MAPLETON — The poster on Dusty Drager’s wall speaks volumes.
The Offensive Linemen Creed, starts with “The day you choose to play offensive line is the day you choose to live in the shadow. We choose to be the first ones blamed and last ones acknowledged. We give up the stars and the limelight for humility and wins.”
A former offensive lineman at Maple River from 2003-06, Drager, now the football coach, is changing the narrative a bit with that position group, and it’s paying off this season.
“I think in high school sports, the teams generally take on the personality of their coach a lot of times,” Drager said. “To be an offensive lineman, you have to be positive and dedicated, and these guys are getting the same thing out of being an offensive lineman that I did when I played.”
Maple River (11-1) takes on West Central Area/Ashby (10-1) in the semifinals of the Class AA playoffs at 11:30 a.m. Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium. If the Eagles are successful in advancing to the championship game for the first time, the work of five veteran offensive linemen will probably be a significant factor.
“A lot of people probably want to touch the ball, but we’re different,” senior guard Nolan Buckholtz said. “It’s different being a lineman, and the best part is that you get to hit someone on every play.”
Senior tackle Ethan Fischer (6-foot-9, 285 pounds), senior guards Colten Berkner (6-3, 285) and Buckholtz (6-0, 225) and senior center Thayne Decker (6-2, 240) are all three-year starters, and junior tackle Hayden Niebuhr (6-6, 240) has started the last two seasons.
“It’s kind of a brotherhood,” Fischer said. “We do a lot of things together (off the field). We’ve played together since fourth, fifth grade, and when we talk to each other (during games), we have our own lingo so it’s not obvious what we’re trying to do.”
The Eagles are averaging 36.9 points and 351.9 yards of offense. The rushing attack accounts for 245.8 yards per game and 43 of the team’s 62 offensive touchdowns.
Maple River averages 6.5 yards per rushing attempt, which accounts for many long, time-consuming drives.
“(The offensive linemen) really understand the Xs and Os; they’re solid students of the game,” said Drager, who also is the offensive line coach. “They play as a unit of five.”
Drager said that a Week 6 victory over Blue Earth Area was a confidence builder for the offensive line, and the Eagles have played well since then.
In last week’s state quarterfinal game against undefeated Pipestone Area, the Eagles fell behind 14-0 in the first quarter. The Eagles are a veteran group, but it was offensive linemen who made sure that nobody was hanging their heads, having rallied from deficits before. The final score was 39-20.
“It’s fun when you keep hitting guys, and they start to back off and put their heads down,” Buckholtz said. “We just kept going and never stopped.”
Even though 1,000-yard rusher Boden Simon left the game with an injury late in the first quarter, the Eagles didn’t change their game plan. The offensive line gradually wore down Pipestone Area, allowing backup running back Tim Buckholtz to run for 215 yards and three touchdowns on 28 carries.
“This is pretty special,” Fischer said. “It’s something that doesn’t happen every year at Maple River. It’s something we’ve dreamed about since we started playing together in fourth, fifth, sixth grade.”
Drager’s lineman creed ends like this: “We are sculpted to be men of violence, and yet be protectors. Anyone can run full speed, but we are the men who stop this charge. We are the determining factor in a game so when choosing this life, know it gets real in the A and B gap.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.