By Jeff Nations
STRASBURG -- Coleman Whetzel is a specialist of a special sort for Strasburg High School's football team.
A three-year starter on the offensive line, Whetzel had planned to expand his repertoire a bit this season and play a role on the Rams' defensive line. A sprained ankle shortly before the season opener spoiled those plans, costing Whetzel a game and a chance to at least play part-time on both sides of the ball.
It was a necessary decision for the Rams -- Whetzel is just too darn valuable at center to risk injury as a backup defensive tackle. When Strasburg (10-1) goes into the shotgun formation, Whetzel is the trigger man that gets the Rams moving.
"The velocity on his snap is what you want," Strasburg coach Mark Roller said. "That's the difference that separates him -- he gets it back there fast enough so that we can make a decision. A lot of teams you look at, they lollipop it back. They're only snapping it five yards, and he gets it back there pretty good. Sometimes we've got to tell him to take something off of it."
A first-team All-Bull Run District selection, Whetzel entered the season as the only full-time starter back on the offensive line (junior Trenton Davis was a part-time starter last year). Combined with a new starting quarterback in Troy Gordon, and it appeared as though star running back Rakwon White may well have trouble matching last season's 1,896 rushing yards. Instead, White surpassed it with another spectacular regular season as he racked up 2,297 rushing yards and 25 touchdowns.
So far, that's 2,297 more yards that Whetzel has gained for Strasburg. But he can rightly enjoy a good deal of credit for White's season.
"Being an offensive lineman, you know you're not really going to get a whole lot of credit," Whetzel said. "But the people who know what they're talking about know that you need an offensive line in order to have a good running game. We work hard every day to keep improving and make sure Rakwon doesn't get hurt."
Whetzel has taken to his natural role as a leader on the offensive line, according to Roller. Along with Davis, Whetzel has helped integrate the Rams' rebuilt line of right guard Cody Miller, left tackle Jesse Dick and right tackle Evan Ryman.
"I think we've come together really well," Whetzel said. "We'll have offensive linemen meetings where it's just strictly us. We'll go out to a restaurant, go to each others' houses and just hang out, go over our plays and stuff."
Whetzel has snapped the ball to three different starting quarterbacks in three years -- Michael Reynolds, Hunter Funk and now Gordon. Of the three, Gordon is easily the most mobile quarterback Whetzel has blocked for at Strasburg.
"You always have to be kind of having your head on a swivel, seeing where he is," Whetzel said. "I've been with Troy since midget football, so that's been the easiest transition to make. I never really worked with Hunter or Michael Reynolds when they were quarterbacks, but me and Troy are pretty much on the same page."
Keeping the Rams on the same page on offense is a big part of Whetzel's job on the field, and after missing the opener against Stonewall Jackson he's been out there every week.
"He's overcome some injuries," Roller said. "Last year at the beginning of the year, he pulled a hamstring. This year he rolled an ankle. He's been playing hurt all season long."
Roller said having Whetzel at center has been a stabilizing force for the offense, although the adjustment from quarterback to quarterback hasn't been much of a factor. If anything, Strasburg's quarterbacks have had to adjust to Whetzel over the years.
"I think what you get is an anchor," Roller said. "Obviously the most important part of the offense is to get the ball to the quarterback. Without doing that, you can't run a play."
With a rematch against county rival Central coming up on Friday in a Group A, Division 2 second-round playoff game, Whetzel is focused on helping the Rams keep their season alive by advancing to the next round, something Strasburg fell short of last season in a second-round loss to Amelia.
"We're not satisfied," Whetzel said. "We just want to keep getting better and better. We don't want to be like last season -- we just want to keep going forward."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>