OWEN – The Owen-Withee offensive linemen look forward to watching film on Sundays almost as much as Friday night games.
Don’t get the wrong idea. The Blackhawks’ line loves pushing people around for their running backs, but Sunday night is special. That’s when they get their kudos for a job well done.
Senior running backs Bryce Niemi and Austin Milliren have their own special way of thanking their line for a job well done: Cookies.
“We call them cookie games,” Niemi said. “When they have a real good game blocking for us, we buy them a bunch of cookies. They are for them, and they don’t have to share with anybody if they don’t want to.
“It’s not just on Sunday night that we reward our linemen. After big plays and touchdowns, we celebrate with them. We’re grateful for all they do. Without them, we’d be planted like daisies.”
Coach Terry Laube said the boys up front work hard to help the backs get every yard they can.
“Our linemen take pride on looking at the paper on Saturday morning and seeing how many yards our backs have during our games,” he said. “Our offensive linemen are licking their chops on Sunday night. They know they’re going to get a treat if they did their job on Friday, and this year they have really been outstanding.”
The line has likely developed quite a sweet tooth this season, as Niemi and Milliren have combined for more than 2,700 yards and 36 touchdowns. With all those cookies, one might think the line would be a little bigger than they are. At 5-foot-10 and 260 pounds, tackle Jesse Cwikla is the biggest, while junior guard Brandon Cwikla, the smallest, is 5-8, 160.
“We’re not the biggest, but we’re fast off the ball, and speed beats size every time. That’s what our coaches tell us every day,” Brandon Cwikla said. “Other teams don’t expect us be able to do much because we aren’t a real big line, but we surprise them with our speed. Sometimes the holes we make for our running backs aren’t very big, but they slip right though. It’s fun blocking for those guys.”
Returning three all-conference performers on the line was a key to getting this year’s line performing well early in the season. Tight end Kolton Kaduce, guard Jake Ovyn and tackle Jake Prepeluh gave the Blackhawks a strong returning core for the coaches to work with.
“Teams know we are going to run the ball,” Laube said. “We see nine and 10 players in the box all the time, and they believe in themselves that they’ll get the job done, and they have this year.
“For whatever reason, we’ve always had small kids here. But the kids have bought into our blocking scheme, and they’re smart. They recognize defensive fronts and alignments, have really jelled as a group and have made the difference in the success we’ve had this year.”
All told this season, the line has paved the way for a whopping 3,213 yards and 46 touchdowns, and helped the Blackhawks average just shy of 300 yards of rushing offense per game.
“Bryce and Austin keep us fired up,” Brandon Cwikla said. “If we didn’t make holes for them, they would have nowhere to go. And if they didn’t run so hard, our blocking would be for nothing. We feed off each other.”
Mark Massoglia can be reached at 715-423-7200, ext. 6736. Follow him on Twitter @markmazzy.
The boys up front
Owen-Withee’s offensive line has paved the way for two 1,000-yard rushers this season, Bryce Niemi (1,751) and Austin Milliren (1,033). They rely more on speed and strength than size.
Center: Justin Wundrow (6-0, 190, so.)
Guards: Jake Ovyn (6-0, 165, sr); Brandon Cwikla (5-8, 160, jr.)
Tackles: Jake Prepeluh (5-10, 220, sr.); Jesse Cwikla (5-10, 260, sr.)
Tight ends: Kolton Kaduce (5-9, 165, sr.); Will Maki 6-0, 220, jr.)