Area offensive linemen excelling under the radar

It’s hard to miss the area’s top recruits at positions like quarterback, running back or wide receiver, and even top defenders frequently draw attention by making key tackles or forcing turnovers.

Haughton left tackle Josh Cooper stands out on the Bucs' offensive line.

Haughton left tackle Josh Cooper stands out on the Bucs’ offensive line.

That leaves offensive lineman as the best players most likely to go unnoticed, even though The Times’ reigning All-City Coach of the Year, Evangel’s Byron Dawson, believes they’re the most important component of a team. It’s no surprise Caddo and Bossier Parish produce college-level talent at the position, including most recently Airline’s Colten Prater, the starting left guard for No. 6 Texas A&M as a true freshman.

“What an unbelievable deal for him to be starting for him as a true freshman in the SEC on the offensive line,” Vikings coach Bo Meeks said Monday. “It’s a testament to the type of young man he is, to his work ethic, to his preparation, and it’s been fun to watch every week for sure.”

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Dawson said Prater provides another example for area players to follow, and he coaches perhaps the offensive lineman most likely to take that path. The 247sports composite rankings, a compilation of several different recruiting services, lists Eagles senior right tackle Ethan Harvey No. 1 in Louisiana and No. 77 nationally among offensive lineman for the Class of 2017.

Josh Cooper, a former Evangel lineman and now a senior at Haughton, isn’t too far behind. Coach Jason Brotherton said in his 19 years on the Bucs’ staff, he hasn’t seen anyone like the 6-foot-6, 350-pound left tackle, with the possible exception of two-time All-State selection and Northwestern State lineman Jace Prescott.

“He’s got the size, the speed and the footwork,” Brotherton said. “He’s the total package as far as his ability of what he can do.”

Cooper started playing at the age of seven, and he’s always had a significant size advantage over his peers. He said coaches at Mississippi State and UL Lafayette camps over the summer gave positive feeback, encouraging him to keep working hard.

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Brotherton said Cooper has shown more aggression this season and a willingness to get downfield to block on running plays. But he’s at his best when going one-on-one as a pass blocker, and he sometimes feels underappreciated as the most important protection for quarterback Pryce Curry against opposing defensive ends.

“Mainly sometimes they start off with trying to overpower me, then they try to beat me with speed or a finesse move or something,” said Cooper, who benches 355 pounds and squats 405. “They think just because I’m big I’m supposed to be slow.”

Harvey focused primarily on baseball when he arrived at Evangel as a 255-pound freshman, so he recalls starting from scratch when it came to learning technique and understanding the offense. He still became an immediate starter for the Eagles, along with a much more recognizable freshman, quarterback Connor Curry.

Dawson praises Harvey for his technique, especially the way he keeps his hands and body in the right place while blocking. But Dawson, the former LSU defensive lineman who took over offensive line coaching duties last season, said Harvey’s relentless tenacity makes him special.

“I think most good offensive lineman do a good job of getting on a guy and starting a block, but I think the great offensive linemen are the guys that finish, that have the discipline to not look around and check out what’s going on with the play but to block ‘til that whistle and just be totally focused,” Dawson said. “Even if he finishes one guy and that guy’s on the ground, look for somebody else and I think that’s what sets him apart from some of the other linemen in the district.”

Evangel's Ethan Harvey is a four-year starter on the Eagles' offensive line.

Evangel’s Ethan Harvey is a four-year starter on the Eagles’ offensive line.

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Harvey embraces his leadership role, and he’s able to help out everyone after playing every position on the line during his high school career. The 6-foot-4, 285-pound senior also asks Dawson plenty of questions, showing his desire to constantly improve.

When Evangel lost its first two games to Texas powerhouse Allen and Neville, Louisiana’s top team, Harvey made sure his teammates stayed focused and positive. He said a frustrating loss in the semifinals last year keeps them motivated to keep fighting for their ultimate goal of another state championship.

After the season, perhaps he’ll think more about offers from Army, UL Lafayette and Columbia, among others. Dawson said it’s possible bigger schools could enter the mix later, especially if Harvey and the Eagles keep winning.

“I like to focus on one thing at a time,” said Harvey, who owns a 3.7 GPA and wants to study mechanical engineering. “After my high school career is over, then I’ll begin the process of deciding where I want to go.”

He stressed education will be his top priority, and whether he’ll have the opportunity to match the impressive football accomplishments of Prater remains to be seen. But Dawson said if Harvey keeps working hard and getting better, “the sky’s the limit.”