The spotlight has shined brightest on Black River senior running back Andrew Vaughn during the Pirates’ 7-3 season and run to their second postseason berth in the last three years.
And why wouldn’t it?
Vaughn has gained 2,203 yards on 230 carries (9.6-yard average) and scored 29 touchdowns (26 on the ground) to pace an offense that rushed for 4,049 yards.
He’s had several games in which he gained more than 200 yards rushing — and one 354-yarder — and it wasn’t until last weekend’s season finale against Keystone that he was held under 100.
But when asked why he’s had the success he’s had, the first thing Vaughn mentions is his offensive line.
“I can’t just run for 2,000 yards,” Vaughn said. “I don’t care who you are, you have to have great linemen to do that.
They did a great job. All of our linemen, all those guys up there did a great job. They know what they are doing out there. … Whenever I pop off a big run, those guys just go nuts.”
When the team’s head coach (Al Young) doubles as the offensive line coach, you know that’s an area that will get special attention year in and year out.
And when a team runs the ball 593 times and throws it just 64, you know it has to have a strong line to have the success it’s had running the ball.
“I’ve always liked running the ball,” said senior right tackle Gabe Eaton, last season’s Patriot Athletic Conference lineman of the year. “I like to be aggressive. It makes the game fun.
“It gives us satisfaction because when Andrew does well, we know we’re doing our job. To get those kind of numbers week in and week out shows the kind of job we’re doing and the consistency of our unit.”
Eaton is one of six returning starters on the offensive line, including fellow senior Jeremy Wiggins (right guard), John Ternes (left guard), Nick Sas (tight end), Ryan Slone (left tackle) and Sean Holly (center).
Having that chemistry and cohesiveness already built in has paid dividends.
“I’d say it’s a big advantage for us because we all enjoy playing together,” Wiggins said. “There’s a lot of communication and we all enjoy playing with each other and that gives us a big advantage when we all step out on the field.
“Anytime our backs gain positive yards, you know you’re doing your job, and a touchdown is celebrated by all of us. Blocking for Andrew is amazing. Everyone knows how good of a runner he is. But he always, even when we’re not doing good, keeps our heads high, even when we’re not on field. He’s just a great guy, and I love blocking for him.”
It’s not just Vaughn, Black River’s all-time leading rusher, that’s gaining big yardage. David Bell has 904 yards on 140 carries and Colin Filak 536 on 112.
“We enjoy blocking for those two as well as blocking for Andrew,” Wiggins said. “It’s not just the offensive line that gets along well with each other. It’s the entire team. We all hang out together off the field and we all have one uniform goal — to help this team win each and every game and have success.”
Eaton and Wiggins, a second-team All-PAC selection last season, credit Young for getting the most out of their unit.
“To be honest, I probably wouldn’t even be playing if it wasn’t for him,” said Wiggins, in his second year on varsity. “He always says, ‘It starts with the line.’ If there was no one blocking, we wouldn’t be able to get any yards. He takes pride in the line and he’s really influential with us. It’s great playing for him. He works our line pretty good because it’s his first priority.”
Added Eaton: “It’s really big during practice, because he’s always watching us, instructing us and he gets the most out of us. I feel like we’ve got to play our best in order for our team to be successful, and he gets the best out of all of us.”
Contact Dan Gilles at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: Division V, Region 15 quarterfinal
WHO: No. 4 Black River vs. No. 5 Fairless
WHEN: Saturday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: Black River High School
RADIO: WDLW 1380-AM, WEOL.com