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Line fuels Strong’s success on offense

by Jason Avery | December 1, 2021 at 12:00 a.m.

On Strong’s football roster, junior Kanye Hawkins is listed at 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds.

And for the bulk of the season, he played a pivotal role in Strong’s run to an undefeated season by playing along side seniors Jayme Correa and Greg Aubrey on the offensive line.

Offensive line? Yep.

How? Simply put, the Bulldogs didn’t have enough traditional linemen at the start of the season even after dropping to playing eight-man football.

“As it started out, the difference I found out in the scheming process is that in 11-man football, you typically need five linemen, and we definitely didn’t have five guys, we had two guys,” Strong coach Sirl Wright said. “From there, we had to be creative to find that third person, and Kanye Hawkins stepped up. He’s definitely undersized for a lineman, and he’s stepped up. He has that heart of a Bulldog. He growled, he barked, he ran around and did the little things we needed to do to keep the offense flowing.”

It’s common for players in lower classes to be involved on nearly every snap in a game whether it’s on offense, defense or special teams, but Wright has made position flexibility a focal point in being able to stretch a roster that is still short on numbers.

“I preach to all of them to learn every position because you never know who is going to get injured or who may not be there,” Wright said. “That’s the flexibility of eight-man is being able to play multiple positions. I think that’s what brought eight-man to Arkansas was that a lot of teams were struggling to finish seasons because they would fall before 11 or get close to 11.

“You would have receivers playing lineman positions and that would put the backs at a disadvantage of getting hurt, especially when you’re playing a team with 40 kids and their teeing off on you. It wasn’t a good deal, so being flexible in eight-man goes a long way. The more flexible your kids are to play multiple positions, it really helps out in the long run.”

Late in the season, the Bulldogs got some key reserves with the addition of freshmen Ja’Kiem Woods and Jamarion Mitchell.

Woods in particular has made a big impact by sliding into Hawkins’ role up front.

“He held it for us until we got some more beef in there. Now we have two freshmen, but one main freshman (Woods) that’s picked up the slack where Kanye couldn’t power through somebody,” Wright said. “Now Ja’Kiem can help push the line of scrimmage forward so we can run the ball a little bit better. I think that’s helped Treveon (Daniels) being able to run a little bit harder rather than dodging once he first gets the ball. Ja’Kiem has been an outstanding guy to step up for us as a true freshman. It gives you a pat on the back when you hear other coaches scream from across the field, ‘He’s just a freshman!’ He’s been stepping up and playing good for us. I’m proud of both kids.”

With his time on the offensive line over for now, Wright said Hawkins can focus on the defensive side of the ball.

And after they started the season with little depth on the offensive line, the Bulldogs may have their future building blocks up front.

“He came in and played in our last game, and he made some plays,” Wright said of Mitchell. “He showed a lot of hustle and that he is hungry to get in there and play.

“That really helped us out to know that we’ve got one more lineman to add into the bunch that’s ready to play in high school football.”

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