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Thursday, Dec 05 2013 10:57 PM

'Ninjas' on the offensive line lead way for Drillers

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    Driller offensive linemen Patrick Crowley (50), and Dylan Guillermo, (73) open a hole for running back Jeremiah Reddick against Long Beach Poly.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    BHS running back Johnathon Malone escorted by offensive linemen Dimas Ramos , left and Dillon Littles against Wasco.

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    BHS offensive linemen Joshua Nunez (60) and MacKenzie McCoy(75) lead the Driller on to the field against Long Beach Poly.

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BY ZACH EWING Californian staff writer zewing@bakersfield.com

To Patrick Crowley, it was almost as if Paul Golla was asking him to move to another country.

It was after the 2011 season, when Bakersfield High had just completed an undefeated run to its 35th Central Section football championship, and Drillers coach Golla asked Crowley, then a sophomore wide receiver, if he'd consider a move to offensive tackle.

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Bakersfield 35, Clovis North 17

Garces 30, Visalia-El Diamante 28

Dinuba 38, Ridgeview 28

Tulare-Mission Oak 30, Bakersfield Christian 24

Mendota 35, Liberty-Madera Ranchos 28

Vista Murrieta 41, Corona-Centennial 35

"It was like a whole new world I hadn't thought of," Crowley said this week. "I had been playing receiver for four years, maybe a little tight end, but coach Golla came to me and said, 'Crowley, you look like a left tackle.'

"'Uhh, OK, coach, let me sleep on this.' I decided to go for it. It was a total immersion into like a different language."

Two years later, Crowley is a two-year starter and mainstay on the offensive line on a Drillers team seeking title No. 36 at 7 tonight when defending champion Clovis North comes to Griffith Field for the Division I section championship game.

"Ever since we were freshmen, we've been talking about it," Crowley said. "It was our goal. We wanted to win a Valley title as seniors."

Crowley was willing to do whatever it took -- and he wasn't alone. Dillon Littles, another receiver, moved to right tackle at the same time Crawley did. None of Bakersfield's other three linemen -- center Joshua Nunez and guards Dimas Ramos (a half-brother of former Driller Phillip Thomas, now an NFL defensive back with Washington) and Robert Trujillo -- threaten to break any scales, either.

As a unit, they average 221 pounds. That's not exactly the type of girth that strikes fear into the heart of opponents.

"A lot of teams look at us and at our roster and say we're small," said quarterback Asauni Rufus, who has run for 1,403 yards and 25 touchdowns behind the unconventional line. "But they don't realize how strong these guys are. A lot of opposing coaches have said that (after games). It's evident in the way we move people off the ball."

Often, Bakersfield's linemen use leverage and quickness to get past bigger defensive linemen and into the second level of the defense, where they can block linebackers. Unless a bulky defensive linemen can get a hold of Rufus or one of the Drillers' other speedsters in the backfield, big plays await.

"We call our linemen 'ninjas,'" Golla said. "We say, 'Guys, go be ninjas.' It's all about technique and leverage. If you have a big defensive lineman who's a 'leaner,' you can get a kid a who's 150 pounds to lift him off the ground."

Of course, convincing that undersized kid that he can do it is another thing entirely.

"It's not by design; we lack size," Golla said. "There's a rumor out there that we don't like big kids. Well, that's totally false. We love big kids. But these smaller guys have done a phenomenal job for us.

"... And we know we have a great team when a kid says, 'Coach, I'll play anywhere for us to be successful.' These guys want to help the team in any way."

Even if that means moving to another part of the football world.

"We have our own lingo, different calls, and also it's just the violence to play down there," Crowley said. "At receiver, sure, you block a little bit, but on the offensive line, there's no such thing as a play off. Every play, the person across from you wants to smack you.

"... I miss receiver every once in a while, but at the end of the day, I'm very pleased with where I've come and how far it's gone. I have no regrets."

Neither do the Drillers, who have defeated all of their Central Section opponents by 21 points or more and find themselves one more victory away from yet another title, even with former wide receivers playing at the tackle spots.

"Those guys are a credit to our team," Rufus said. "Without them, I don't know where we'd be."

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