Quick. Name the starting five across Pendleton’s offensive line.
Drawing blank? Bucks senior center Everett Willard said fans shouldn’t feel bad.
“The offensive line is a pretty underrated position,” Willard said. “Unless they are related, I don’t think they would know.”
But know this, Willard is one of the main keys to Pendleton’s 9-1 record and its spot in the state quarterfinals.
“Honestly, we go as he goes,” Bucks coach Erik Davis said. “He is the quarterback of the offensive line. He reads defensive fronts, recognizes blitzes. Sometimes, he’s telling (quarterback) Trent (Sorey) what to do. Anything he says and does is gospel. He is invaluable.”
Willard’s work on the field was noticed by the league coaches. He was named to the Special District 1 first team offense as a center, and the first team defense at tackle.
“There’s not a whole lot of recognition for the offensive or defensive linemen,” Willard said. “To know people are watching and seeing what I have done, builds confidence. It takes a pretty selfless person to play O-line. When you do your job, it helps everyone else do their job.”
The 6-foot-2, 250-pound Willard is in his third year starting at center, a position he began playing toward the end of his freshman year.
“Going from freshman ball and skipping JV, the speed gap was enormous,” Willard said. “I wasn’t really familiar with the position or the speed of the game. I don’t think I would be the player I am now without those growing pains.”
Sorey and former quarterback Nick Bower (now at Pacific University) have benefited from Willard’s hard work and protection.
“I do my best to keep Trent safe back there,” Willard said. “I don’t want my quarterback to lack confidence in the pocket. I try to keep his head in the right place.”
And Sorey appreciates his center’s efforts.
“He is just as much a field general as I am,” Sorey said. “He’s played center for quite a while, and I’ve taken quite a few snaps from him. He blocks his tail off. His protection is pretty solid. Guys pretty much have to go around all of them (linemen) to get to the backfield.”
Running back Aiden Patterson said there is never a doubt that Willard will open a hole for him or Shawn Yeager to run through.
“He is the hardest working person I have ever met,” Patterson said. “He always does what is right. He is the perfect lineman. We would not be where we are without him. The dropoff from starter to second string is pretty great. No one can do it as well as he does.”
Though Willard excels on the offensive line, his work on the defensive side of the ball is just as impressive. And, he likes the physicality of the position.
“It’s not exactly like the O-line,” he said. “You have the chance to make tackles. Contact is everything. You get a lot of one-on-one on defense, and I get satisfaction when I beat my man.”
That usually means he’s zeroing in on the opposing quarterback, which he also enjoys.
“I have a few sacks this season,” Willard said. “Demoralizing a quarterback can change a game. You are putting pressure on him and you are breaking down his confidence.”
Willard lines up next to defensive end Beau Skinner — the Special District 1 Defensive Player of the Year — and they have a great working relationship.
“Me and Beau have played next to each other for four years,” Willard said. “We went through those growing pains our sophomore year. I think that was essential to building our program.”
Willard, who is a co-captain with Sorey and Kirk Liscom, is in his second year on the leadership team.
“He is very well respected,” Davis said. His work ethic is unmatched. You put the work in, others will usually follow.”
When Willard isn’t on the field, you can generally find him in the weight room.
He puts up a 265-pound bench press, squats 440 and deadlifts 500 pounds.
“Lifting is something my O-line coach (Josh) Linehan got me into and that sparked my interest,” Willard said. “You put in the work and you can see the changes in your body.”
Willard has hopes of playing college football, and took a big step in that direction Wednesday with his first official offer from Pacific University. He said he’s honored, but not quite ready to make a commitment. Eastern Oregon University and Western Oregon also are enticing.
“You see what his hard work had produced and it is pretty cool,” Davis said. “There will be a place for him.”