For much of the season, Kennedy Brooks has led the area in rushing. Perhaps the scary proposition for opponents is that his offensive line is still getting better each week.
Any successful running back will tell you it starts up front. For as talented and effective as Brooks is, there’s a collection of guys toiling away largely in anonymity. While the casual fan may not notice their work and progress, head coach Daniel Maberry certainly has.
“Offensive line is one of those positions in all of football that, if they’re playing all as one cohesive unit, they’re going to have a lot of success,” he said. “If they’re not on the same page, it looks bad for our offense. I’ve seen the progression, and you see our offense getting better when they do that. (Arlington) Lamar has a very good defense, and I was impressed with how our kids got after them.”
The offensive line was a point of concern entering the season, primarily because the unit featured just one returning starter. Now eight weeks into the season, that group is feeling more cohesive.
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“We’re communicating a lot better and coming off the ball and working more as a team,” tight end Mason Ackroyd said. “I think we’re really starting to get into a good groove. We’re all starting to develop relationships and coming closer as a unit. I just think we’re coming together finally.”
As a tight end, Ackroyd is not only a common fixture blocking up front, but occasionally gets to feature in the passing game. And he relishes those opportunities.
“It’s a great feeling. I love getting the ball,” he said.
Ackroyd has five catches for 76 yards this season, and admits he’d like the ball in his hands a bit more frequently.
“I’m just out there doing my part,” he said. “When I get the ball, I get the ball. I just want to take advantage of the plays I get to the best of my ability. But we all love getting the ball.”
The passing game has also progressed throughout the season, evidenced by the aerial touchdowns of 76 and 57 yards in last Friday’s victory over Lamar. But everybody knows the running game is still the engine that powers Mansfield’s offense. And Ackroyd says he and other offensive linemen take great pride in Brooks leading the area.
“Definitely,” he said. “Kennedy is great. We just have to give him creases and let him do his thing. We’re getting to the point where it’s really just starting to click.”
Opposing defenses know they’ll get a heavy dose of Brooks, which is why the continued progress of the passing game is paramount.
“You go from the first game of the season to now, we’re light years ahead of where we were at,” Maberry said. “The way we run the ball, if we can be more effective with our passing game it’s going to open things up for our offense.”
“I think we’ve grown a lot,” Ackroyd added. “[QB Shawn Hartsfield] is throwing the ball a lot better and starting to connect. The passing is important because they’ll load up the box to stop Kennedy, so if we can get some good passing, that’s important to our success.”
With Arlington Bowie’s loss to Arlington last Friday, the Tigers now sit alone in first place in the District 4-6A standings. Mansfield travels to Arlington Sam Houston (2-5, 1-3 in 4-6A) this week before a date with Bowie on Oct. 27 that will likely decide the district title.