Odds are interior defensive lineman Dalton Ohligschlager, Brody Weinheimer and James Cuny won’t lead Lynden in tackles when the Lions face Sedro-Woolley in the Class 2A State Championship this weekend.
Fans may only hear their names over the loudspeaker a time or two, but that doesn’t mean their importance is diminished.
In fact, the trio has one of the most vital jobs on a Lions’ defense that prides itself in working as a singular unit.
“Unsung hero is the best title for those guys,” Lynden defensive coordinator Blake VanDalen said in a phone interview. “What we ask our defensive line to do is slant. They need to take out as many offensive linemen as they can. Trent (Postma), Caden (Lair), Bryce (Sterk) and Jensen (Mayberry) get all the attention, but the reason they can (make tackles) is those three guys in the trenches.”
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If football assists were the same as basketball assists, Ohligschlager, Weinheimer and Cuny would lead the team in that category.
Attempting to wreak havoc against 200-plus-pound linemen every snap certainly isn’t a glorious job, but setting the tone up front and allowing others to make tackles is something the defensive line group takes pride in, Ohligschlager said.
“I love that it is an unselfish position,” Ohligschlager said in a phone interview. “I like slanting the O-line, and letting the other guys make the tackles. It’s not glorious, but it’s a job that needs to be done, and I like doing it.”
The group has improved as the season’s wore on, VanDalen said, and they have been a big factor in the Lions’ improved defensive play.
Lynden is yielding an average of 104.5 rush yards per game during the Lions’ four postseason games against Shorecrest, River Ridge, Hockinson and Ellensburg, a major change over the 173-yard average given up during Lynden’s nine regular season contests.
And while the trio’s job is the same, they’re each different in their own right.
Weinheimer, a 6-foot, 195-pound sophomore who as a freshman wrestled at the state tournament, impressed enough to earn a starting spot on a Lynden team that’s won the past three state titles. Establishing oneself as one of the team’s top 11 defenders is no easy feat, VanDalen said.
Ohligschlager, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound junior and baseball standout, spells Postma at running back and seems more suited for lining up across from a receiver than a lineman. But he has a linebacker background, and VanDalen said his combination of toughness and speed allow him to excel against bigger opponents.
“You just got to stay low a lot and not worry about the size,” Ohligschlager said. “Focus on speed, which I can use to my advantage and not the bigness of the linemen I guess.”
Cuny, a 5-foot-9, 195-pound senior, plays nose guard while Ohligschlager and Weinheimer flank him on each side in Lynden’s 3-4 defense, which could also be viewed as a 5-2. Cuny exclusively plays defense, and VanDalen said he’s a regular recipient of Lynden’s defensive scout team award, which is handed out to the scout player most responsible for preparing the starting offense.
Slanting against offensive linemen may sound simple, but it takes time to learn.
Lynden’s D-line has to identify the play and correctly make a crucial first step. Following the first step one of three things can happen: a play can go toward them, away from them or a lineman can pull in the opposite direction. Based on what the linemen see, they take the appropriate action to blow up the play’s design.
As the line begins to grow and learn the position, VanDalen said the group can get more involved in tackling ball carriers, and even though playing the interior defensive line isn’t conducive to making a lot of plays, Ohligschlager, Weinheimer and Cuny have made their share.
Weinheimer has 36 tackles, 39 assists, Ohligschlager has made 33 tackles with 48 assists and Cuny has logged 25.5 tackles and 29 assists. Junior Nathan Gomes, who subs in when a player needs a break, has 10 tackles and nine assists.
VanDalen downplayed the increased importance of the defensive line’s play against a Sedro-Woolley team that loves to run the football, reiterating everyone on Lynden’s defense must work together, but the trio will undoubtedly need to play strong in order to trim down the season-high 373 rush yards the Lions gave up during a 33-30 Week 8 win against Sedro-Woolley.