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Offensive line key to Chambers’ success

LaFAYETTE — AISA No. 1-ranked Chambers Academy (9-0, 4-0) has enjoyed success behind several notable skill-position names like Malik Lyons, C.J. Lyons, Jordan Gillespie, Braxton Allen and Payton Allen in recent seasons. However, the unit that is arguably most responsible for the program’s success is the tight-knit group that feasts at Buffalo Wild Wings every Thursday night before game day.

“If we’re not good up front, we’re not going to win ball games,” Chambers Academy head football coach Jason Allen said. “If we can’t run the football, we’re not going to win ball games. Offensive linemen are a special breed of young men. They don’t look for attention, they don’t look for accolades or recognition. They’re willing to sacrifice their bodies and any type of recognition they may get for the team. You can’t ask for much better than what those young men have done for our football team, they’ve led us.”

The group that features seniors Jake Waldrop and Gabe Brooks, and juniors Luke Keel, Dean Sheffield, Gabe Brooks and Jacob Oliver, have made the weekly pregame trip a tradition for the last couple of seasons now.

“It’s tradition,” Brooks said. “We’ve been winning ever since.”

The offensive line is where most Rebels knew they were going to play since peewee football. Brooks, however, had to make a position change from quarterback in middle school to fulfill the role.

“I never intended on playing as a lineman,” he said. “Now that I am, I wouldn’t trade it for the world, honestly.”

Every player in the unit agreed that pancaking a defender while run-blocking is the most enjoyable part for them at the position.

“People on the other side of the ball better be ready, that’s all I can say,” Waldrop said.

In Chambers Academy’s run-heavy, wing-T offense, the team gets plenty of chances to lay out a few opposing players. 

The blocking has led to C.J. finishing his high school career with three 1,000-yard rushing seasons and Braxton recently accomplishing the feat for 2019. 

“We put in hard work at the sled,” Sheffield said. “We go through all of our fundamentals and we make sure that everyone is in sync whenever we’re on the field.”

Standing at 6-foot-4, 320-pounds, Waldrop is the biggest player of the group and was also a National Athletic Association of Private Schools (NAAPS) All-American in 2018 alongside fellow Chambers Academy linemen Dijon Darden and Alston Knox.

“He’s been a rock for us,” Coach Allen said. “He’s got tremendous size, he’s a very smart kid.”

Oliver has been a Rebel since he was in fifth grade. Despite the majority of the line ordering 20 wings, he said he prefers an order of 15 with a side of fries. 

“He’s transformed his body,” Coach Allen said. “The way he’s lifted and gotten himself in better physical shape, he’s one of the better guards that we’ve had.”

Sheffield prides himself on his work ethic as a smaller lineman.

“Most of us have been running this offense since we were little,” he said. “We’ve been in this together whether we were playing JV or varsity. We know what to do since we’ve been doing this for so long.”

Gregory is another veteran on the team who is getting his chance to start this season after being with the program throughout high school.

“He’s what makes you excited as a coach knowing that kids are that resilient and willing to pour themselves into something for that long,” Coach Allen said. 

Keel was a transfer from Dadeville, who was the type of linemen that Coach Allen said he “felt like [he] had to get on the field.” Keel plays tight end for the Rebels to give the offense an extra receiving option.

“We’re always the most physical [line] and we always hit everybody no matter how big they are,” Keel said. “We don’t give up.”

The Rebels host AISA No. 5-ranked Bessemer for the regular season finale on Friday night.