In sports, no relationship between two positions is as important as the one between a quarterback and his offensive line.
Offensive linemen are the unspoken heroes of a football team. They protect a quarterback and risk their bodies every play to do so. A quarterback must respect and trust his offensive line, and a good relationship off the field usually leads to a good relationship and positive results on the gridiron.
A few weeks ago, I received a text from Strawberry Crest quarterback Tristan Hyde. He was informing me he was planning to take his entire offensive line out to breakfast and was wondering if I could do a write up on the big guys who protect him on Friday nights.
“They’ve been working hard and don’t get much recognition,” Hyde said.
So, last Saturday, the morning following Strawberry Crest’s 28-14 win over Spoto, I joined Hyde and his six varsity offensive linemen at Fred’s Market in Plant City.
As expected, everyone brought their appetites, ordering the buffet. While eating, conversations ranged from thoughts on the game the night before to scoping out girls in the restaurant.
But, it wasn’t until after plates were cleared of eggs, hash browns and fried chicken that I really got to know the guys who battle it out each week in the trenches for Strawberry Crest.
Left tackle Cody Nulph, a senior captain, never played before coming to SCHS. Now, he is the biggest lineman and a leader for the Chargers. Like several other players, Nulph excels in the classroom and is enrolled in the IB program at SCHS. Between loads of homework and the demands of varsity football, he doesn’t have much time for anything else but enjoys going to the beach when free time presents itself.
Nulph plans to study engineering in college.
“Football isn’t vital for me, but I would play if the right opportunity comes along,” he said. “Academics are the top priority.”
Corneilius Neal, aka Corn, is another returning senior starter and the class clown of the group. When he isn’t playing football, he helps out at his grandmother’s house and works at Popeyes near Amwood High School. Neal says he enjoys listening to country music. When his teammates doubted him, he preceded to sing every word of Jason Aldean’s “Big Green Tractor,” that was playing in the restaurant as the rest of the table laughed hysterically.
Nico Cordero is another senior and returning starter, who also holds the role of long snapper for the Chargers. Cordero is the quiet one the group, but has a huge heart, regularly helping out with students with special needs.
He moved to the center position this year after a hole was left in the offseason.
“I just want to help out my team any way I can,” he said.
Cordero played his first two years at Plant City High, before transferring to Strawberry Crest. That’s when he started long-snapping full-time. He continues to practice the niche art in his back yard, hiking the ball to a target on a wooden board.
“I’m hoping to be a long snapper in college and maybe make it to the NFL one day,” he said.
In his free time, Cordero enjoys working on four-wheelers and motorcycles, along with riding them. He works at Plant City Motorsports and plans to study mechanical engineering in college.
The fourth and final returning starter is Cody McDaniel, the witty junior right tackle. McDaniel feels his fellow linemen share a good relationship with one another and that building a strong bond is important. He also plays varsity basketball for the Chargers and hopes to start this winter. Outside of team sports, he enjoys hunting and fishing on his family’s property in north Florida.
McDaniel hopes to get a college scholarship for football and study the medical field.
Jherri Green is a newcomer to Strawberry Crest, coming to Dover from Osceola High. He has been subbing in at guard this season.
“Everyone has accepted me here, and they all love me,” Green said.
Green enjoys hunting and fishing and was clear that he wants a house “under the water,” and not on the water, one day.
“So I can look at fish,” he says.
Emory Williams is the youngest of the group. The sophomore will turn 15 Sept. 23.
He earned the nickname “Thickumms” from teammates, after a barber shaved off his long dreadlocks and left long, thick sideburns.
“Even the coaches call me that now,” Williams said. “It just kind of stuck.”
This is Williams’ first year playing on varsity. Like Green, he subs in as a guard for the Chargers.
“Varsity is a lot faster and more intense than JV, but the thought of having the chance to be a three-year starter feels great,” he said.
Whether it’s the senior leader, the comic relief, the quiet tactician, the witty junior, the new guy or the baby of the group, the offensive line at Strawberry Crest is full of personality. It’s attributes such as these that define a football team: how those personalities mesh together and play as one to successfully run an offense.
Last year, the Chargers line helped Hyde pass for 2,112 yards and 20 touchdowns. SCHS totaled 3,167 yards last fall. With four starters back and solid depth, the Chargers are hoping to continue that success in Hyde’s junior season.
“You have to be good enough friends with your quarterback,” Nulph said. “You don’t want him to get hurt or for anything to happen to him.”