Mill Creek O-line paving the way for offense

Jacorey Lewis became the 11th player to rush for 2,000 yards in Gwinnett County history last week.

The senior running back will be the first to tell you it's not because of his breakaway speed or vision with the ball that he's having a great season. It's because of his offensive line.

"If it weren't for them, I wouldn't have as many rushing yards as I do now," Lewis said.

Lewis has rushed for 2,168 yards and 30 touchdowns this season thanks to his offensive line. That success has helped put Mill Creek in the quarterfinals of the Class AAAAAA state playoffs where it will play at North Cobb on Friday.

"Jacorey earns his yards," Mill Creek offensive lineman Joe Cox said. "He breaks tackles, but we definitely have something to do with it."

Mill Creek rotates seven linemen at five positions. Offensive guard John Troutman and center Matt Kopp were the only two returning starters.

Troutman, who played tackle last year, missed the first half of the season with a knee injury. That meant the Hawks had to break in four new players on the offensive line.

"I'm impressed with the way they've jelled together," offensive line coach Josh Lovelady said.

Troutman carries a 4.0 GPA and is the smartest player on the team, learning play calls while he sat out with his injury. The senior splits time at guard with Josh Fannin. The aggressive sophomore has has become a force on the line.

Troutman and Fannin play next to tackle Kaleb Kim. The talented sophomore has gone above and beyond the expectations of the coaching staff this year. At 6-foot-4, 265 pounds he has the size athletic ability to be a future Division I player.

Kopp and Cox are the glue of the offensive line at center and guard. Kopp is one of the toughest players to ever come through Mill Creek, playing with a broken wrist and ankle last year.

"He's the grit of the group. He's like John Wayne of our offensive line," Lovelady said. "He's not really flashy and doesn't care about other stuff. He just wants to win."

Cox is the smallest on the line at 6-1, 220 pounds, but also one of the smartest. Jacob Lee and Conner Cooper split time at the other tackle position. Lee is one of the strongest on the line and has played every position, but center. Cooper, who was the starting long snapper a year ago, has improved the most.

"It's above and beyond my expectations how they've come together and played as a unit," Lovelady said.

Lewis has re-written the Mill Creek record book thanks to the offensive line. The senior holds every major rushing statistic and has had rushing performances of 353 yards, 301, 255 and 241 this season.

"They play to the best of their ability and are hard and physical," Lewis said. "They open holes for me and I continue to follow them."

Lewis' success is something the line takes pride in every week. One of the first things they do after a game is check the stat sheet to see many yards they've gained.

"We take a lot of pride in that and Jacorey gives us the props we deserve for that," Cox said. "We take pride in watching film and he doesn't even get touched sometimes."

The offensive line's success hasn't just helped Lewis. The Hawks lost their starting quarterback before the season and had to start Daniel David. The sophomore has flourished behind his offensive line, throwing for 1,601 yards, 13 touchdowns and four interceptions. He's only been sacked three times on 173 attempts.

"I've been extremely proud of them all year with just their run blocking and protection," Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis said. "They are just a cohesive unit. You can tell they play extremely well together."

The offensive line's motto this year has been 'The Grind.' The words are etched on a shovel that is carried to practice and games each week. You have to earn to have your name etched on the shovel for good blocking performances.

"It's just a shovel and a workman's mentality of going to work," Lovelady said. "It's a mental reminder of what our role is here."

The offensive line helped the offense score 56 points in last week's second round playoff win, the second most in school history.

After each game, Jarvis makes a highlight of the 10 best plays from each game. He specifically made some plays for the offensive line to show the gapping holes they created for Lewis. He even joked he could run through those openings.

"They are doing stuff on Friday nights I just haven't seen in my career," Jarvis said. "How well they block sometimes is what you want to show at a clinic it's so well. It's just a credit to them and their execution."