By Jeremy Stafford -- firstname.lastname@example.org
BERRYVILLE -- There's little room for error in the trenches of a football field, especially when a game hinges on the success or failure of a single play.
Clarke County lineman Damian Tomblin knows this as well as anyone on the Eagles' roster. And so, when the he takes his position on the defensive side of the line of scrimmage, he cycles through a checklist of observations to ensure he guesses right.
Tomblin first glances to the set hand of the offensive lineman across from him. Is his hand raised off the ground, indicating his intent to fall back into pass protection? Or is it pressed so firmly to the dirt his knuckles turn white, revealing his plan to run block.
If he reads pass, Tomblin's plan is obvious: "Just put the other guy on his back, that's pretty much all I'm thinking," he said.
If the play is a run, Tomblin then looks to his opponents' eyes, which often point to where the hole is supposed to open.
So how does Tomblin understand these nuances of the offensive line? Simple: Before he broke his ankle in a midseason game against Strasburg last season, he anchored an Eagles offensive line that allowed running back Sam Shiley to rush for 1,259 yards.
"I know pretty much what's happening on the other side of the ball because I'm doing that, too," Tomblin says of his defensive play. "I just try to read whatever that lineman's doing 'cause I play across from what I would be, so if I read what he's doing, that helps me get to the ball."
Last season the Eagles' defense led the area with 182.6 yards allowed per game.
But even if Tomblin's guesses were wrong, even if he had a very limited knowledge of his responsibilities on the field, opposing linemen still have his gargantuan size to deal with. As Tomblin admits, "I'm bigger than two guys combined on the other side."
"If they can run at him and be successful, then more power to them," Eagles coach Chris Parker said. "But I'd like to see it, I don't think they can do it."
Parker said that Tomblin has returned from his ankle injury in a spectacular way this offseason, "not only in the weight room, but aerobically, and he's been a leader as far as being in condition."
And Tomblin's success opening holes for Shiley on offense, of knocking defensive tackles on their rear, only inspires him to perform well on the other side of the ball.
"It makes me feel better because I know I'm going to put them down," Tomblin said. "That gets me just pumped up again. Then when defense rolls around, I get to hit somebody there, too."
At the end of practices, when Parker lines his team up for conditioning drills, Tomblin can only laugh as the smaller, more agile running backs zip up and down the practice field, past the larger linemen. He laughs because he knows that although it's the flashy backs who score the touchdowns, it's the linemen who win the games.
"We know we don't get any cheers or anything for us because we don't score," Tomblin said. "But it's us that get them there.
"We feel good about it because we made the hole for [Shiley]."
With Tomblin leading an offensive line that lost Dusty Canterbury, Ben Sipe and Jared Shiley, Parker and the Eagles expect to improve upon last season's 9-3 record and Region B final appearance.
As long as Tomblin keeps guessing right, the Eagles have a great shot of doing just that.
"Our goal is to even improve on it, Parker said. "Personally, I take it one game at a time. We take each week and each game one game at a time, but our goal is to go as far as we can."