Tarleton’s offensive linemen are mean and nasty ‘choir boys'
STEPHENVILLE — Any running back will tell you much of his success is thanks to the big fellas up front. The Tarleton offensive line is no different, helping boost a top-notch running game for several years.
The Texans averaged 178.9 yards on the ground per game last season, a mark that would have been 20th best in the FCS, if not for the team's reclassification period. Six Tarleton running backs averaged over 25 yards on the ground per contest, which means the system has a lot to thank for that kind of production. More specifically, the offensive line.
"We've always been known to be pretty tough around here, that's what I want to continue doing," Assistant Coach (OL) and Run Game Coordinator Scott Carey said. "That's getting off the ball, striking people and running the football. That's kind of where we've hung our hat the last three or four years and that's what we're going to continue doing."
Hung their hat, indeed, as Tarleton has had one of the best rushing attacks in the country the last few years. In 2019, a year in which Tarleton was Lone Star Conference champions after going 8-0 in conference and 11-1 overall, the Texans averaged 248.0 rushing yards per game, 14th most in NCAA Division II. A year before that, Tarleton averaged 310.1 yards on the ground, third most in Division II, as the team went 12-1 overall, 8-0 in conference.
It's been the same song and dance for the team from Stephenville, and continuity may have a lot to do with it.
"Continuity's a big thing," Carey said. "I have some guys who have been around here playing for a long time. That means a lot when you have a group that kind of knows each other, the ins and outs. It's the same group that played last spring, with a couple of additions, so it's going to be exciting, the continuity is going to be great."
Returning up front is senior Javon Chambers, who is now in his fifth season at Tarleton. He's played in 35 games, and was part of the offensive line that allowed just 1.38 sacks per game in 2020.
Junior Kendall Dearth is returning for his fourth season, coming off a year in which he was named to the Phil Steele FCS Preseason All-Independent Team and was a First Team Academic Momentum Award winner, one of 27 student-athletes from across the country to earn First Team honors.
Two other upperclassmen are also back again, with senior Zach Perry and junior Austin Whitehead ready to keep the Tarleton way going, a line that was charged with just five holding calls all of last season.
"I think we're going to be really, pretty good," Dearth said. "We've been working really hard and we've been really pushing each other, [especially] in the film room studying. We kind of just make each other better. We got a ways to go, but we're going to get there."
As far as how the group is off the field, Carey said you'll find no better people.
"I think the biggest thing is to know they're kind-hearted people," Carey said. "When they put their helmets on, it's go-time and they'll be the meanest guys you've ever met. I think to be an offensive lineman, you have to be tough but you also have to be soft because you're that protector. Those guys go out and protect the quarterbacks and the running backs. That's when they turn that switch and get nasty.
"But off the field, they're choir boys."
Whitehead said he was in choir in high school, so the comparison might check out. Regardless, he said there's no better group to be around, and he loves his time at Tarleton.
"I love the people here," Whitehead said. "Everyone I have met has been great to me, everyone's helped me out. I just love the people here, it makes it easy to go to school here."