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Don't judge Cary-Grove's offensive linemen unless you've blocked 2.13 miles in their shoes.
That is the distance senior linemen Kyle Matthiesen (6-foot-3, 212 pounds), Greer Bozeman (5-11, 195) and Gunnar Halverson (6-1, 213) and sophomores Michael Gomez (5-11, 273) and Trevor Ruhland (6-4, 268) have helped Cary-Grove ball carriers cover thus far.
Behind those starters and key senior reserves Joe Warnecke (5-8, 190) and Nick Nibungco (5-11, 237), the Trojans have rushed for 3,748 yards in 11 games. The top seed in the northern bracket of Class 6A, Cary-Grove carries averages of 340.7 rushing yards, 404 total yards and 39.5 points per game into Saturday's state quarterfinal against No. 4 Crystal Lake Central (9-2) in Cary at 1 p.m.
"We have a great feel for each other," Matthiesen said of the line's chemistry. "We all know each other and what we have to do. We just have to worry about our individual spots and trust the other guys to take care of the rest. We become one by doing our individual parts."
The line's two sophomores are physical marvels, both of whom coach Brad Seaburg considers big-time college prospects. Gomez has a chance to be special, according to multiple observers. He started last season as a freshman and added 23 pounds before his second varsity season.
Gomez and Ruhland, the team's two strongest linemen, were neck-and-neck in the category of pancake blocks until Gomez suffered a broken tibia in a Week 4 victory at Hampshire. Spelled ably by Warnecke and Nibungco until Week 9, Gomez has been back in the starting lineup since the playoffs began.
"He's just relentless," Seaburg said of Gomez. "He puts that together with 270 pounds, strength and very, very good feet. He's got that X Factor that sets him apart aside from just his physicality."
Ruhland is already the line's biggest player and is still growing, according to his coach. He plays tight-side tackle, next to Gomez, the tight-side guard.
Second-year starter Greer Bozeman snaps the ball. He moved to center last year from split-side guard, switching positions with Rob Mago when the 2011 playoffs began. He doesn't possess the strength of former center and 2010 graduate Hayden Baker, now playing at Northwestern, but he makes up for it with first-step quickness and a sharp intellect.
"Speed is a real key factor," Bozeman said. "It's not always about having the biggest, baddest guys on the line. It's a lot of thinking and a lot of technique and speed and angles."
Split-side guard Halverson and split-side tackle Matthiesen fought their way into the lineup. Matthiesen started several games at tackle last year, but he had to earn the starting position in summer camp, which he did.
Halverson was a B-team player his freshman year and most of his sophomore year. He played junior varsity games last fall, but another spring and summer of off-season work translated to a starting nod as a senior.
"That was a real big question coming into the season, who would play that split guard position," Seaburg said. "(Halverson) worked very hard. He's very smart and he's really turned himself into a good offensive lineman. He's played very aggressively and is just doing a great job."
The talented line, combined with legitimate backfield talent, gives the Trojans arguably their most explosive offense since the program's run of 9 straight playoff appearances began in 2004. Cary-Grove has scored 28 touchdowns this season from outside the red zone. That eye-popping statistic includes 19 scoring plays of 40-plus yards.
Senior fullback Kyle Norberg is the team's big-play king. Not only has he rushed for 1,775 yards and 23 touchdowns on 148 carries for a whopping average of 12 yards per carry, 10 of those scoring plays have been rushes of 30 yards or more.
"It's such a great feeling when you yourself open up a hole and you can see your back coming right off your butt, and you see them go for 50 or 60 yards," Bozeman said. "It's just awesome to watch them fly right by you, and we've got guys who can do it.."
Any Cary-Grove running back who gains more than 100 yards in a game is on the hook to buy the offensive linemen dinner the following week. Already this season Norberg has enjoyed single-game rushing totals of 240, 143, 271, 117, 199, 259, 213 and 204 yards.
"There's been a lot of eating at the Norbergs' house this year," Matthiesen said. "Our favorite is motaciolli. I don't think you can beat that."
Seaburg credited offensive line coach Mike Manning for teaching the linemen proper technique and footwork. He also credited the players themselves for their ability to absorb information, adapt and continue to block until the whistle.
"The thing that stands out with our offensive line is they finish blocks and they play at a very good pad level," Seaburg said. "They are relentless. They block the way they should block — they get off the ball very well and they're very aggressive. The thing they share in common is that they are all smart, all five of them."
The players say they take their cues from Seaburg, Manning and the coaching staff.
"They've molded a mindset into us for the past four years to bring consistency and hard work to the table every time out," Matthiesen said. "Sometimes it takes a guy a year or two or all four years to get it all together, but once we get it all together it's something special."
As in Champaign special?
"We're feeling pretty good, but we're trying to focus on our opponent every week" Matthiesen added. We feel pretty confident about the work we've put in, the work our coaching staff has put in. We're excited."