‘We’re going to come after you:’ O-line steadies Paetow’s success
KATY—The offensive line was a big question mark for Paetow coming into this season. The Panthers graduated five of six starters from the 2020 campaign.
As it turns out, however, it’s the biggest, strongest offensive line in the program’s four years of varsity play and a central reason the Panthers are 13-1 and in the Class 5A, Division I state semifinals.
“It’s the first O-line we’ve had that they’ve been in our offseason for multiple years,” coach B.J. Gotte said. “The physicality is one of the biggest things to get accustomed to moving up to varsity football. We finally have some size up front, and it’s been the difference in being able to take our game to the next level.”
The group is senior-heavy, led by 6-foot-4, 275-pound senior team captain and right tackle James Bailey. Senior Isaiah Villanueva (6-4, 265) is the other tackle. Senior Jeremiah Richard (6-2, 210) is the center. Senior Anthony Dorantes (6-1, 285) and junior Nicolas Lira (5-11, 230) are the guards. Senior Josh Prieto (5-10, 195) is the tight end, a position Gotte considers an integral part of the blocking up front.
“This year’s O-line hadn’t played together as much, especially compared to last year’s,” said Bailey, the lone returning starter. “But I think what’s key is each one of these guys has worked hard and stepped up to be what we are.”
The run game accounts for 66 percent of the Panthers’ offense. Paetow averages 270.3 rushing yards per game. Sixty-three of its 88 offensive touchdowns have come on the ground.
Senior running back Jacob Brown produced program single-game records of 346 yards and five touchdowns in the Panthers’ 35-12 regional final win over Hightower last week. The first thing he credited during postgame interviews? The O-line.
“From weights to reading keys, they’ve come a long way, and it shows,” Brown said. “It’s not just me out there getting 346 yards. It’s all of us.”
Brown is one of three Panthers who average at least 10 yards when they carry the ball, along with junior running back D.J. Johnson and senior receiver Kole Wilson on jet sweeps. Brown has 1,394 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns. Junior Damyrion Phillips, typically the No. 2 back, has 1,271 yards and 19 touchdowns, at 7.5 yards per tote.
“It’s awesome blocking for them,” Richard said. “When we get to the guy we’re supposed to and execute and then see them hit that hole and break for a 70-yard touchdown … that’s what we do. That’s us playing together. We all play selflessly, for the man next to us, and we do our jobs.”
Villanueva said this season has been a progression of “who we are and what we can do.” At the beginning of the year, there was a lack of communication as most of the linemen were still getting to know each other. The process of getting to know someone involves the maturation of trust, and that was lacking as well.
Eventually, the linemen bonded. As a result, calls and play improved.
“We’re really physical and we’re going to come after you,” Bailey said. “We’re going to use our speed and physicality to overwhelm you to do what we do. We know we have to play hard and play fast to make up for some things, and all of that put together makes us a unit.”
Gotte played the offensive line at Katy and coached at Katy. He brought some of Katy’s O-line schemes with him when he was hired to open the Paetow football program in 2017.
Gotte and offensive line coach Jamie Bridges teach it all: inside zone, outside zone, gap scheme, wide zone.
“We can go two-back, or we can spread it out,” Gotte said. “It is very intricate, a lot of different schemes. The flexibility is probably our most advantageous thing. We’re able to adjust what we do up front to fit the type of skill kids we have.”
While it obviously works, it doesn’t make for an easy learning curve.
“It’s a whole different offensive scheme,” said Villanueva, who transferred from Langham Creek last year. “It was something that totally blew my mind. It took me a minute to learn it. The key is to not take a block for granted and don’t make somebody else do your job. That’s something we all do real well. We do our jobs.”
Gotte raves about all his linemen but singles out Richard in particular. Richard is the “prototypical program kid,” Gotte said. Someone who has climbed the program ladder step by step and worked tirelessly to earn a starting role as a senior, overcoming a serious hip injury suffered the summer before his junior year along the way.
“To see him have success and hear other coaches across the district talk about how he stood out to them on video has been really cool,” Gotte said.
Villanueva and Dorantes are stepbrothers who moved in last year and played on the JV. Prieto was moved to tight end from fullback out of need this season and has responded with crucial big plays in the passing game.
Lira will be the lone returning starter next season.
“It’s been a crazy journey,” Villanueva said. “It was a bunch of guys who had never played together. But we worked really hard in the offseason because we understood what we could do if we came together and played as one.”