Young, thin and inexperienced up front, the Prairie View Spartans' success this season depends on the development of its linemen.
"We're young; we have no seniors on the line," Prairie View coach Reagan Morrison said.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it is imperative that the Spartans avoid injuries.
Battling dwindling numbers for the past several years, the Spartans are down to 18 players on the varsity roster. Only eight of the 18 are listed as linemen.
"As far as the skill positions, we do have some depth," Morrison said. "We have some options at the skill positions. The line is where depth is an issue. We have to stay healthy all the way around, but especially up front."
Left tackle Ross Blackard (jr.) is the lone full-time returning starter on the offensive line, although right tackle Ty Barnhill (jr.) and right guard Clay Moore (jr.) gained significant experience last season.
"Ross started every game for us last year and Ty and Clay started some games for us," Morrison said. "After that, the kids coming up from JV are going to have to step up and fill some holes."
A couple of sophomores, Preston Goodson and Nathan Tarver have cracked the starting lineup at left guard and center, respectively.
Rounding out the rotation are guards Dylan Mewborn (jr.) and Chris Peltzer (so.) and tackle Devin Hughes.
While the line showed some promising signs as the Spartans split their Riverfield Jamboree games with Tallulah (an 8-0 victory) and Riverfield (a 30-8 loss), the group remains a work in progress.
"We have to get more people up front sustaining their blocks," Morrison said.
Prairie View will begin the season without starting quarterback Dylan Carroll, who underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL, PCL, LCL and meniscus suffered in a Week 5 injury vs. Tri-County last season.
Carroll indicated during the preseason that he would be in the starting lineup for Friday's regular season opener against Riverdale, but is still awaiting medical clearance.
After getting off to a 3-0 start, the Spartans were 1-5 following Carroll's injury. His value to the team was clearly evident at the end of the season. Despite playing in only five games, Carroll was voted as the Spartans' 2012 MVP by his teammates. It wasn't a sentimental gesture — the Spartans were shutout in four straight games after their quarterback went down.
Until Carroll returns, Lucas Crockett (so.) will run the offense.
"I thought Lucas did a good job in the jamboree," Morrison said. "It's good to have Lucas get some game experience. It's going to help him down the road. When Dylan comes back, Lucas is going to be a big help for us at wide receiver."
Page 2 of 2 - Starting running back Hunter Green (jr.) missed the jamboree with a bruised hamstring, but is expected to be in the lineup for the season opener. Also available in the backfield are Hunter Carpenter (so.), Layne Gray (jr.) and Nolan Whorton (so.).
Whorton, Matt Reed (sr.), Chyenne Mayo (sr.), Riley Smith (so.) and Cole Bryan (so.) are the receivers.
Playing both ways is a way of life for the Spartans. With the exception of Carroll, every player on the team is responsible for a minimum of two positions.
Crockett, Tarver, Mewborn and Peltzer are the ends, with Blackard, Tarver, Barnhill, Moore, Hughes and Mewborn seeing action at tackle.
Morrison is looking for the front four to make strides with experience.
"Defensively, we are going to have to do a better job of getting off our blocks," Morrison said. "Up front, we were getting blocked and staying blocked (in the jamboree)."
Green and Gray are the inside linebackers, with Carpenter and Whorton at the outside 'backers.
"We don't have a lot of size, but we have some folks that will stick you," Morrison said. "Nolan Whorton is one of them. He doesn't shy away from contact at all."
Mayo, Bryan and Smith are the cornerbacks, with Reed at safety.
Reed earned first-team MAIS All-District 3-2A honors as a punter last season, averaging 38 yards on 60 punts, with a long of 61.
Crockett is the placekicker, with Tarver in charge of the deep snapping.
The kick return duties will be handled by committee.