Jalen McDuffie doesn’t have the typical size of an offensive lineman.
The Dutch Fork roster lists the senior at 5-foot-8 and 210 pounds. McDuffie says he is closer to 190 pounds.
It’s not exactly the measurables you would expect of a player on the line of the top-ranked offense in the state. But ask head coach Tom Knotts who the Silver Foxes’ most valuable player up front is, and he doesn’t hesitate.
“He is my most valuable offensive lineman definitely and like a coach on the field. It just goes to show you if guys put their heart and soul into it,” Knotts said Tuesday after practice. “You can’t tell it but he is a stud. He is thick, can bench well over 300 pounds. … Smaller guys, if they stick with it, they can do anything and this is a testament to it.”
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McDuffie admits playing on the offensive line wasn’t his first choice. He’d rather play linebacker and defensive line but was willing to give center a shot during the spring going into his junior season.
“Center wasn’t my first position to play but I know my team needed one. I just use technique to get the job done,” McDuffie said.
He has been a two-year starter at center for the Silver Foxes, who will go for their third straight Class 5A title at 7:30 p.m. Friday against T.L. Hanna at Williams-Brice Stadium. Knotts had his doubts on whether McDuffie could play the position and fill the void left by center Jonathan Holton, who was much bigger at 6-foot-4, 292 pounds.
But offensive line coach Marlin Taylor was confident in McDuffie, and his performance silenced Knotts’ concerns going into spring practice before the 2017 season. McDuffie, who is nicknamed “Scrappy,” earned the starting job and showed he wasn’t afraid to go against the big guys on the field.
“I really didn’t see it at first. … I always wanted a bigger center. I played with smaller centers in the past but he stuck it out,” Knotts said. “Coach Taylor saw something in him and his knowledge of the game. He knows the protections as good as I do and does a good job with it. You never have to worry about him.”
McDuffie, who also plays baseball, is a two-time Region 5-5A selection but still faces his share of ridicule from opposing teams. Some defensive linemen laugh when gets ready to go into his stance at the beginning of the game, he said.
McDuffie remembered one opposing player called him ‘half of an offensive lineman.’
“I smiled and pancaked him the next play,” McDuffie said.
McDuffie and the Silver Foxes’ line will be tested against a T.L. Hanna defense that features five-star defensive lineman and South Carolina commit Zacch Pickens. But McDuffie is confident his teammates can get the job done.
McDuffie said he is trying to soak in the last few days of practice at Dutch Fork. He and the rest of the Dutch Fork seniors took turns speaking to the team after practice day, expressing what playing football for the Silver Foxes has meant to him.
“Huge week for me. I have been working for this ever since the seventh grade on C team,” McDuffie said. “I am just willing to put my body on the line, leave everything on that field and give it my all.”
State Championship Schedule
All games Friday
At Benedict College
Green Sea Floyds vs. Lamar, 5 p.m.
Abbeville vs. Barnwell, 8 p.m.
At Williams-Brice Stadium
Myrtle Beach vs. Greer, 1 p.m.
Dillon vs. Chester, 4 p.m.
Dutch Fork vs. TL Hanna, 7:30 p.m.
The games will be streamed on www.nfhsnetwork.com (subscription required).
The Class 3A, 4A and 5A games will be will be streamed on www.nfhsnetwork.com . Locally, the Dutch Fork game will be on WACH Fox 57 and the Class 3A and 4A games n WACH Fox 57.2 (TWC 1250). Across the state, the games will be on WCIV 36.1 (MyTV Charleston) in Charleston, Asheville/Greenville on WMYA MyTV 40 and in Florence/Myrtle Beach on WWMB CW21.