TERRE HAUTE —
Very rarely, at any level of football, does an offensive line take on an identity of its own. In the National Football League there were the Hogs, a group of Washington Redskins maulers a few decades ago, but not many other groups of distinction.
So the fact that Terre Haute North’s blockers — “the Grady Bunch” — have earned a name and a fan base all their own throughout the 2012 high school season is pretty impressive, befitting both their talents and the popularity of their namesake.
Signs promoting the group were already appearing by the North-South game in just the second week of the season, that namesake — senior tackle A.J. Grady — said this week. Students have been seen lining up with letters in body paint to spell out the group’s name.
It doesn’t take much of a detective to figure out that some of Grady’s friends are probably behind all this — but that doesn’t narrow the list of suspects at all.
“It’s a tribute to [Grady] being the only senior on the line, and a four-year letterman,” coach Chris Barrett said this week, “and it’s also because he’s such a great person … there’s not anybody in the school who doesn’t like him and look up to him.
“He has a great spirit, and he really cares about people,” the coach continued. “That’s a sign of a special person. He’s always himself; he’s A.J. Grady in all settings.”
What makes the story better is that the Patriot line isn’t just a catchy name. North enters tonight’s game against top-ranked Carmel, the defending Class 5A state champion, with a 3-2 Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference record, and even in its two conference losses the Patriots outgained the opponents.
Playing against some of the best high school defenses in the Midwest, North has succeeded the old-fashioned way, by lining up and running the ball at people. Obviously the offensive line is doing something right.
“We’ve still got to be more consistent,” Grady said this week. “We seem to get going and then get a penalty or something. Coach [Chris] Ellis, our line coach, does a good job getting us prepared. We didn’t have a very good game against Warren Central [although the Patriots won that game two weeks ago, their first MIC win over the Warriors] but I think we made up for it in the Lawrence North game [a 45-13 victory last Friday].”
It’s been a pleasant surprise for the North coaches, Barrett indicated.
“When we made up our depth chart [before the season] … a lot of these guys had no experience, or very little,” the coach pointed out, “but they’ve jelled as a unit. They’re not afraid to get on each other, and they all respect each other. That’s a tribute to A.J.’s leadership.”
So who are these guys?
“Our right tackle is Lucas Comer (6-foot-5, 245). He’s the angry one; he’s always fired up,” Grady said. “Our right guard is Austin Vermillion (6-4, 296). He brings effort all the time. Sometimes we call him ‘Little Dakota’ [Austin’s older brother was an all-MIC tackle who now plays at Indiana State] to make him mad.
“At center is Forrest Lowery (5-9, 265). We think he has the little-man syndrome — a little guy with a big heart,” Grady continued, “and at left guard is Bryce Woodason (6-2, 272); he’s the annoying little brother with all the questions. Me? I’m the older brother, the vocal leader.”
The 6-2, 295-pound Grady is being recruited by several midwestern colleges as an offensive lineman, even though he admits it wasn’t his first choice of position.
“I started off as a defensive tackle,” said Grady, who also saw time at tight end earlier in his career. “Last year, about the second game, was when [being predominantly an offensive lineman] became permanent.”
“He’s very athletic for his size,” Barrett said of Grady. “And he’s not just the leader of the offensive line. He’s one of our team captains for a reason … everybody loves him and he’s easy to gravitate to. He’s just that ideal senior leader.”
Grady has been part of one winning team so far in his North career, and will be doing his best to make this year a second one.
“My freshman year was average,” he recalled this week. “My sophomore year was one of the best we’ve had here, but my junior year was disappointing. This year I hope we can be a surprise to everyone, including me.”