By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
If these guys were roomies, it might be like the only thing left after tonight would be empty cans of energy drinks and maybe a dirty refrigerator.
When Muskogee caps its 2012 football season at Bixby tonight and fills the bus for the trip home, all five starters on the offensive line and their top reserves will have played their final game.
Gone will be J.B. Clark, David Kummers, Tristan Watson, Dexter McGriff and Nigel Harris, all starters, as well as Dillon Rice and Mitch Sweeney, two who have either rotated in or started in recent weeks. Adding another senior, Jefferson Moore, to the mix at tight end, those will see their final action tonight.
They’ll also take with them all the size of this year’s roster.
The vacancies will be noticed.
“We’ll be smaller next year, which means a totally different offensive philosophy,” Muskogee coach Josh Blankenship said. “We hung a lot of hopes on this group in terms of being a grind it out type offense and for a half against Sand Springs, we did just that. It was effective then, and it was effective against Sapulpa.
“Then our most physical running back went down against Sand Springs and didn’t come out the second half. Against Sapulpa, our tight end gets hurt and is unable to finish. It was one of those things that if the pieces fell together, we felt it could jell into some consistent success.”
The frustration has been felt by those players too.
“So many times we’ve been this close, so close to making big plays or scoring a touchdown and at the same time, we’ve been miles away,” said Kummers.
And, they add, it hasn’t been for lack of effort.
“People will come up to us and say ‘aw, you guys must not care anymore,’ It’s so far from the truth,” said Clark, the center for most of the season who will start at quick guard this week.
“One thing we’ve learned form this year is never give up. You can tell by our practices we could have easily shut it off and coasted but we still get out there every day and go at it like we’re going to the playoffs.”
Clark knows more about commitment than meets the eye in this season. As a freshman, he was 6-1, a sluggish 350 pounds, and a fringe player on the JV with little hope of starting on the varsity. Together with his mom, they embarked on a no-flour no sugar diet before his sophomore year. He shed 60 pounds and at the same time, increased his bench press by 100 and dropped his 40 from 6.5 seconds to 5.9. All the footwork drills that once made him trip were executed smoothly.
“Without football I don’t know where I’d be right now,” he said. “It’s taught me discipline, how to stay committed. Going through what I had to then reminded me how much I loved the game.”
Kummers, who will start at center tonight, remembers those days.
“He was awesome,” he said. “When he started it we were like, ‘OK great’ and that was about it. But after he started losing it was like ‘man, he’s really committed to the team and he wants to be a better player and take it to the next level and I respect him for that.’”
But it all comes to an end tonight.
“We want to win this one bad. It’s the last time most of us will ever play this game and definitely the last day we’ll play together,” Clark said. “But even if a win doesn’t come, if we can look each other in the face and say we gave it all we had, then I’ll have no regrets.”
A win would cap that legacy, however lacking in playoff memories it might be.
Beyond tonight, Kummers leaves some advice to whoever becomes tenant of that room.
“I’d tell them it’s not about size. It’s about commitment and how much hard work you put in. I’m the smallest lineman and I’ve put in as much work as anyone we’ve had. Going back to summer pride, we had the best group attendance-wise and work-wise,” he said.
“If the guys next year put in that effort and work to perfect technique, that can overcome a lack of size. But they’ll have to be committed.”
Muskogee at Bixby
Radio: KCXR 100.3 FM
Webcast: Muskogee Roughers.tv