Lazy players need not apply

CAPITAL: Membership in exclusive club for Cougars linemen requires size, strength, hard work, trust and movies

mwochnick@theolympian.comAugust 24, 2012 

There’s a special club on Capital High School’s football team, one where you’re only allowed admittance if you’re a lineman.

Once a month, the players on the line get together for their Linemen Movie Night. The genres vary between comedy and war movies. You can be certain lots of food is eaten – steak is a popular favorite – but more importantly, chemistry grows stronger.

Some of the guys have played together since second grade in the Thurston County Youth Football League, with others joining the mix over the years. Now, they’re all the best of friends.

“Our close, tight-knit group keeps getting bigger and bigger,” said senior Ben Buma, a 6-foot-4, 285-pound right guard.

Coach J.D. Johnson, who begins his sixth season at Capital, said this year’s offensive line is the largest

and most experienced in his tenure with seniors Buma, Mat Cox (left tackle), Zach Superfisky (center), Baylor Hahn (right tackle), Tevyn Stevenson (center) and junior Riley Haub-McElreath (left guard).

They average 6-3 and 255 pounds, and Cox, Stevenson and Haub-McElreath also start on defense.

“This group has all the intangibles that come with it – size, quickness, power, those types of thing,” Johnson said, “and the mentality, especially for as much as we run the ball.”

The relationship between a line and the running game in football draws comparison to the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does the offensive line make the running back, or the running back make the offensive line?

In Capital’s case, each helps the other, a big reason for the Cougars’ running game success the past four years.

Since Capital switched to a power game in 2008, the team has piled up rushing yards. The Cougars’ featured running backs since then – Riley Wall (1,570 yards, 16 TDs in 2008), Tyler Sundberg (combined 4,100 yards and 60 TDs in 2009-10) and Kai Van Sickle (1,903 yards, 15 TDs last season) – have combined to rush for 7,573 yards, an average of just under 1,900 yards per season. With Van Sickle leading the way, Capital rushed for more than 2,500 yards last season.

No matter who lines up in the backfield, he has success. And in his case, Van Sickle gave “100 percent” of the credit to his line and called them “workhorses.”

“The line definitely makes me,” Van Sickle said.

And that mutual respect runs both ways. What sets Van Sickle apart from previous running backs, the line said, is his graciousness and gratitude.

“He thanks us every play,” Haub-McElreath said of Van Sickle. “He’s the first running back that says, ‘This is you and not me.’ That made me respect him as a running back.”

With their offseason weightroom workouts and speed and agility training, the chemistry built on the line extends to their relationship with the running backs. That’s big for their trust in the backfield, which will feature Van Sickle for the second consecutive year.

“You have to know that you can trust the guy next to you to work as hard as you are,” Buma said. “Spending time together opens up that trust.”

There’s even a special bond between Van Sickle and Hahn, a two-year starting tight end who was moved to tackle this season. The two became stepbrothers last August when Van Sickle’s mom, Jillian, and Hahn’s father, Steve, got married.

Said Van Sickle: “We’ve (the entire line) built that strong bond, and it’s going to take us a long way this year, I believe.”

Home games in CAPS. All games at 7 p.m. unless noted

Thurs., Aug. 30: at Newport

Friday, Sept. 7: OLYMPIA, 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Sept. 14: BOTHELL

Saturday, Sept. 22: TUMWATER *

Friday, Sept. 28: at Centralia *

Friday, Oct. 5: at Bellarmine Prep

Friday, Oct. 12: BLACK HILLS *

Friday, Oct. 19: at W.F. West *


Coach: J.D. Johnson, sixth year

2011 record: 8-4, 1st in Narrows 3A; lost in 3A quarterfinals.

Offense: Coordinator – Arne Jensen (pro-I). Returning starters - 9. Top players – QB Derrick Becker, 6-1, 185, jr.; G Ben Buma, 6-4, 285, sr.; T Mat Cox, 6-5, 240, sr.; T Baylor Hahn, 6-3, 235, sr.; RB Kai Van Sickle, 6-1, 190, sr.

Defense: Coordinator – J.D. Johnson (3-5-3). Returning starters - 8. Top players – DB Derek Chase, 6-0, 180, sr.; LB Max Clarke, 6-0, 205, sr.; LB Nathan Hull, 5-11, 220, sr.; LB Jakob Racimo, 6-0, 205, jr.; DL Tevyn Stevenson, 6-1, 255, sr.

Outlook: A newcomer to Class 2A and the EvCo, Capital won’t be pulling any punches during non-league play with games against four formidable 4A schools (Newport, Olympia, Bothell and Bellarmine Prep). This group of seniors has shared the most success under Johnson – two quarterfinals appearances, and one semifinal showing in 3A. * 2A Evergreen Conference game

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