Despite size, Palisade OL not intimidated by foes
Thumps of dribbling basketballs from the nearby gym drown out hallway chatter.
In the nearby training room, a few Palisade girls basketball players are getting ankles taped. Students shuffle down the hallways as school comes to a close Wednesday afternoon. Among them are no giants.
In a town known for its homegrown fruits and vegetables, it’s just always been this way. No 250-pound athletes. No one knows why.
Outside, a whistle blows on the football field, followed by a coach shouting: “I didn’t blow the whistle! Keep driving him!”
They are not “hogs.”
These offensive linemen, lean and chiseled, train like Marines, and although they’re traditionally undersized, they will never be victims.
You see, backward doesn’t exist.
On a running play, they are instructed to plow whatever face mask is before them to the goal post.
Even on a passing play, a situation in which the majority of football linemen around the world are taught to take a couple steps backward and absorb or deflect a bull rush, the Bulldogs attack.
Never step back.
It’s the Palisade way.
“We get off the ball, it’s the only thing we have,” coach John Arledge said. “If we’re not aggressive, we don’t have a chance.”
No. 10 Palisade (9-2) is preparing for its Class 3A quarterfinal at 11 a.m. Saturday against No. 2 Kennedy (11-0) at Stocker Stadium.
These offensive linemen, none bigger than 218-pound tailback Quinn Zamora, know what they’ll be facing. It’s the same story every game. The opposing defensive lineman will get in his three-point stance, look downward to a smaller man’s eyes and envision crumbling the quarterback.
Then, something else happens.
The smaller guy attacks.
Nature, it seems, is reversed.
“It catches them off guard,” tackle Jeremiah Watson said. “They think they’ve got you, and then you hit them in the face, and they’re like, ‘What’s going on?’ “
What’s going on is decades of Palisade football pedigree. It’s preemptive striking and it’s as Bulldog as a spiked collar.
Remember the glory years? Same thing. Joe Ramunno coached Palisade to four consecutive Class 3A championships from 1994-97, teaching the same attacking method. Pat Steele remembers. The Palisade offensive line coach played center for Ramunno, the head coach at Colorado Mesa University.
Schemes have changed. Attitudes haven’t. Never move back.
“They have to have that mentality that they’re coming at you every play, no matter what,” Steele said. “We hold the players to that expectation.”
The first quarter tends to shock an opponent. By the fourth, shock turns to a stagger. It’s like fire ants buckling a grown man. A slow burst off the ball is the first sign of the opponent’s complacency.
The second, and most telling, is in the eyes.
“You can see they’re not all there,” 6-foot-1, 185-pound center Matt Pitton said. “You see them glancing at the scoreboard. They’re not looking at you.”