The players and coaches on Patrick Henry High School’s football team will once again board the bus Friday and settle in for a journey through scenic Southwest Virginia.
Last week it was a long haul to Hurley.
This time it will be the lengthy trip to Lee High.
The roads can twist and turn, loop and curve.
However, the path to the end zone for PH has been smooth to navigate with senior offensive tackles Ryan Bunnell and Nate Stovall paving the way.
“I’m impressed by how they dominate the line of scrimmage,” said running back Cody Smith of the Rebels. “That’s what allows us backs to get to the second level.”
Patrick Henry (3-0) is averaging 47 points and 322 rushing yards per game entering Friday’s contest with the Generals as Smith and fellow running back Zach Brown have been touchdown making machines.
Much of the credit can to go the 6-foot-4, 285-pound Bunnell and 6-foot-6, 301-pound Stovall.
“They are the experienced leaders of the offensive line,” said Patrick Henry coach Mark Palmer. “They both have improved a tremendous amount since they were freshmen. They provide stability and a sense of humor to a position that does not get much recognition.”
When not overpowering the guys lined up across from them, Bunnell and Stovall could be classified as gentle giants.
“Nate is the team prankster,” Palmer said. “He really enjoys his teammates and can very easily prank them and get them going. He will tell the other linemen that we are running extra or getting out of practice early and every time they believe him. Ryan has a heart that is as big as his body. He is very kind and has worked very hard to improve throughout the year. He has a 480-pound squad max which shows his work ethic in the weight room.”
The two are all business when it comes to their blocking assignments.
Palmer passes out helmet stickers to his players and offensive linemen get them for pancake blocks.
Bunnell and Stovall have received the prizes frequently.
“They love them,” Smith said. “It’s always good to hear Coach Palmer say double digit numbers for their pancakes in games.”
It also helps when Smith and Brown are toting the pigskin as they are dynamic playmakers.
“It’s great playing alongside those guys,” Stovall said. “You can just about always expect them to score when they’re running the ball.”
Stovall and Bunnell were the only returning starters on the O-Line from a team that went 11-2 and finished as Region 1D runner-up to Chilhowie.
They knew they had to assume leadership roles and the unit hasn’t missed a beat.
“Offensively, we have worked very hard in practice,” Bunnell said. “Repping our plays to make sure all of the kinks and hiccups are fixed so that we are ready to do what we do on game day.”
Guard Hunter Wachob, center Clay Mora and guard Braxton Light have excelled. Derek Aker has also played a number of positions up front.
“We lost some really skilled and tough linemen,” Stovall said. “However, this new line has brought a whole lot to the table and I’m excited to see how far we will go.”
On Friday, they’ll travel far and try to move to 4-0.
“The bus rides are long,” Bunnell said. “But they give us more time to focus on the battle ahead of us and also more time to go over what we need to do to get the job done in our head.”
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