RIO RANCHO – If you want to know how the proverbial sausage is made with the Cleveland Storm, you can browse this menu item – the Storm’s 1,450-odd pounds of offensive linemen.
But where to begin?
With the anchor, center Travis Lorenz? With valuable utility man, Josh Chavez? With the newbie, Parker Pulley? How about beefy guard Connor Burton? What about Andre Romero, described as the enforcer of the group by his head coach? Or the joker of the six, Isaac Toledo?
Actually, most any football coach would respond the same way:
You begin with all of them.
“We know how to work together because we all love each other,” said Romero, Cleveland’s right tackle. “And we have great chemistry with each other.”
The Storm (12-0) was top-ranked almost all season and is the No. 1 seed for Saturday’s 1 p.m. Class 6A state final against No. 2 La Cueva (12-0) in Rio Rancho.
And while Cleveland’s offense is plenty long on flash, this O-Line – not massive, but nevertheless sizable, plus mobile and athletic – adds substance.
“We’re all really close to each other,” said Toledo, the 230-pound left tackle who protects the blind side of sophomore quarterback Jeff Davison. “We all just clicked from the beginning.”
Five of the six – Chavez plugs in regularly, but is not a starter – have grown up together and ascended through Cleveland’s program. Lorenz and Romero were the only returning starters in 2018. Toledo and Burton filled two of the three vacancies.
The fifth was filled by the only junior among this otherwise all-senior group, Pulley.
“I think we have the best offensive line in the state,” Storm senior linebacker Dion Hunter said.
The group sat down for an interview earlier in the week. It was given some random questions.
Who is the best lineman of the bunch?
Three hands pointed to a smiling Romero, sitting in the back of the room wearing a black hoodie.
“He has a lot of experience, and he has a want to win every snap,” said Burton, a 275-pound left guard.
Indeed, Romero holds all of the current strength marks on the Cleveland roster. All of them. And he’s very nearly the lightest lineman (230 pounds), as only Chavez, at just under 200, carries fewer pounds.
“He’s special,” La Cueva coach Brandon Back said of Romero. “He’s the best offensive lineman we’ve seen (this season).”
Who is the most prodigious eater?
One of the nominees was Pulley, whose has fast-tracked his way into the Cleveland lineup.
He had never played football when he arrived at the Cleveland campus after transferring from Rio Rancho a couple of years ago. But at 6-5 and 285 pounds, he was a mark for Storm head coach Heath Ridenour, who started recruiting him. Eventually, Pulley was hooked. He is Cleveland’s right guard.
“It was a great decision,” Pulley said of his choice to join the Storm. And he admits that his cohorts have been patient and encouraging as he got up to speed. “Last year, I wasn’t the best. They saw I had what it takes, and they just (got) me to what I am now.”
(For the record, the boys determined that Lorenz, the 6-3, 230-pound center and the line’s anchor, is the biggest eater.)
And on that note, the linemen last January bought their position coach, Jason Hoffman – “best in the business,” Ridenour said – a book on how to cook pancakes. Why? Because Hoffman struck a deal that when they register 20 collective knockdowns in a single game, he makes them a pancake breakfast before the next game.
How often has Hoffman been cooking?
“A lot,” Lorenz said.
The fun-loving Toledo is always there to lighten the mood – “we’re kind of weird people,” he said with a smile. Of course, when you are 12-0 and blocking for the type of skill-position athletes Cleveland possesses, light moods are easier to find – even without junior tailback Dorian Lewis, departed several weeks ago with a season-ending knee injury.
Cleveland rushes for almost 250 yards per game, and the Storm has run the ball effectively in its first two playoff games against Manzano and Volcano Vista.
La Cueva’s defense is stout, so Saturday will be a difficult challenge for this veteran line.
“Dorian is special, and he gave them time to figure it out,” Hoffman said.
“Now they have totally taken over.”