New offensive and defensive lines? No problem for Coast Guard football in its opener
New London — A new offensive line and a new defensive line. That's the situation the Coast Guard Academy football team found itself in headed into last week's season opener on the road against the University of New England.
And what could possibly go wrong there?
"It could have been a disaster," Coast Guard coach Bill George said before practice Wednesday at Cadet Memorial Field. "We could've gotten two first downs and gotten run over on defense. I was very concerned. Our guys stepped up.
"Looking at the film, we did some things a little better than I even thought we did."
The Bears got the victory 27-17. The timing wasn't perfect offensively or defensively. That's to strive for in game two Friday night at Nichols (5 p.m. start).
But George, whose team started practice later than normal due to the NCAA-mandated schedule and didn't have time to polish things as much as he would have liked before the opener, couldn't have been more effusive in his praise for both lines, as well as the special teams play against University of New England.
The offensive line, which returns two starters, but one in a new position, paved the way for 171 yards rushing. The defensive line, the "new guys" on a defense with seven returning starters, accounted for seven sacks of New England quarterback Brian Peters.
"The first game we had a couple issues with communication, but our practice (Tuesday) went great," said senior Jared Gee, who moved from right tackle last year to center to replace graduated center Hudson Dunaway. "The communication was up."
"My biggest motivation was the leadership, the leadership we have coming back now," said junior Zach Lukasik, a linebacker/standup defensive lineman for the Bears. "I need to live up to and exceed their expectations. It was a lot of support (in the preseason) from the senior leadership, the captains."
Gee played center throughout high school and practiced at center at the start of his Coast Guard career. He played alongside Dunaway last year on a veteran Coast Guard line and might have stayed on the right side of the line, as George, also the Bears' offensive line coach, doesn't like to move his linemen around due to the complexity of the protections and the ensuing learning curve.
Plus, Gee had to fill in for Dunaway, a three-year starter on the line and two-year starter at center.
Gee is surrounded by junior Robert Childress and senior Colton Rausch on his right and junior Jordan Yriarte and sophomore Mason Schroder on his left.
"I had some big shoes to fill. Center has its challenges, just like any other position. ... I gotta look back through my legs at the quarterback to see if he's ready," Gee said. "I was definitely excited (to move to center). It's a great position. It's a great opportunity."
On defense, junior tackle Phillip Orlando led the way Saturday with two and a half sacks. Senior tackle Colby LaDuque had two, Lukasik one and a half and senior captain RJ Robiskie, also one of the Bears' linebackers/standup defensive linemen, had one.
They sacked Peters for a total of 41 yards, getting to the quarterback on each of the last two possessions as New England tried to come back from a two-score deficit.
"We were the second string, but we had a really good rotation last year, maybe 40 percent of the snaps," Orlando said. "It was really easy to get in the swing of things. ... It was a good time (Saturday). I missed (a sack) and it's been haunting me more than I've been celebrating the two and a half. We just tried to keep him in the pocket and one of us would get through. As a unit, it was really good."
Lukasik suffered a knee injury in the fourth game of the season last year and missed the remainder of the season, but earned a starting spot this year.
The defensive line will have a challenge this week, facing off against a Nichols offensive line that goes 260 pounds, 300, 275, 290 and 330. Coast Guard's biggest starters up front are Orlando and Robiskie at 225.
Gee said he was proud of the linemen on both sides of the ball.
George echoed that.
"A running back, he runs with the ball like he did on the playground when he was a kid," George said. "A lineman, suddenly he's in a football game, he's got to make blocking calls, he's got to make adjustments and bam, it happens again.
"... Jared has handled (moving to center) very well. Give credit to all the offensive line. Playing offensive line is probably less fun than anything else. I have such a deep respect for these guys, tremendous respect, who are studying until midnight or 1 in the morning and then playing offensive line at 4."
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