Blue Jays' experienced offensive line looking to get a win Friday

Aug. 31—JAMESTOWN — Being an offensive lineman can be a little uncomfortable.

Sometimes literally:

"What sucks the most is probably bus trips," Jamestown High School senior right tackle Colin Conway said. "The seats are very small and crammed — and it's hot."

Sometimes in other ways:

"You're underappreciated and the blame mostly falls on you right away," Blue Jay left guard Bo Nelson said.

"It's a very selfless position," junior center Vaughn Romsdal said. "You've got to be the guy who doesn't have to take all of the credit but just works his butt off just because he wants his team to win."

It may be uncomfortable, but for the five Blue Jays who are lining up up front, the good far outweighs the bad.

"You have one job and it is to hit the person in front of you," Nelson said. "It's a lot of fun."

The starting five — Nelson, Romsdal, Conway, Jack Van Berkom and Damien Cross — make up what is one of the most experienced offensive lines in the state of North Dakota. Nelson, Romsdal, Conway and Van Berkom played together for eight weeks of the 2022 season.

Last season the Jays' line helped produce 4,408 yards of total offense. The crew gave quarterback Payton Hochhalter time to complete 34 passing touchdowns and maintained blocks long enough to allow for 24 total rushing scores.

"Nothing has changed from last year," Conway said. "The goal is still the same — we have to protect the quarterback. The goal is for us to not let him get sacked. We have to be solid up front and give him time so he can do his own thing and not worry about us front five."

The goal hasn't changed but some mechanics have needed to change to accommodate the Jays' new starting quarterback Ryan Kallenbach.

"It does present a new challenge because he's a first-time starter and Payton had a lot of experience," Romsdal said. "I think we are definitely capable of protecting him for as long as he needs."

Kallenbach was 14-for-24 for 164 yards passing last week at Grand Forks Red River. The junior recorded one passing and two rushing touchdowns. The Jays had 321 yards of total offense last week.

"He's pretty athletic," Cross said of Kallenbach. "He escapes the pocket pretty well and I feel like he stands high."

Cross — like Kallenbach — is a newcomer to the world of varsity football. Cross, a right guard, suffered an ACL injury at the Jays' scrimmage last season. He worked to rehab the injury but after playing some minutes in a JV game, he was officially pulled and had to watch the rest of the season from the sidelines.

"This last year I've just been working on getting my strength back and making sure my knee is 100%," Cross said. "I'm back now (and) I've been having fun. I know I haven't had as many reps on varsity as these guys have but I don't feel like singled out. These guys are really understanding and they make my job easier just because they are pretty good too."

The offensive line will have to be more than "pretty good" if they want to get a win this week.

The Jays are set to host Turtle Mountain on Friday. Jamestown is entering the Class AA West Region tilt at 0-1. The Jays dropped 33-28 to Grand Forks Red River in week one.

"A lot of mistakes were made and 99.9% of everything is correctable," JHS head coach Bill Nelson said. "Their attitudes are good, they know we need to get better. It was the first game of the year, and there were bound to be some mistakes but that last quarter and a half — you take away one drive and we played pretty good football.

"In football, every single game is important," he said. "It's not like a lot of other sports where you get a home and away contest with teams and get to play an upper double-digits number of games so Friday night is a big night."

Last season the Jays went undefeated at home — a record they are eager to protect — especially because if they don't, they'll be 0-2 for the first time since 2012.

"You can expect a team that really, really wants to win because we know what it is like to lose now," Nelson said of what fans should expect on Friday. "We're going to come out hot."

Turtle Mountain is 0-2 on the year. In the four meetings between the Blue Jays and the Braves, the Braves have not beaten the Blue Jays. TMCHS' last winning season was in 1988.

"We're excited about it," Coach Nelson said of Friday's matchup. "Turtle Mountain struggled a little bit their first two games but they are still going to be coming to town ready to fight and ready to go.

"Any time you get to play at (Charlotte and Gordon) Hansen Stadium is a good time," he said. "You won't hear us whine and complain about being on the road — but we play pretty well at Hansen. It's pretty hard not to. That place is phenomenal. The confines of home are a beautiful thing."