Nyrel Sullivan has put up 808 yards of total offense this season for the Sterling Golden Warriors. If the Sterling senior can rack up 256 total yards Friday at Ottawa, he can reach 3,000 for his varsity career.
Sullivan collected 503 rushing yards on 41 carries in undefeated Sterling’s past couple of wins, but in order for him to put up such numbers, there needs to be an offensive line in front of him that can create space for him.
Perhaps lost, naturally, in the hype of names and stats is the wall of five big guys in the trenches – four of them returning starters. Tyler Willman (6-foot-4, 245 pounds) towers above the other four: the duo of 5-10, 220-pounders Tyler Hanrahan and Michael Eberhart; and 6-2, 265-pounders John Rahn and Kerry Reynolds. All five are seniors.
“The one unit that sticks out – even though we brought back four guys that start on the offensive line, they continue to get better,” Sterling coach Jon Schlemmer said. “It’s kind of a group that doesn’t get a lot of recognition, maybe, with the running backs and the quarterbacks.
“They’re as good as I’ve seen in a long time. They communicate real well, they take a lot of pride in what they’re doing, and they’ve been doing a real good job for us.”
On the line for the Golden Warriors is a Northern Illinois Big 12 West Division championship. With a win over Ottawa, Sterling can claim its eighth title, and sixth outright, in 13 years. The Pirates (1-6) have struggled this year, but Rahn took special notice of their defensive line, one he looks at as similar to LaSalle-Peru from Week 4.
“Their D-line is pretty quick,” Rahn said. “We have some big guys on our O-line. We’ve won against it so far this year, so I think we’ll be all right against that. Their D-line is smaller and quick guys, where a lot of the guys that we [faced] are bigger and stronger.”
Ottawa’s defense allowed an average of 24 points per game before a 42-0 loss last week at DeKalb. Linebackers Bryce Phelps (a 5-11, 224-pound junior) and Jake Ovanic (a 6-0, 184-pound sophomore) look to ride on the coattails of their line’s speed.
“Their defense kind of hops out at you,” Schlemmer said. “They’ve always played really well against us defensively, and have done some real nice things. The kids play hard, and I think over there that’s what they pride themselves on.”
“They’re not too big up front, but they kind of quick,” senior wide receiver Weston Sisson said. “Offensively, that’s what we’ve got to worry about.”
Ottawa has won just two games in as many seasons, this year’s win coming against Urban Prep-Bronzeville of Chicago, 14-12, at home. The Pirates are led on offense by 5-5, 140-pound senior Ethan Harsted, who has rushed for 387 yards and four touchdowns on 90 carries, and has 145 yards receiving and 1 TD on 13 catches. Under center will be senior quarterback Slaten Swords (5-11, 215), who has thrown for 518 yards and 6 TDs on 42-for-90 passing.
Despite what the win-loss record reads, Rahn and the Golden Warriors don’t slack over such opponents.
“We prepare for every team the same, no matter what their record is,” Rahn said. “Theirs isn’t the greatest at this point, but we’ll prep for them just as hard as we’ll prep for any team. We’ll just keep everybody in our head, and don’t let it get to us about their record, or anything like that.
“We’re going to go out, do our thing, and hopefully it goes our way.”
Sterling at Ottawa
When: 7:15 p.m.
Where: King Field
Radio: 94.3 FM