Up Front: Firebirds are confident in offensive line

Free State running back Jax Dineen (33) carries the ball in a scrimmage against Olathe North during the University of Kansas football team camp at Memorial Stadium on June 5, 2017.

It usually takes a few months for an offensive line to take shape, but Free State High’s football players are thrilled by the potential they’ve seen in one week.

The Firebirds believe their group of blockers is building into something special, especially after their first look in pads at the two-day University of Kansas football team camp, which concluded Tuesday.

“Our offensive line is going to be pretty big,” senior lineman Spencer Roe said. “Coach (Bob Lisher) said it might be the biggest he’s seen. We’re pretty excited about that.”

Roe and senior Nathan Spain return from last year’s starting lineup, and they’ve added some extra height across the line.

The Firebirds feature several offensive linemen who were listed at 6-foot-4 or taller last season, including Roe, Jalan Robinson, Turner Corcoran and Gabe Clark.

In addition, the Firebirds have Ben Holiday, Brandon Zeller and Zach Rasys, among others, competing for starting spots.

“They not only have some size, but they have some athletic ability, which is a huge advantage,” Lisher said. “We have to get that athletic ability and size going in the right direction and working together.”

Free State quarterback Jordan Preston (17) looks downfield for a pass during the University of Kansas football team camp at Memorial Stadium on June 5, 2017.

During the KU camp, which had players in helmets and shoulder pads, the Firebirds scrimmaged against a variety of teams including Garden City, Manhattan, Lansing and Eudora.

?Free State’s offensive line, which is still learning plays, caused headaches for opposing defenses. Height is one thing, but the group’s speed and natural footwork — Robinson and Corcoran played on the varsity basketball team last season — make it even tougher to shed blocks.

“It’s nice running behind it,” junior running back Jax Dineen said. “Sometimes you can’t really see over it, but you see the little holes.”

With a big group of linemen, the Firebirds are confident their long list of skill players can take advantage in open space.

Free State has three players vying for starting quarterback: senior Gage Foster, junior Jordan Preston and sophomore Malik Berry.

All three of them rotated time behind center during the two-day camp, and Lisher said he’s looking for a dual-threat quarterback who can make solid reads when running and throwing.

“At times, one of them looks a little better than the other, then the next series, the other one looks better,” Lisher said. “It’s just ongoing and changing. We’ll continue to evaluate for the next couple of weeks.”

Free State quarterback Gage Foster (5) prepares to fire a pass during a scrimmage at the University of Kansas football team camp at Memorial Stadium on June 5, 2017.

One of the biggest benefits for Free State’s linemen at KU camp, besides facing various types of defenses, was the chance to learn new positions. Corcoran was a tight end last season, moving to tackle. Roe spent time at guard and Holiday, a junior, was playing center.

“We were better this morning than we were (Monday) just because we had an opportunity to work on a little bit before camp started this morning with some of the things we saw on film,” Lisher said. “That helps tremendously.”

The Firebirds, who will have some linemen playing on both sides of the ball, will play in Baker University’s padded camps next week, giving them another opportunity to show improvement.

But if the first week was any indication, the Firebirds are expecting their offensive line to help lead them in the upcoming season.

“We have a good chance this year to be pretty good,” Roe said.