OBITUARIES: Decatur | Shoals | Huntsville
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Strong O-line yields W's
Heading into second round, perfect Tanner averaging 50.8 points a game
By Justin Graves
The Decatur Daily

Jeronimo Nisa/The Decatur Daily
Daily photo by Jeronimo Nisa Tanner head coach Laron White, right, talks to his offensive line Wednesday,

TANNER — Speaking in a firm and confident voice, Austin Lewter made sure not to act his age.

For the young Tanner High offensive lineman with a baby face, portraying an older, more mature image has become trained habit.

It's a façade he pulls off well — both on and off the field.

At barely 15, Lewter has grown up fast. Playing in the trenches is a tough job. Blow an assignment or miss a block, and a negative play likely will follow.

But that hasn't been a reoccurring issue for Lewter. Now with 10 games under his belt, the Tanner freshman, who is 5-foot-10 and 210 pounds, has earned his stripes, proving that he was one of three correct answers to the Rattlers' most important question heading into the season:

Who would rebuild Tanner's offensive line?

Actually, reload would be a better phrase.

Despite losing three starters from an offensive line that paved the way to an appearance in last season's Class 2A state title game, Tanner has reloaded in the trenches, and is once again overpowering opponents in the running game.

Just how good has Tanner's offense been? Well, people tweeting scores Friday nights have, at times, struggled to keep up. The Rattlers (10-0) are averaging 50.8 points per game.

"Pretty much, this group has been a pleasant surprise," said Tanner coach Laron White, whose top-ranked Rattlers host Walter Welborn (9-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. in the second round of the Class 2A playoffs.

Tanner has not lost a game at Rip Swanner Stadium since Nov. 21, 2008.

Calling the results a surprise is a bit on the humble side. White, a former Courtland High standout who started three seasons as an offensive lineman at Alabama, has a knack for producing good offensive lines.

Personnel are always changing, but the results remain the same.

That held true again this season.

Trey Fletcher and Seth Smith were the only true returning starters, while Baltazar Rubio saw significant playing time as a backup. And because there are only nine offensive linemen on the roster, there weren't many options when filling the other two open positions.

Oh well. Turns out that wasn't a problem, either.

Insert Lewter and Shamaud Baker into the lineup, and another masterpiece was created.

"Coach White and Coach (Russell) Freeman take pride in our offensive line," said Fletcher, a 6-4 and 230-pound senior. "They're pretty hard on us because they know we have one of the toughest jobs on the field. They make sure we're aggressive and always getting after it."

Averaging 210 pounds from tackle to tackle, this is nowhere near White's largest offensive line during his 10 seasons at Tanner.

But as White often points out, you don't have to be beefy to be a good blocker.

Proper technique — coupled with aggressive, physical play — are the keys. Everyone in the starting lineup has bought into that philosophy.

"You've got to be smart and physical to play these positions," White said. "This isn't the biggest group that we've had, but with what we do, we're not trying to overpower anybody. It's all about proper angles and creating running lanes, giving guys a chance to make a play.

"I'm pretty hard on those guys … don't tell them ‘good job' very often. But they handle criticism well, which is why I believe they've come along so quickly. You've got to have tough skin to be an offensive lineman."

All five starting offensive linemen can attest to their coach's tough love.

"Coach White is harder on us than anyone else because he played the position," said Baker, a 5-9 and 170-pound junior. "He's really involved in everything we do. He makes sure that we're always intense, and always pushing us to play harder."

Not by coincidence, everyone on Tanner's offensive line has taken on their head coach's personality.

The bond they share appears fraternal. Light jokes occur often in the locker room. But when it comes to football, strictly business is the way.

The strong rapport carries over to the football field.

"When on the field, we all have the same mentality," Baker said. "Playing this position, it's serious business. We've got the hardest jobs on the field with no glory, and to get this job done, we have to play as one. Our mentality is that if you mess with one of us, then you answer to all of us, because the way we see it, this is a family."

A family with one common goal:

Returning to the Class 2A title game, and this time, winning the program's first state championship.

"This is one of the most serious, business-like teams that I've been a part of," Fletcher said. "I think we're more hungry this year because we know what it feels like to get (to the state title game) and not finish the job. This year, it's all about finishing the job and getting the blue (state championship trophy).

"We're determined to make it happen this year."

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