Blockers First

Against Calhoun earlier in the season senior running back Charles Shorter runs with the ball as senior wide receiver Nathan Willis runs out front looking for people to block.

 

The Loch Ness monster and aliens could be real they just aren’t proven.

The myth that the El Campo Ricebirds don’t like to throw the ball is just as untrue and that can be proven.

With a solid run game, the need to pass isn’t there, but the Ricebirds do count on their wide receivers from time to time.

Being a wide receiver in the El Campo Ricebird system is unlike anywhere else.

In most offensive systems, wide receivers run routes, catch passes, and get as much glory as running backs.

That is not the case in El Campo.

In District 13’s final stats last season, no El Campo wide receiver made it in the top 10 in receiving yards. Instead the offense ran the ball for more than 3,200 yards on the ground in 2019. They threw the ball for 392 total yards during the regular season.

“We’re part of the team,” senior wide receiver Nathan Willis said with a smile. “Run plays don’t work unless you’ve got a wideout.”

Receivers in El Campo are asked to block on first, second and third down. However, once, twice or if the Ricebirds are feeling really frisky, three times a game those blocking receivers run a route and make a big catch.

“We ask our receivers to block, yes, but that’s because we like to run the football,” Ricebirds Head Coach Wayne Condra said. “But that’s not to say we’re not going to throw it. When we do decide to throw it, we’ve got to be able to run crisp routes and be able to catch the ball.”

Having good hands and being quick is ideal, but it’s not all that is required to be an El Campo wide receiver. Pass catchers also have to accept taking pride in blocking. On the rare chance their number is called wide receivers have to do something that frankly isn’t natural, catch a pass. After locking up with defensive backs and driving them backward or out out of the way of a running back they’ve got to haul in a pass.

“It is a mindset,” Condra said. “We’re looking for those guys that are the total package. (Guys) that are going to be great blockers and execute that fourth and 10 catch.”

“That one time you’re open, it’s going to be big.” senior wide receiver Kaden Alcalais said. “That one time you block, your running back scores. It’s not about the receivers. It’s about the whole team.”

It’s not a stretch to say a catch, not a run, was El Campo’s offensive biggest play of the season last year.

Without a catch, the Ricebirds might have lost to the Fredericksburg Billies in the first-round of the playoffs and the excitement around this season could have been a little more muted entering the year.

Against the Billies, the Ricebirds trailed 14-13 and had trouble moving the ball late in the second half. On fourth and 11, with only two passes attempted on the night, then juniors, wide receiver Kaden Alcalais pulled in a pass from Cullen Braden. The catch was good enough for a first down. A few plays later, the Ricebirds ran in a touchdown taking the lead and the rest is history.

Passes don’t happen a whole bunch but when they do, it often catches defensives off guard. In El Campo’s first game of the year against Gonzales, they had 216 yards on the ground and 50 through the air on three catches.

“It’s definitely more excitement (when your number is called),” Willis said. “The defensive back knows you’ve been blocking the whole game so it’s the perfect (cover). You go up and act like you’re blocking him and then you’re wide open.”

Wide receivers might get more catches and pull in more touchdowns elsewhere, but in El Campo, blocking is needed and honestly its something they just plain like to do.

“I have fun,” Willis said. “(Defensive backs) get so (upset) at you blocking them every time, if (they) get hit in the mouth every play, they’re not going to like it.”

Through four games this season El Campo is on pace to throw the ball 443 yards. Leading the team in catches is junior running back Rueben Owens II who’s caught three passes 86 yards and a touchdown.

The running game this year is grinding out more than 360 yards a game. Passing isn’t always needed, but they’ve shown, they’ve got players that can catch the ball when it’s called for.

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