COLUMBUS — “Powerful.” With that word, a Fredericktown Freddies’ guard, Ben Burns, hit the nail on the head.
Burns, and the rest of his offensive line mates, are powering the Freddies through a storybook season, which has taken them to a regional title. Saturday night’s 28-21 victory over Oak Hill leaves the Freddies only two wins away from a state championship.
A year ago, the Freddies tasted defeat in the regional final. The road back took the Freddies through a coaching change, a few personnel changes and some grueling practices in the hot sun. Through all of the ups and downs, it was the Freddies’ offensive line, which has led the way — literally.
“We started out (this year) and we weren’t sure what to expect from losing our coach and a couple of good players from last year,” said Burns. “Actually, that first game (against Highland) and everything we’ve been through, we decided to come together. We knew we were going to have a really good year after the Highland game and that’s what we’ve done so far.”
Tackle Logan Awwiller knew that the Freddies were ready to rise to the occasion, no matter what they had to face.
“This year has been incredible,” said the 235-pound Awwiler, named First Team All-Central District for Division V. “We really stepped up when we needed to, when we took on Wheelersburg last week. This week we were coming in to this game and we didn’t know how good (Oak Hill’s) line was, but they came out and they were ready to play. We stepped it up in the second half and we took it to them.”
Each member of the Fredericktown front line knew that they had to get better as individuals and as a unit in order to get past the Regionals and compete for the State title. For 215-pound center, Josh Neff, the work to get better started as soon as last season ended.
“We’ve just been trying hard,” said Neff. “We had a hard year and we’ve been working hard. We started this offseason in the weight room and tranferred it everyday into practice and, now, we just won another one.”
Guard Steve Wagner’s tenacity has helped anchor the line, as well as earn him Second Team honors in the district.
“We knew we had something special last year,” said Wagner. “Losing that Regional final game last year hurt, so, we wanted to get back to this spot and keep on going. That was one of our goals, to get to this Regional Final game. On Monday, we are going to get back in and go to work.”
Nick Stacy, the Freddies’ 260-pound tackle, knows that the constant drills and the hard work have been rewarded.
“We’re having a great year,” said Stacy. “We come out every week and just get after it. We’re just ready to play.”
Aside from the thrill of winning, Stacy will remember the hours of toiling away at the blocking sled.
“Hitting the sled,” said Stacy. “Repeatedly, at the sled. For an hour straight. At the sled.”
That, along with a year of intense weightlifting, has improved the 6-foot-3 Stacy in two areas.
“It’s probably my speed and strength,” said Stacy. “After we lost (the Regonal Final) last year, I came out and worked hard in the weight room.”
Burns, and the others, have grown as well.
“I think what improved the most was me pulling around,” said Burns. “Also, my leg strength and my knowledge of the game has helped me a lot.”
The intense training, which stretched through the especially long, hot summer, served to further strengthen the bond between these young men.
“First, we started out getting to know each other and, then, that relationship built over the summer when we were working our butts off together as a team,” said 330-pound Robert Lewis. “From there, it grew.”
“I’ve gotten a lot of experience,” said Neff. “We really grew on each other. It’s a family, now.”
But when did it all really click for the Freddies’ front five?
“After beating Loudonville and I knew that we were going into the playoffs,” said Awwiller. “I knew we were ready to step it up and take it to the next level.”
For Stacy, it happenned much sooner.
We’ve been playing with each other for about eight years,” said Stacy. “We’ve got a chip on our shoulder from last year. We just wanted this. We set our eyes on this.”
Neff agrees with Stacy.
“I think it was last year at this time,” said Neff. “We all looked at each other and we were down but we decided that, next year, we wouldn’t be down again.”