ZANESVILLE – Zanesville’s offensive line has taken its share of criticism this season, even if its production insisted it shouldn’t.
The largest unit in school history, featuring mammoth seniors Coulter Wilson and Tavian Butts, it has led an offense that has 4,554 total yards — 2,872 on the ground.
It was at its best in the Division III regional final win against Jackson, when senior Leondre Crosby posted the third-best rushing performance in school history with 291 yards and four touchdowns. It clinched the school’s second state semifinal appearance in three years.
Wilson, a 6-6, 315-pounder hoping to land a Division I scholarship, has been a mainstay at left guard as a three-year starter. The 6-5, 270-pound Butts, who grew three inches and gained some 50 pounds in the offseason, has made a smooth transition to left tackle.
Those two are who garner the attention of opposing teams, mostly because of their sheer size, but senior center Drew Hoskinson (6-0, 290), junior right guard Skyler Gray (6-1, 250) and senior right tackle Parker Mason (6-3, 280) have more than held their own.
Their line coach, longtime assistant and Zanesville graduate Chad Jackson, said the group has produced because of its determination and continuity. Only Mason, who missed two games with a knee injury, has sat out because of injury.
“Coulter Wilson was part of the 2013 (final four) team, and he’s kind of taken everybody under his wing,” Jackson said. “Tavian is one of the best linemen I’ve ever had. They’re just hard workers. We lost a lineman from the summer that we thought we were going to have, and Skyler Gray stepped in. He hadn’t played in a year. He has stepped in and played well. These five guys, they just work hard.”
Expectations were high for the running game entering the season, mainly because of the size they brought to the table. But they drew flak when the offense struggled to run the ball in close games against New Philadelphia, a 13-10 overtime loss at Quaker Stadium, and in the first two rounds of the playoffs against Columbus Beechcroft and Columbus DeSales.
The offense managed only 20 points in those two games, as the team leaned heavily on a defense allowing only 7.2 points per game.
They took the challenge personally. The result was a 38-point effort against an Ironmen defense that shut out Columbus Watterson in the second round and held five opponents to seven or less points.
“I told them in December, ‘we go, they go,’ ” Jackson said. “If the offensive line goes, we’re going to go. I told them last week that we stole one, and this week, we had to show up. (Jackson) had the defensive player of the year in their district; let’s show them that he’s not. Our guys have done it all year long, and they don’t get the respect.”
Zanesville head coach Chad Grandstaff said after the Jackson game that the coaches put much of the game plan on the line’s shoulders.
“We didn’t have two good offensive outings, and we wanted to get back on track with that,” Grandstaff said. “We felt we could have a breakout game. We did a nice job running it, and obviously we hit some key pass plays. The line did a great job, and we’re obviously really proud of them.”
Wilson said the team loves blocking for Crosby, a 220-pound bruiser with a propensity for breaking tackles. He has 1,502 yards rushing with 19 touchdowns following last week’s effort.
You can bet that plan will continue.
“He’s just a phenomenal runner,” Wilson said. “He goes 100 miles an hour every single play. It doesn’t matter how many guys are on him. He just keeps moving all the time. He never gives up.”