Casual fans may not know as much about Independence standouts Tony Adams and Chris Wade as they do about the Patriots slew of talented skill players, but the offensive line mates aren’t going to let that bother them.
Adams and Wade’s contributions don’t end up in the box scores, their names aren’t called on game day and they don’t get much of the adulation from the fans. But they’re fine living in relative anonymity as long as they’re doing their job and helping the Patriots win games along the way. Adams said they’re resigned to the fact that the lack of recognition goes with the territory, and it doesn’t bother them as long as they know they’re playing well.
So, instead of seeking headlines, the pair of offensive linemen – who are arguably the city’s top tandem – are going to do what they’ve become accustomed to doing: opening up gaping holes for the Patriot running backs, giving quarterback Kelvin Hopkins a pocket from which to throw and affording him time to find his stable of talented pass catchers.
“It’s (not) a lot of notoriety when you’re playing this position,” said Adams, a 6-foot-2, 292-pound center. “Either you don’t get thanked or you get (blamed) for all of the bad things that happen. It’s one of the most difficult positions to play because you’re in the trenches all the time.
“You don’t make tackles, you don’t score the touchdowns, but you have to stay focused on every single play and just play the game for the love of it.”
Adams, who has committed to N.C. State, spent his summer trekking the Southeast and impressing college coaches at a number of camps and combines. But after attending a N.C. State camp, Adams impressed Wolfpack coaches so much that they offered him a scholarship on the spot – one which he readily accepted.
Wade can see why his fellow linemen drew the adulation of so many coaches.
“His run-blocking and tackling are what he does best,” Wade said of his line mate. “As a center, he can’t turn his shoulder, but he’s always squared up and basically on run blocks nobody can get by him.”
Much of the same can be said about Wade, a 6-foot-5, 280-pound tackle who has committed to Furman after using the online recruiting tool NCSA.com.
“He has really good pass blocking,” Adams said of Wade. “He gets his hands on the guy and is able to stay with him, so he’s a very good tackle.”
With the Patriots’ linemen playing in near-perfect harmony and complimenting each others’ skills, the Patriots have taken off.
Wade and Adams feel that the offensive line they lead has developed into one of the conference’s best units, highlighting the Patriots’ resurgence from highly-regarded pre-season state champion hopefuls to a team which lost three of its first seven games and was struggling to find a consistent identity.
Adams said all of that changed once the offensive line came together, putting the brunt of the Patriots collective struggles square on their wide shoulders.
“As an offensive line we knew we had to get better and get better at communicating with each other,” he said. “Once we started getting better communication and getting the gist of everything, we really started to get our run block better and we started to do everything better.
“As a unit, we all needed to come together and that’s what we did – we fixed that and fine-tuned it.”
As a direct result of the offensive line developing into a more cohesive unit, the Patriots have become a more complete football team and won three in a row with a chance at a conference championship looming this week.
“For our team, I think our position is the one that has improved so much and we’ve gotten so much better as a unit,” Adams said. “Where we started the year to where we are now, we’re doing so much better than we did, that it’s remarkable how much of the step we took.”
Adams continued his thought after a slight pause, while offering a smile.
“Yeah, we’ve had some setbacks,” he said. “But a lot of times setbacks are the beginning of major comebacks.”
The Patriots are making a comeback of sorts, even though their three losses have been by a combined nine points. This week they have a chance to win their first outright conference for the first time since 2006.
Although many outsiders expected the Patriots to win the conference title before the season began, there have been bumps in the road. People laid praise and unjust expectations on the Patriots before they stepped on the field, due to the high-power offensive that combines Adams, Wade and Hopkins with running back Isaiah Robinson and receivers Workpeh Kofa, Jamiek Evans, Will Walton and Jamar Jenkins. That’s not including their underrated defense, with defensive backs Adonis Alexander, Deion Washington and a number of playmaking linebackers, including Jimmel Twine (who will miss the rest of the season after an injury last week).
However it wasn’t until the offensive line gelled completely that the Patriots were able to fulfill their destiny and have a shot at a conference title. Even without Twine, their leading tackler, the Patriots feel they’re in line to take the next step on their quest for a league title.
Overcoming adversity is something the Patriots have done all season, and something Adams feels they can do once more to reach the first championship goal of a conference title.
With the talented and tight-knit offensive line leading the way, doing the dirty work to let their teammates generally take the spotlight and newspaper headlines, Adams is focused on achieving the Patriots first goal: something a win this week could give them.
Although the offensive line knows their presence and daily contributions make them the most influential unit on the field, Adams and Wade say they have all of the admiration and respect they need inside the Independence locker room.
“We get a lot of praise all of the time, but we don’t get a lot of the press coverage and that’s fine with us,” Adams said. “All of the praise that we need comes from our teammates and coaches. When we get that, it means everything.”
So with the line in perfect harmony and their collection of skill players, the Patriots know this is the game they’ve been waiting for.
And, Adams said, they’ll be ready.
“We’re going to win the conference championship no matter what, that’s the confidence I have in this team,” Adams said. “From where it started to what we went through and where we will finish, to go through the playoffs and win the state championship would be a remarkable comeback and that’s what we want.”