BELOIT - Whether it's Pop Warner or the National Football League, as the saying goes, it's what's up front that counts.
What's been happening to Beloit Memorial at the line of scrimmage, quite frankly, isn't pretty.
The rebuilding Purple Knights (1-6) lost their two starting junior offensive tackles, Aidan Wright (broken collarbone) and Andrew Chavana (knee injury), in their fourth game of the season and their running game pretty much went with them. Already facing mismatches against the Big Eight Conference's powers, the loss of that duo simply exacerbated a major problem.
"We lost our best football player in Aidan Wright," first-year head coach Ken DuBose said. "He brought an identity to us. He and Chavana are good-sized kids with big futures and we've struggled to replace them."
The Knights have had to rely on sophomores to step in on both sides of the football. While DuBose appreciates their courage, the Knights have been outscored 149-6 the past three weeks, including 49-0 against Madison Memorial last week.
"I'm not discouraged," DuBose said. "This is all just part of the story. Last week we started a senior at center and four sophomores at the other positions on the offensive line. If they couple this experience with a strong off-season I think we have a chance to be more competitive next season. The thing that feels like a ray of hope is that all these kids just want to play. I guarantee in a few weeks when this is over, they're going to long to play again. We just have to keep them on the path. We have to lift weights and I think these kids actually get that. We have a great weight room and there's no reason we can't get ourselves physically ready for this league."
DuBose said it will take a lot of hard work to catch up to the best in the Big Eight.
"Until we get better up front, we're not going to have a lot of success in the Big Eight," he said. "This conference has very good linemen. If you asked me the difference between the Big Eight and the NIC-10, it's the linemen. Aiden Wright would be one of the best linemen in the NIC-10. He's that good. But Verona has two kids like that and Middleton has eight kids like that."
He goes a step further.
"There is no doubt about it," he said. "Sun Prairie, Middleton, Madison Memorial, La Follette and Verona are the same sort of programs as Hononegah, Boylan and Harlem, If we were playing in the NIC-10, we might be a .500 team. But we're in the Big Eight and as I always tell the kids, the Big Eight doesn't care."
DuBose has the Knights allocating time before practice to lift weights.
"I got that from a good buddy at Lake Zurich," he said. "They've always had a good program and they've always spent a portion of their practice time in the weight room. Some schools have Sports P.E. where they lift, but that's something we don't have in place here. We have to make lifting together after-school fashionable."
If the Knights improve up front, they'll be able to take advantage of some of the potential in the backfield. While he says his quarterbacks "have been under siege" he appreciates the potential of junior Sloan Kilgore and sophomore Griffin Oberneder. Sophomore running back Anthanee Crawford also could be a find.
"(Crawford) played with the jayvees against Madison Memorial and ran for about 200 yards," the caoch said. "At Madison West, he had around 160. He can be a good one."
DuBose said he appreciates the work Athletic Director Joel Beard is doing coordinating the football program from middle school on up. The freshmen are 2-3-1 this season, but have been competitive in all their games and tied a previously undefeated Memorial squad.
The task for the varsity, however, isn't easier this week as the Knights head to Verona. They close the season at winless Parker.
"We've got to go up and play a good team at Verona, then obviously we have the Super Bowl against Parker," he said. "We'll figure it out. We had Blaze Beauleau, who had never played before starting on the line last week and sophomore Demetrius Johnson stepped in at guard. We're getting Eli Winfield back and that should help. We're hoping Chavana will be back against Parker, too."