HEPPNER — The hierarchy of football generally starts with the quarterback, then trickles down to the running back, receivers, linebackers and then the linemen.
Unless you play at Heppner.
The offensive linemen are the big men on campus, so to speak.
They are first on the bus, have a special place in the locker room, and their quarterback and running backs have nothing but love for their big men up front.
“We try to instill that as a culture among our kids,” Heppner coach Greg Grant said. “We try to make sure they get their fair share of credit.”
Across the front line for the Mustangs, going from left tackle are Kellen Grant (6-1, 210), Jason Rea (6-2, 205), Kevin Rea (6-1, 185), Gavin Hanna-Robinson (6-0, 190) and Roy Collins (6-2, 235). All are seniors except Collins and Kevin Rea, who are juniors.
“We are generally a school that is not as big, and we don’t have as many big kids,” coach Grant said. “Line play is about hard work and how smart you are. Size helps, but you can’t worry about it. You just have go out and play.”
The 12-0 Mustangs will do just that Saturday when they take on Kennedy in the 2A state championship game at Hermiston High School.
Heppner’s front five has more than held their own this season.
Quarterback Jayden Wilson has had the time he needs to throw for 1,203 yards and 23 touchdowns. He’s also ran for 713 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Running back Blake Wolters leads the team with with 917 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns. The Mustangs have a combined 2,767 yards rushing.
“It is through the roof,” Wolters said of his confidence in his line. “Without them, we are nothing. They give Jayden time to throw, and they are pushing guys 10 yards back for me.”
Wilson said he would not trade his linemen for a set that runs 6-5 and 300 pounds across the board.
“They may not have the same heart,” said Wilson, who added that he’s rarely been sacked. “We have that bond. There is a lot of trust between us. Fans don’t see the big picture. The line doesn’t get as much appreciation as it should.”
What is best for the team
The Mustangs’ offensive line has not been built with kids who have been playing the positions for years. Quite the opposite.
“At Heppner, you play where you are needed,” Jason Rea said.
Case in point. Hanna-Robinson played tight end as a freshman, and was a running back his sophomore and junior years.
“This is my first year 100 percent on the line,” Hanna-Robinson said. “It’s where you need to be, not where you want to be. I’ve learned to like what I’m doing. When you know how the line works, you know how everything works. I’m grateful to be playing on this team.”
Kevin Rea is playing center for the first time this season. The older players on the line have taken to calling the plays to let him concentrate on his job.
“It’s kind of nice to snap to a tall quarterback, you have a bigger radius to snap to,” Rea said.
Kellen Grant, whose dad is the coach, has grown up around the program. He said the linemen have always come first.
“It’s pretty darn cool,” he said. “What’s nice is with that culture, the quarterbacks and running backs are more thankful. It’s not like we crave the attention, but we work hard for them, and they work hard for us. If the linemen are making you a hole, you’d better run through the right hole.”
All five linemen said Wolters is very appreciative of their efforts.
“He loves his line so much,” Kevin Rea said. “In the huddle, he will tell us that he loves us, or will hug us. He makes us look good. He works so hard and has so much heart.”
But they also know Wolters makes things happen on his own after he slithers through the line.
“His yards after contact are impressive,” Kellen Grant said. “You have a want to perform for him. The best feeling is making a hole and watching him run.”
And if things don’t go right?
“I just try and get in front of people,” Collins said. “If I do something wrong, Blake will tell me and help me along. He and Jayden are both good at that.”
Coach Grant likes to see the closeness of the line and the relationship the entire offense has.
“They enjoy the fact they share the same experiences,” he said. “Every offensive line has its own language, and they become a cohesive unit. They are so closely linked with everything they do.”
Honoring the past
The linemen have watched and learned from players before them, even though they all weren’t linemen. Former linebacker/offensive guard Kevin Murray and Logan Greib are two of those players.
“If there is anyone we aspire to be it would be him,” Kellen Grant said of Murray. “He was an all-state linebacker on the 2015 team.”
“He was a god,” Kevin Rea added.
For Hanna-Robinson, it would be Greib.
“He was my mentor,” Hanna-Robinson said. “He understood how everything worked and what everybody did.”
It’s that tradition that runs deep and has helped build Heppner into a program that has not had a losing season in 30 years.
“That is one of our goals,” coach Grant said. “What legacy do you leave behind? Do you leave it better than how you found it? Who will say you were a good teammate?”