NEW BRITAIN - It was during the middle of practice when Tebucky Jones looked over and watched Shawn Robinson run through a large gap on the left side.
The New Britain head football coach shook his head a little and gave a wry smirk.
“I’ve never had a line like this since I’ve been here,” Jones said and watched the Hurricanes run the play again with the same result.
It’s been that group of five - tackles Devon Bishop and Oran Burnett, guards Juliano Morales and Yasser Vasquez and center Brandon Rivera - who have helped lead a resurgent season for New Britain, one that has the program on the cusp of making the Class LL playoffs for the first time in four years after going 5-5 over the last three.
Ask any member of the offense, from the quarterback to running back to receivers and they’ll say the same thing. Everything starts upfront.
“We depend on our linemen the most,” quarterback Tahje Yopp said. “They’ve brought us here and we’re going to keep riding them.”
The Hurricanes have certainly done that this season.
Through the team’s first eight games, New Britain is averaging 43.3 points and has only been held under 30 once this season, which happened to be its lone loss. The majority of that damage had come via the run game.
The Hurricanes have rushed for 2,555 yards so far and should have two 1,000 rushers by the time the regular season ends next week against Berlin. Robinson has 1,013 yards, while Yopp has 828. And of the 45 touchdowns the New Britain offense has accounted for, 39 have come on the ground.
In their latest win, a 63-26 rout of East Hartford, the Hurricanes ran for 468 yards and seven scores.
“They block their [butts] off every week,” Robinson said of the offensive line. “At practice, if there’s a mess up in the scheme, they blame it on themselves. If I don’t hit the hole they created, they put that on me and make sure I’m doing the best I can and make sure I give it 100 percent every play. They don’t get a break, so why should I?”
New Britain’s offensive line takes things personally, both the good and the bad. The group did against East Harford after hearing the Hornets believed they had the best offensive line in the state.
The linemen expect to hit certain benchmarks every single week, from having at least a 100-yard rusher to making sure the team gets in the end zone multiple times to most importantly, getting a win.
“From last year, we had 2,000-plus yards rushing, so now we have to shoot higher,” Morales said. “We have the offensive line to do it, so it’s about going out there and executing. We’ve been working hard to reach this point since summer, working on our craft. Everyone is getting stronger and faster and something nobody can stop right now.”
But what makes this group so dangerous for opponents to face, isn’t necessarily its collective size - it’s often the biggest line teams will face this season - or stamina, but all five are able to know what player next to him is going to do or call before the ball is even snapped.
That, of course, is the result of all the off the field work.
“We’re all close friends,” Bishop said. “We’re at each other’s houses all the time. We’re at [Morales’] house all the time. His dad loves us. We’re always eating, playing the backyard, playing Madden, having fun and building a bond outside of football. We’re trying to develop something so when we’re on the field, we know who we’re playing for. We know how much is at stake.”
Especially with New Britain more than likely needing to win its final two games to be playing in December and the Hurricanes have every intention to use their best and biggest asset to get there.
“Everything starts upfront,” Jones said. “Winning in the trenches is the key to winning.”
David Glovach can be reached at (860) 801-5085 or firstname.lastname@example.org