A&M Consolidated senior offensive lineman Trey Zimmerman tells it like it is.
Consol’s skill players still get most of the glory from the outside — even on a team with plenty of talent in the trenches — but Zimmerman knows how important he and his fellow linemen are in the fourth-ranked Tigers’ 6-0 start, including a 3-0 mark in District 10-5A Division II. He also knows they’ll need to play well again when Consol plays Katy Paetow in a matchup of the district’s last two undefeated teams at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tigerland Stadium.
“The coaches know that the offensive line controls the game,” Zimmerman said. “We know that, too. If you’re really into football, you also know that.”
Zimmerman’s upfront personality made him a natural leader for an offensive line losing all-state performer Reid Francis off last year’s team. He is one of two returning starters, along with Brandon Waggoner. Both head coach Lee Fedora and offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Sean Witherwax are pleased with how Zimmerman took ownership of the group, which includes senior Joseph Garcia, junior Khol Watson and sophomore Barton Melder.
“He’s got a lot of passion,” Witherwax said. “He knows he can do things both inside of what we do and outside of what we do.”
Zimmerman, coming off an all-state season himself, is impressed with the growth he has seen from the unit over the first half of the regular season, especially since the first half against No. 7 Huntsville on Sept. 27. After sputtering in the first half with quarterback Gage Pahl getting sacked seven times, the offensive line helped pave the way to a 24-point second half for a 24-14 win over the Hornets. The Tigers rushed for 176 yards in the second half against Huntsville, the preseason district co-favorites. In the two games since, the offensive line dominated Montgomery and then-No. 8 Lamar Consolidated, helping gain 502 yards per game over that period. Pahl was sacked just once in those games.
Communication is the key to the line’s improvement, according to Zimmerman. Garcia, the center, makes most of the line calls, and the younger guys adjusted to the speed of the game and are processing pre-snap calls faster. It’s helped the Tigers pick up blitzes more effectively.
The improved communication isn’t limited to just the linemen, though, as Pahl and the offensive line also have established synergy as the season progressed. Even when there has been pressure in recent games, Pahl easily has been able to avoid it by either stepping up into a clean pocket, getting out on the edge to throw downfield or making a play with his legs. Pahl has 675 total yards over the last two games in two of his best performances to date.
“We knew [former Consol quarterback Caden Fedora] could scramble really well, and this year, Gage, we know he likes to sit in the pocket because he has a great arm,” Zimmerman said. “We just know that we have to hold on our blocks a little bit longer than we did with Caden.”
Like his ability to adjust to the quarterback he’s blocking for, Zimmerman’s versatility allows the Tigers to put their offensive line in the best position to succeed by moving him around. The 6-2, 270-pounder has played every position on the line except center this season. According to Witherwax, Zimmerman’s combination of athleticism and deep understanding of the scheme are what make him special and allow him to move from spot to spot on the line.
In an era where offensive linemen are just starting to receive their dues as athletes, Witherwax believes Zimmerman typifies the new paradigm.
“Having to match up with [athletic] defensive linemen, you have to get guys that are just as skilled in there because we’re spreading everything out [offensively],” Witherwax said. “When you spread everything out, you’re spreading your gaps out, and you need to block those gaps. Having athletes on my offensive line is just the trend of where football is going right now.”