Derby’s offensive line is huge, skilled

By Joanna Chadwick

Alex Key, Jonas Vickers and Dylan Conn have played together on the offensive line since junior football in Derby.

“We’ve had a lot of time to bond and grow together as friends and teammates on the offensive line,” said Vickers, a 6-foot-2, 305-pound right guard. “We’ve been able to develop to play at a high level and execute.”

The chemistry between this trio — and the other linemen, Chris Thomsen and Wyatt Jackson — is outstanding.

“We’re able to trust each other on the line,” Vickers said. “People who come together who don’t know each other, they may not be able to perform as well because they can’t trust each other. We go back so far that we know how to better each other, push each other. We play on that competitive level.”

The Panthers open their season Friday night against visiting Newton. Derby was unable to find a Sept. 3 game due to the fact that Newcastle, Oklahoma backed out on the second year of a two-year contract.

The offensive line will be blocking for the versatile, quick and physical running back Dylan Edwards, who is one of the most highly recruited players in the Wichita area. Edwards is in his second season starting.

“All I need to do is get a hole fast,” said Conn, who is a 6-4, 300-pound center. “Sometimes he comes right up my butt and scores. Me and Jonas will double team the nose guard and work up to the backer. I’d choose Dylan every day over a safety.”

It’s a big offensive line, which has to give that backfield some relief.

“We’re all about the same weight, same height,” said Key, who is 6-4, 280 pounds. “It’s a great advantage. It makes blocking a little easier.”

Conn added: We kind of have the advantage against smaller teams and younger teams…. The advantage is strength and power and we’re kind of intimidating when we walk together.

“That’s a big ‘ol line.”

And they’re strong due to the time and focus they have in the weight room.

“I’d say we’re the No. 1 line in the state,” Key said. “We have the mentality that we’ll outwork you. We work together inside and outside of school. We go as hard as we can in the weight room and are constantly pushing each other. We’re feeding off each other’s energy, too.

“We try to be the leaders in the weight room. Try to get everyone to push and try their hardest. I’ve always been a weight room guy. That’s my thing. It’s fun. The stress just fades away.”

It’s also competitive.

But while the linemen are competitive with each other in the weight room, outside they are all about helping each other out.

Conn said he makes mistakes in practice, but he always knows they have his back.

“We’re all there to help pick each other up when we mess up,” he said. “I mess up quite a bit in practice. They pick me up. They know I’ll get it and get it worked out.”

Jonas Vickers breaks down his fellow offensive linemen

Alex Key: “Speed. He is extremely quick for his size,” Vickers said. “His feet are amazing. He’s had great technique since middle school. He can read the defense…. He’s an extremely smart player and a quick player.”

Dylan Conn: “What makes him a good center is he can control. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him not be able to control a noseguard. He can move as well as he can drive a noseguard back. He’s a powerhouse. We squat in the weight room, and he throws up major amounts of weight.”

Chris Thomsen: “He’s another very knowledgeable player. I don’t see him make a mental mistake when we’re going over plays. That helps a lot, as well as him growing in the weight room.”

Wyatt Jackson: “We’re all banding together to help him. It’s nerve-wracking to be thrown into playing at that high of a level…. He’s got speed, which really makes a difference.”