Meridian senior two-way starter Spencer Blackburn is the strong, physical kind of football player teammates reshuffle in line for in order to dodge the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder in practice drills.
Opponents do their best to avoid him in games, too.
Blackburn has been a fixture in Laurel since he stepped foot on the Trojans' practice field as a freshman, and he certainly hasn't let up since.
"It's been very cool," said Meridian coach Bob Ames of watching Blackburn's development in his program. "He's been with us as a freshman, a sophomore and now everyone knows him and tries to avoid him. He is a great kid. He plays a lot of different spots for us, and it enables us to do different things defensively."
In fact, in Ames' 40 years leading the Trojans, only Blackburn and Class of 1984 graduate Travis Welch started along Meridian's offensive line as freshmen.
Even though at 190 pounds Blackburn was a shell of what he is now, Ames said his agility, strength and high football IQ made him a must-start.
"It means a lot, especially coming from a coach like that," said Blackburn of being one of two four-year offensive line starters under Ames. "He has 40 years of coaching experience, so I view that as a huge accomplishment."
Meridian (7-4, 3-2 NWC 1A) enters the week winner of three of its last four games and will looking to advance to the Class 1A State Playoff quarterfinals when it travels to play Cashmere in the state round of 16 at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16.
Blackburn has paired with guard Tucker Garcia to help pave the way for Meridian's potent rushing attack that averages 7.1 yards per rush. Running back Letrez Jones leads the Northwest Conference with 1,929 yards and 29 TDs.
Even he admitted his line makes him look good following Meridian's 28-12 district win against Lynden Christian a week and a half ago. Jones rushed for 205 yards in a half during the mini-playoff.
Defensively, Blackburn is a nightmare to scheme against and gives the Trojans a wealth of versatility playing tackle, end and even inside linebacker.
"It's just fun to go and run full-speed hitting people," Blackburn said. "It brings out the best out of everybody. You get to see who people are."
Blackburn also has been integral in keeping first-year starting quarterback Tanner Tutterrow upright. He said his line takes great pride in keeping his QB clean. Chemistry within the offensive line has helped the unit gel.
Meridian's line has changed a bit since last year, but Blackburn has played with fellow seniors Garcia, Jacob Dennis and Kaleb Heezen growing up during youth football and junior high, which has generated a lot of trust amongst each other.
Between playing offense and defense, Ames said there are simply too many pancake blocks and tackles for him to remember a specific top moment of Blackburn's career.
"When the ball is snapped, he has a very tough demeanor," Ames explained. "He'll knock somebody down, and then be the first to help him up."
Even with all of Blackburn's ability, Ames has seen his team co-captain improve this season. He was trying to do too much at the beginning of the year, but now Ames said he's settled down and has trusted his and his team's ability, and Meridian has enjoyed added success because of it.
What's driven Blackburn is his desire to play college ball. He said he hasn't received any offers yet but has seen interest. He's hopeful he'll be with a team next fall.
Right now Blackburn and his teammates are focused on getting past a 9-1 Cashmere team ranked No. 5 in Class 1A. Cashmere has scored no less than 48 points during its last six games.
Ames called Cashmere "the best team in the east" and said it has a tremendous pair of inside linebackers.
Reach Andrew Lang at email@example.com or call 360-756-2862.
CLASS 2A STATE PLAYOFFS
Friday, Nov. 15
? Kingston at Lynden (at Civic Stadium), 7 p.m.
Saturday, Nov. 16
? Sehome at Tumwater, 7 p.m.
CLASS 1A STATE PLAYOFFS
Saturday, Nov. 16
? Meridian at Cashmere, 1 p.m.
? Woodland at Mount Baker (at Civic Stadium), 6 p.m.
? Blaine at La Center, 2 p.m.
CLASS 1B TRI-DISTRICT PLAYOFFS
Friday, Nov. 15
? Taholah at Lummi, 6 p.m.
Reach ANDREW LANG at firstname.lastname@example.org or call ext. 862.