When the Palestine Wildcats entered two-a-day practices on the first of August, the biggest question for the season was the Wildcat offensive line.

Palestine had no returning starters from the 2004 squad which reached the Class 3A, Division I state semifinal game. And after spring practice, Palestine offensive line coach David Wilbanks was confident in three of his starters, but was unsure if he would have anyone else to step up in the other two positions.

But nine games later as Palestine is heading into the playoffs, the Wildcat offensive line has become the backbone to an offense which is averaging 39.2 points a game and racking up 429.9 yards of offense per game.

“This offensive line has come through and has had a very good season,” Wilbanks said. “They have had a quick learning curve and the experience I have had with these kids has been very pleasant.”

Palestine head coach Glen Tunstall calls the play of the Wildcats’ offensive line as one of the biggest surprises of the season.

“Whenever you come into the season with no returning starting linemen, it is going to be a challenge,” Tunstall said. “I give all the credit to coach Wilbanks, he has brought these young men along.”

The Palestine offensive line consists of left tackle Phillip George, a senior, left guard Allen Williams, a senior, right guard Mark Harcrow, a senior, right tackle D.J. Hall, a junior, and the combination of juniors Ricky Miller and Austin Atwood at center.

“These young men are the most important part of the football team,” Tunstall said. “They have improved each week and their confidence grows after every game.”

The lack of returning starters has been a trend for the Palestine offensive line through the last few years, but each year the Wildcats put together a unit which helps Palestine set new offensive records.

“It seems every year our offensive line consists of seniors, so each year we are looking for new players,” Palestine offensive coordinator Tommy Allison said. “At the beginning of the season we are just hoping to find guys who can do the job.”

This year, Palestine not only found players who can do the job, but do it at a high level.

“I feel we have the best offensive line in the district,” Allison said. “They have done an outstanding job and have more than exceeded our expectations.”

The three senior linemen were backups last year, watching for the most part from the sideline as Palestine made it deep in the playoffs.

“We have been waiting for this since we were freshman,” Harcrow said. “And we had some big shoes to fill from last year.”

The Palestine coaching staff knew those three seniors were going to have to step up as starters this year.

“Sometimes with offensive lineman, you just have to wait your turn,” Tunstall said.

George moved into the starting left tackle slot, the same position his older brother, Joseph, played the year before.

“Phillip is a very physical lineman,” Wilbanks said. “And when he gets mad at someone, he takes it out on the field. He also is one of the smartest kids in the school.”

Wilbanks calls Williams one of the leaders on the line.

“Allen recognizes when things are not going well and he is not afraid to say something,” the offensive line coach said.

Wilbanks said the third senior, Harcrow, has worked hard in becoming a starting lineman.

“He has a lot of heart and desire,” Wilbanks said.

Hall played on the junior varsity team last year but has moved into his varsity role very smoothly.

“D.J. is one of the quietest kids I have been around but he is a silent killer,” Wilbanks said. “He is aggressive on the field and he does not make many mistakes.”

The center position came down to the final days of two-a-days practice and the job went to Miller.

“Ricky has a lot of quickness and even though he is 175 pounds, he plays like he is 200,” Wilbanks said.

But when Miller broke his ankle in the seventh week of the season against Diboll, Palestine had to turn to Atwood to do the job.

“Austin has really stepped up and has come around,” Wilbanks said.

Atwood’s first start was against Crockett and he did have his struggles but the next week against Westwood, he calmed down and had a strong game.

“I was nervous that first game,” Atwood said. “But I felt more comfortable against Westwood.”

The Palestine line has been a force in the running game as the Wildcats are averaging 238.6 yards on the ground. Palestine has had four games with more than 300 rushing yards.

The offensive line also has kept the Palestine quarterbacks well protected in the passing game as the Wildcats have allowed only three sacks this season.

The linemen agree that the biggest factor to having success is having trust in one another.

“In our zone blocking scheme, you have to trust that each person is going to do their job,” George said.

Harcrow said that the offensive line has learned how to function as a single unit, working as one.

“We have learned each other and are able to predict each others actions during the game,” Harcrow said.

Williams added, “It has to be all five of you and not just one player.”

The Palestine offensive line has been able to take over late in games. In Palestine’s win over Jacksonville, the Wildcat offensive line was able to push over the Indian defense in the fourth quarter, leading to a comeback victory.

“You can always tell when the defense is getting tired,” Williams said. “When we see that, we start playing even harder.”

The offensive linemen do not get any of the glory that comes with winning. They are not the ones who score the touchdowns or get their pictures in the paper for making the big plays.

While they do not get the headlines, the Palestine linemen know that when the offense does well, it all starts with them.

“It is self pride,” Hall said. “Also our teammates will tell us good job for what we do.”

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