and 33 sacks.
“They’re getting off the ball faster than we are, are we’re the ones snapping it,” a Cheyenne Central coach said about the Sheridan D line two weeks ago.
Connor Jorgensen, who a Kelly Walsh coach pointed out last week for “killing us,” is a soft-spoken kid with the power to blast home runs with the Sheridan Troopers baseball team in the summer. He attributed the success of the line to trust.
“We’ve been playing with each other since seventh grade,” he said. “It gets easier to believe in the guy next to you. You know they’re going to do their job, and you need to do your job.”
Offensive line coach Kevin Rizer brings his players in to watch film at lunch every day. They’re in early to go over technique and planning during two-a-days. His group, along with D-line coach Marshall McEwen’s squad, have a mindset that they’re leading the way — literally and figuratively.
“They a have a little, what the military calls esprit de corps,” Rizer said. “They believe strongly that if they lead the way, if they’re the tip of the spear, that we’re going to be successful.”
Sheridan’s line features a wide variety of personalities. Brooks called Max Myers a “helmet bashing guy” — he leads the team with eight sacks. Blayne Baker is the big-name University of Wyoming commit. Brooks and Jorgensen are less in-your-face but equally as productive.
Each guy has a role and a fit within the unit, and at the end of the day, it’s come down to an understanding of both the individual roles and the objective of the unit.
They get after it; they lead the charge.
“I do think there is a little edge for those guys,” Rizer admitted. “The offense gets a lot of the hype, and the defense doesn’t. I think they’re one of the best defenses in the state.”
Defense wins championships. Sheridan has won two straight titles with this group of linemen, and it’s chasing a third — and the big uglies have made it look pretty.