Football: Fairview’s veteran line clearing path through playoffs

JEREMY PAPASSO
Fairview’s Connor Spencer, one of five seniors on the Knights’ offensive line, hopes to lead another celebration after Fairview visits ThunderRidge in the 5A semifinals on Saturday.

BOULDER — The Fairview Knights have a wide receiver putting up unprecedented numbers, a quarterback drawing interest from myriad Division I programs, and an offense that routinely unleashes an array of lightning-quick skill position athletes that have run roughshod over the opposition throughout the season.

Yet Fairview’s prolific offense is no different than that of any other team. It all starts up front.

For Fairview, that has meant leaning heavily on a senior-laden offensive line that has proven as adept at protecting quarterback Anders Hill as the group has been at opening holes for running back Jason Harvey.

“We start five seniors, and three of them also start on defense and don’t come off the field,” Fairview coach Tom McCartney said. “Those guys have just been horses for us. As far as protecting Anders, I think that’s been their strong point. They’ve done a tremendous job of that.

“Teams have backed off a little bit to try and play more pass coverage, and I think they’ve done a good job in the run game, too. Yeah, we’re averaging over 300 yards passing, but we’re averaging over 100 rushing, too.”

Those seniors — left tackle Connor Spencer, left guard Daniel Hoskins, center Ryan Williams, right guard Zachary McCort and right tackle Bridger Dunn — will take center stage once again when the Knights visit ThunderRidge on Saturday at Shea Stadium in a Class 5A state semifinal showdown. It will be Fairview’s first appearance in the Final Four since 2009, when the current seniors were in eighth grade.

“I remember watching them thinking, ‘Wow, that could be us someday.’ Now here we are,” Dunn said. “It’s a great opportunity. You think of the legendary ’09 team, and we’re in the same position they were.”

Getting back into that position has been due in large part to the work of the men up front.

While the group does not necessarily overwhelm others with their size — the linemen’s weights are listed in the 226 to 250-pound range — they more than make up for it with their athleticism and intellect. In fact, it’s their collective intelligence that McCartney believes sets the group apart.

“What’s intriguing about them is they’re all tremendous students,” McCartney said. “There’s 4.0’s in there. There’s Ivy League guys in there. They’re all very smart, which helps us. We have a very good line coach in Paul Litwinetz who has a tremendous wealth of knowledge and he puts a lot on those guys on line calls and things they have to adjust to on the fly. He also gives them the full, comprehensive plan where, depending on what teams want to do with us, it allows us to make the adjustments.

“The combination of having coach Lit and the five seniors being as smart as they are have been huge for us.”

Due to the Knights’ need to improve a rushing attack that essentially was invisible in 2012, combined with the fact that most of the linemen have been asked to play both sides of the ball, Spencer said the group took it upon themselves throughout the offseason to heighten their collective level of conditioning as much as possible.

“Last year, we were pretty undersized, so we knew we needed to have a great offseason and gain some better weight,” Spencer said. “We knew we’d have the experience but we needed to improve our conditioning. We knew we’d have to be on top of our game in terms of picking up blitzes. And we’re so skilled in the backfield, we knew we had to give Anders and the guys in the backfield time to do what they do.”

On Thursday, roughly 48 hours before their fate for the 5A title game was to be decided, Hill and his linemen led the Knights through a frigid workout on Fairview’s snow-covered field. Collectively, the veteran offensive players declared the elements would not be a factor in Saturday’s showdown.

Given their experience as well as their smarts, chances are the Knights’ prolific offense will not get flustered by anything Mother Nature, or even ThunderRidge, throws at them.

“They’re all fighters and they’ve all gotten a lot better with their conditioning,” Hill said. “Pretty much all of them have to go both ways, and I can’t even imagine having to do that. For them especially, being in the trenches, I have a ton of respect for them for that.”

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