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Sunday, March 7, 2021

Football

O-line lays foundation for Cougars football team


The role of "The Brick Squad" is to create holes for the running game and to keep quarterback Case Keenum from taking punishing hits from opposing defenses. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

(From left) "The Brick Squad" unmasked: right tackle Roy Watts, right guard Chris Thompson, center Jordan Shoemaker, left guard Isaiah Thompson and left tackle Jacolby Ashworth. | Joshua Siegel/The Daily Cougar

Kierrie Johnson is listed at 5-10, but after scoring his first touchdown of the season, he was met in the end zone by guard Chris Thompson and hoisted several feet off the ground to celebrate the score.

Playing on the offensive line is a selfless endeavor, with five players working together as one unit for the benefit of their teammates. The position does not come with flashy statistics like touchdowns and passing yards for fans to gawk at, but the line’s play is what makes those plays happen.

Celebrating in the end zone is one of the few ways that the low profile linemen get to see some attention from the cameras.

“Another part of being a lineman is that you don’t get as much of the glory as Tyron Carrier when he catches a touchdown or Patrick Edwards scoring a touchdown,” Thompson said. “So as a lineman, the only time to get some limelight is to go in the end zone and pick them up and celebrate. It’s all fun and games. I love those guys and I love doing it with them.”

Thompson says that his favorite part of playing on the line is scoring touchdowns and that happens when all five linemen, or ‘bricks,’ communicate and work in unison as one unit.

“We are all bricks, and this year we are the ‘Brick Squad,’” Thompson said. “My freshman year we were called the Wall, but now we’re all bricks and together we make that wall.”

Comedic relief

Head coach Kevin Sumlin said jokingly that “they’re all a bunch of weirdos.” The Brick Squad is made up of five big guys with five big personalities, the loudest of which are the guards, Chris and Isaiah Thompson.

“You have Chris and Pup, which is Isaiah. Those two guys are the comedians,” receiver Tyron Carrier said. “You’re having a bad day, you just sit around those guys and they’ll just make you laugh.”

Chris Thompson is a veteran of the line, but Isaiah is a newcomer to the offensive side of the ball, having played his first three years as a defensive tackle for the Cougars.

“He opens up to new ideas and new worlds,” Chris Thompson said. “I think when the decision was made that he was going to switch positions, he was pretty down about it, going from defense to offense, but collectively he’s a team player and he sucked it up.

“He has improved at offensive line, and now he’s the starting left guard. So that says a lot about him and his character and this team alone.”

Isaiah Thompson said that the transition was made easier for him because he was already close with his teammates on the offensive line.

“They have helped me out a lot,” Thompson said. “They helped me learn everything. They’ve been good teammates. Being good teammates they helped me out, and welcomed me with open arms.“

Meeting the “Bricks”

The two Thompsons are the loudest members of the Brick Squad, but tackle Roy Watts is the quietest.

“Roy he just doesn’t say anything at all. You don’t hear him say anything,” Carrier said.

Watts is happily married to his high school sweetheart, Jontae, and has a 2 year-old daughter, Paris. Sumlin said that he is the “grandpa of the group”. Balancing his family life with school and football can be a challenge, but Watts said he makes it through with the help of his fellow linemen.

“I rely on these guys; they give me a lot of energy,” he said. “I come here and just feed off that energy.”

Tackle Jacolby Ashworth is the youngest of the group. He is neither a loud comedian nor silent like Watts. Isaiah Thompson said Ashworth is a “ladies’ man”, but the dreadlocked sophomore sees himself differently.

“I’m ‘the singer.’ I’m pretty quiet, but I get into the mix sometimes,” Ashworth said. “They make me have to joke back.”

The Brick Squad’s leader on the field is center and roommate of quarterback Case Keenum, Jordan Shoemaker. His nickname is Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Communication amongst the linemen is crucial before a play, and it is the center’s responsibility to get the message out from the guards to the tackles.

“They do a great job of communicating, and it starts with Jordan Shoemaker on the inside,” Sumlin said.

“I think (offensive line) coach B.J. Anderson is doing a really great job with this group. They’re individuals, but the idea of an offensive line for me is to get five pennies to look like a nickel and, right now, I feel like that’s what we have.”

Chris Thompson knows the nature of playing on the offensive line can result in injury. He said that he feels the backup offensive lineman on the team could find themselves contributing to The Brick Squad.

“No one is promised through the whole season,” Thompson said. “We got some young guys — Ty Cloud, Kevin Forsch, Ralph Oragwu — who are working really hard. Hopefully they can step in and play for us if anybody goes down.”

“Big man on campus”

The Brick Squad feels that it has been mislabeled as a “finesse” group because it plays for a team known for its passing attack. The linemen’s goal is to shed that label by dominating this season.

“We want to change a demeanor to being more of a physical presence and dominant,” Chris Thompson said.

“That swagger is something that comes from outside of football. So if you have to be the big man on campus, walk around with your chest out just to let them know you’re part of the Brick Squad. Let it be told.”


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