Wilmington High football coach Brandon Phillian loves seeing the joy surrounding members of his team.
Perhaps no group exhibits that unabashed glee more than the members of his offensive line, four of whom are in the starting lineup for the first time.
Junior left tackle Jake Chimiak, junior left guard Morgan Whiting, senior center Jon Takash, junior right guard Weston Phanco and junior right tackle Connor Vass-Gal have been enjoying every minute of their team's unbeaten season, which has left it one step from a return to the PIAA Class 2A championship game.
The fivesome was front and center in the Greyhounds' 45-27 victory over Ridgway-Johnsonburg in a quarterfinal win at Slippery Rock University on Friday night. For their efforts, the Wilmington offensive line has been named Lawrence County's high school athlete of the week by the New Castle News sports staff.
Of the five, Phanco is the lone returning starter from last year's state runner-up team. He suffered a knee injury, however, in the win over Ridgway and is day to day. The fivesome has been doing its job consistently all year, but perhaps never moreso than Friday night, when the Greyhounds (12-0) rushed for 426 yards as a team.
"That's one of the things that makes it so rewarding for me as a coach," Phillian said. "Every year, you come in and see these guys starting on a new journey and experiencing the thrill of success.
"They've absolutely exceeded our expectations. Coming in, we knew they were good-sized kids, but you never know until they get out there together how they're going to gel together as a unit."
Vass-Gal is 6-foot-2, 289 pounds; Chimiak is 6-2, 280 pounds; Phanco is 6-1, 255 pounds; Takash is 6-0, 215 pounds; and Whiting is 6-3, 200 pounds.
"Your ability to move the ball starts up front with the big guys," Phillian said. "They play a very physical brand of football and it has shown in our ability to utilize the excellent athletes we have at our skilled positions.
"I'm so impressed that with so many first-year starters, they've been able to understand our schemes as far as the mental aspect goes."
Phillian said that accolades for the success of the guys up front goes to offensive line coach Dave Welch, himself a former Wilmington star.
"Dave deserves a lot of the credit — he just does a fantastic job with them, week in and week out," Phillian said. "Those kids would run through a wall for him. That's all you need to know about the kind of relationship they have."