As Southern Columbia prepares for Wilmington for the second straight year in the PIAA 2A state championship game, it seems as if the team has everything they would need to capture the ninth title in school history. However, one unit of the Tigers that might go under the radar on Friday is one that has improved the most since practices began in the summer.
Southern Columbia center and team co-captain Troy Donlan has seen only one loss over the past four seasons. The senior knew the season was going to be a grind, but he understood the importance of breaking it down to a week-to-week basis.
“Coming into the season everyone was talking about back-to-back state championships. It was really tough because we’d go into some weeks playing a team like Hughesville who has no wins and you’re thinking ‘Oh we’re only going to play a half,’ but really it’s trying to take things one week at a time, to get ready for this season,” Donlan said.
The offensive line was a question mark in the summer, however Donlan and his linemates put the pedal to the metal way before the season began. Over time the group has stepped up and continues to stress excellence.
“So, at the beginning of the year we had different guys working at different spots. That was one of the big things. We didn’t really have good chemistry. The three of us returning, (John) Stabinski, (Oak) Six and me, were the seniors trying to get some of those younger guys into it, to fit into a starting role,” Donlan added.
Each practice throughout the season pushed Southern’s offensive line to try and take the next step in helping the team. Coaches would make sure to hold the offensive line to a standard during growing pains.
“Coaches would get on us. They really got on us for a while there. One of the main focuses coming into the week would be offensive line execution,” Donlan explained about the intensity and focus of practices. “We really made it a point of emphasis to stay on blocks, understanding blocking schemes better. We’d do all sorts of things, like sled push and doing different technique work. We’d use the chutes that we have.”
Donlan noted that offensive line coach Mike Johnston helps to make sure players are mentally and physically ready for each game.
“Coach Johnston, he’s a really good coach and really intense guy. He’s also one of our strength and conditioning coaches. One of his big things was to be mentally prepared for games and be physical,” Donlan said. “You can be as strong as you want or you can be as athletic as you want, but you need to have physical and mental toughness to beat the other guy across from you.”
One of the key elements in this year’s title run have been the squad’s practice habits. According to Donlan, the team never does live tackling drills throughout a week.
More To Prove
Donlan wants the team’s linemen to show that they are the best offensive line in their class as well as the state.
“I think from a line standpoint we need to prove we are the best offensive line that this state has to offer, especially in 2A. We need to be more physical and prove that we can wear these teams down and be back-to-back state champs,” Donlan said.
Tomorrow’s state championship has Southern watching film left and right, leading to a positive buzz around the club. According to Donlan, there is a lot to like about this matchup for the Tigers when it comes to making plays against the Greyhounds.
“There’s definitely stuff you can see. It really helps that we played them last season, so our coaches got a good understanding of what they did last time we played them. And since they had a lot of guys returning, we have a good idea what their players are like,” Donlan added.
Wake Up Call
The Tigers have found different avenues to win games this season and a game that woke them up was their game against Central Columbia on Sept. 21. Southern won the contest, 54-27, thanks to five touchdowns in the second half. Donlan thought it was a game that helped him and his teammates in a big way moving forward.
“I definitely look back at the Central game, because we were tied going into half. We came out really slow. The defense had some let ups. I think that was our wake-up game. Once we hit the second half we kicked it into another gear. We were playing like we should’ve been. You have to have a game like that every once in a while, so you’re not thinking things are going to be this easy through the whole season,” Donlan explained.
Fueling the Tigers
Southern has made it a priority to get its players ready way before the season begins. Head coach Jim Roth has implemented a consistent practice plan featuring drills and weight lifting.
“The past few years he’s done a schedule. You’ll know if you’re doing offense or defense that day, or if we’re doing individual sessions for our position. Really there’s no wasted time in our practice sessions. At the beginning of the season we condition pretty well,” Donlan said about his team’s practices. “We have speed camp in the summer then we have lifting three days a week. Each weekend we have a line challenge. Skill guys go to 7-on-7. Our workouts during the season aren’t too excruciating. We lift two, maybe three times a week.”
Donlan also said that it is nice the Tigers are able to hold a team dinner every Thursday. The meal consists of food with plenty of carbs and protein, such as chicken and pasta.