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Featuring the Season Ahead: Hulking Hamburg line hoping to live up to preseason hype

Pictured from left, Kyle Brown, Wes Riley, Joe Degrood, Devyn Helac and Jeremiah Bill make up the offensive portion of what should be a dominant Hamburg line.

A group of hulking athletes to control the line of scrimmage must be a dream come true for a coach such as Mike McFadden.

A former lineman himself who many times works specifically with that unit, the Hamburg head coach has his type of team, and also one he believes can be successful because of its strength, size and experience up front.

A core of returning linemen will actually be the key pieces leading the Bulldogs into the 2012 season. These aren’t just your run of the mill linemen. Junior Jeremiah Bill and senior linemates Wes Riley and Kyle Brown are not only big, they’re also athletic and can play with a mean streak.

“I’m pretty optimistic about this team; we’re very big up front,” McFadden said. “You’re talking three kids 6-foot-3-plus and 270-pounds-plus and they can all move.”

Linemen aren’t always the most talked about players on a football field, but with this group, it’s difficult not to take notice.

“It starts with us,” said Riley, who returns from a season-ending injury that occurred in Week 3 of last season. “The big guys get the push and set the tempo. If we can get the push, we’ll get some positive yardage.”

Area coaches are talking about this group and 2012 opponents are preparing for Hamburg’s potential physicality up front. It may be flattering to hear such compliments but the three realize it matters little if they can’t live up to the preseason hype.

“It feels good but we’ve got to live up to the hype. If we don’t show it on the field, it doesn’t matter,” said Bill, who has started since his freshman year. “We are the core of the team. The team will go as far as the line goes.”

With inexperience at many of the skilled positions, the line may in fact have quite a bit of a say about how far Hamburg could go this year.

“We’re the more experienced guys on the team so we need to set the tempo for the whole team,” said Brown, who also excels as a thrower in track and field. “We need to get the ball rolling and take it from there.”

McFadden said Bill, his left tackle, just keeps getting better every season after last year earning a Class A South First Team selection. Bill will be joined on the left side at guard by senior Devyn Helac, who McFadden noted is one of the hardest workers on the team.

Brown, at 6-foot-4, 285-pounds will play at the other tackle spot, next to Riley. McFadden considers Riley an All-Western New York candidate and calls him “the real deal.” Sophomore Joe Degrood moves into the starting center spot on the offensive line.

Bill, Riley and Brown will also need to be the strength of the defense as interior lineman, according to the team’s defensive coordinator, Pat Cauley. Helac will be a key component of that unit on defense, too, along with senior defensive end Sean Simonos.

“We have to play a great leadership role,” Helac said. “We need to keep everyone up and working hard. I feel like we’re a pretty good team. We just need to keep working hard and see what happens.”

That feeling seems to be mutual among this group. After winning only three games the past two seasons, Hamburg should be on the upswing and the line will be a large part of it.

“We’ve had a rough few last years, so we’re looking to shock some people and get a good amount of wins,” Riley said. “It’s pretty cool that we’ve got some hype. We’ve got a bunch of big guys who can play. But that’s just word of mouth. Nobody really knows until Game One of the season. We’ve got to bring it then.”

It’s not often that such attention is paid to linemen. McFadden is glad to see this group get its due.

“When you have a good offensive and defensive line, it makes everything easier on everyone else,” McFadden said. “If holes are there, I think we have the players to run through them. We feel very comfortable with what we’ve got up front.”

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