All-senior offensive line quietly excels for Whiteland

Tayton Schakel earned All-State honors two years ago as a sophomore, yet most casual high school football fans still don’t know his name.

Such is the life of an offensive lineman. Most of them could commit a crime in broad daylight and still not get identified in a police lineup. It’s an anonymous existence.

But few notice their car’s engine while it’s running smoothly — and the five big seniors lining up at the head of Whiteland’s offense are fine with being the quiet driving force that keep the Warriors moving forward.

“We don’t really care,” center Josh Merriman said of the lack of individual attention. “We know what we do, and I think our team praises us enough. Our running backs praise us. They try to shout us out sometimes in the interviews. It’s not that big of a deal to us, because we know the impact that we have, and we just take great pride in it.”

Merriman, left tackle Schakel, left guard Zach Yaryan, right guard Dylan Kidwell and right tackle Will Hagan, have fused their combined 1,221 pounds together, forming an unheralded Voltron that has pushed Whiteland all the way forward into Saturday’s Class 5A state championship game. The Warriors have compiled 4,980 yards of total offense this season, with 3,953 of those (301.9 per game) coming on the ground.

Having a veteran offensive line that’s been working together for years has been the key to it all.

“If you think about it, this will be their 25th game that they’ve started together or played together,” said Whiteland head coach Darrin Fisher, who coaches the offensive line group along with assistant Dan Engel. “They can finish each other’s sentences, to be honest.

“They’re the backbone.”

The senior quintet has started side by side for the last two seasons, but they’ve all known each other for far longer than that. They all grew up running Fisher’s offense in youth ball, and they grew plenty familiar with one another in the process. They are, as the coach says, “very in tune with each other.”

“We can rely on each other,” Merriman said. “We’ve been doing this for so long — two years we’ve all been playing varsity, but we’ve been playing together our whole lives. We all know what we’re going to do on certain plays, how we react; certain situations, who’s going to get the block and what what the D-lineman does, what the defense is doing. We all just trust each other. We know what we’re going to do, and there’s no doubt.”

Fifteen different players have carried the football for Whiteland this season, and they’ve generally all been successful because of the work being done in front of them. The Warriors rushed for at least 223 yards in every game this season, gaining ground at an average of 6.7 yards per carry. Schakel, Yaryan, Merriman, Kidwell and Hagan keep paving wide-open running lanes for everybody, week in and week out.

Whether the rest of us notice them or not is irrelevant to them.

“They just want to win,” Fisher said. They don’t care who gets the credit. They just want to win. They’ll do whatever it takes to win, and those guys don’t miss reps.

“They just do what they do.”