By Kevin Harvison
McALESTER — A 21-yard touchdown pass from Dalton Wood to Caden Pratt put the McAlester Buffaloes up 7-0 at Noble on Friday. But as the offense trotted to the sideline after the play, neither Wood nor Pratt received the loudest praise from McAlester’s coaches.
That honor went to receiver Blakely Williams. Though Wood threw a perfect screen to Pratt and Pratt dodged several tackles as he always does, Williams made it all possible with a key block downfield.
“When we’re in film, the first thing we talk about is how they block,” Buffs wide receivers coach Austin Maddux said Tuesday.
“I’ve had far more compliments from people telling me that our receivers block well than I have anything else that I’ve done since I got here.”
McAlester’s offense relies heavily on screens, bubbles and jet-sweeps — two passing plays and a run, respectively, that rely on the receiver or running back getting to the sideline. If defensive backs and linebackers penetrate into McAlester’s backfield, those kinds of plays can easily go for no gain or even turn into negative yardage.
To keep defenders off the line of scrimmage, McAlester’s receivers have to know how to block, and how to block over and over again without drawing holding penalties. Maddux said he and fellow receivers coach James Barr run blocking drills at practice every Monday, and last year they ran similar drills every day.
“If we run 80 plays, I’m probably throwing 60 blocks,” Harkins said. “I used to have a real habit of when I wasn’t getting the ball, just come off all slow and not really care. But as you see on film, it just doesn’t look good. It doesn’t help the team any, either.”
Almost all of McAlester’s starting receivers this year are seniors, with big contributions in both receiving and blocking coming from Pratt, Harkins, Williams and Mason Bumphus. Senior Allen Woodmore and junior Keaton Slater have also recorded receptions this year and also had to block for other receivers.
“The footwork’s the most important part,” Williams said. “You just have to be able to keep your feet and keep your eyes on the corner.”
Maddux said his receivers don’t look at run blocking “schemes” in the same way the offensive line does. Instead, the receivers have “rules” that depend on how many receivers and defenders are on each side of the field.
“Almost every time, the outside receivers are going to be on the corners,” Maddux said. “And then for the inside guys, let’s say we’re in ‘trips’ (formation), they have to make a call on how they’re going to get to a guy because of alignment.”
All those receivers also play defense for the Buffs, with all but Slater playing defensive back. That definitely gives them an advantage as blocking receivers, because they have a better sense which defenders are more likely to rush the receiver and which are more likely to drop back.
The veterans receivers also have the advantage of experience. Caden Pratt’s move from receiver to quarterback last year forced the Buffs to rely even more on sideline plays like sweeps and bubbles, so the receivers had to get good at blocking fast.
“We probably lost the Bishop Kelley game (last year) because we didn’t block very well,” Coach Pratt said. “We’d get into the open field, and the person that was over, the guy wouldn’t block him, and that was one of the reasons we got beat.”
“If we don’t block, we’re not very successful.”
Avoiding extra calisthenics — a common punishment at Buffs practices — for blown blocking assignments has also sped up improvement.
While blocking physically makes the offense function, it also mentally binds the team together, because not every receiver will get the ball as much as every other receiver. But if the players buy into the philosophy that blocking for each other matters as much as scoring, they’re less likely to feel frustrated if the ball winds up in someone else’s hands.
“They’re all really unselfish,” Maddux said. “They know that if they’re blocking for somebody, than somebody’s going to block for them.”
Maddux added, “They know that we’re not going to throw them the ball if they don’t block.”
Through four games, Harkins and Caden Pratt have combined for more than 50 percent of the team’s receptions. But in being willing to block for each other, all of McAlester’s receivers have played a role in their team’s dominant offense.
Contact Matt Goisman at email@example.com.