Dominating the trenches


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The football coaching staff at Kent State University quickly realized what Gar-Field High School’s coaches, players and fans have known for some time: Behind (or in front of, depending on how you look at it) most 1,000-yard rushers are dominant linemen who make their lives easier.

Indian senior tailback Rasheed McClaude finished his 1,407-yard regular season with a 200-yard night at Woodbridge last Friday night. One Division I-A college has offered McClaude a full scholarship. That same school, Kent State, has joined Maryland and North Carolina in extending an offer to 6-foot-5, 310-pound Gar-Field offensive right tackle Flordell Kissee.

“They said, ‘We’re trying to get the full package,’ ” Kissee said of Golden Flashes coach Dean Pees and his staff.

Kissee hasn’t taken any official visits to colleges, but with a choice of perhaps playing with McClaude or competing in the Atlantic Coast Conference he feels as if he can’t lose. Now if he and his Gar-Field teammates could only beat Hylton (9-1) in tonight’s Division 6, Northwest Region semifinal. The Indians (7-3) lost twice this regular season to the Bulldogs, extending their slide in the series to nine straight games.

A starting high school lineman since the beginning of his sophomore year, Kissee transferred from Alexandria’s Mount Vernon High prior to last fall. He was a second-team all-state selection in his first year in a Gar-Field uniform.

“I think he’s better this year. He’s the type of kid who actually is getting better week to week,” Gar-Field coach Jim Poythress said. “He already gets a lot of press because of his physical attributes — anyone who’s 6-foot-5, 310 pounds and runs a 4.9 [in the 40-yard dash] will. But he’s playing his best football now. I think he’s more aggressive and stronger.”

In the weight room, Kissee can bench press 350 pounds and squat 500. On the field, his blocks have become even more punishing this year.

“He makes everybody’s job easy,” Gar-Field offensive right guard Mo Steward said. “He’s got a lot of experience and he’s a real good athlete. That makes everyone work harder, and also helps us get looked at from some colleges.”

Steward, a senior in his third year as a Gar-Field starter, hopes to play college football in the Ivy League or perhaps at Navy, Georgetown or Virginia Military Institute. He has been credited with giving the Indians’ offensive line the nickname of the “tsunami.” Gar-Field’s players used the moniker on occasion, until it became a common nickname at halftime of the second loss to Hylton.

In a 0-0 tie at the half (which turned out to be a 10-0 loss), Steward gave a speech to his teammates in which he said the line needed to pick up momentum like a storm. The speech wasn’t enough to help Gar-Field snap the losing streak to Hylton, but the Indians later blocked and tackled their way to wins at Forest Park and Woodbridge. Along with McClaude, senior quarterback Elihu Smith rushed for 956 yards in the regular season.

Kissee’s not even the biggest of the Indians’ linemen — junior Brian Miller weighs in at 355 pounds — but he’s accustomed to standing out in a crowd. He wasn’t able to start playing competitive football until his freshman year at Mount Vernon because as a 12-13 year-old he was heavier than the league maximum of 125 pounds. “The highest they let you play was 125. I can’t remember the last time I was 125,” he said with a smile.

Yet for a player his size, Kissee shows impressive athletic ability. That’s what has Division I-A college coaches from Ohio to North Carolina paying attention to him.

“The first thing that jumps out at you is his size, but he moves well and Gar-Field really has their big guys playing well together, and they’ve certainly had a great running game this season,” Hylton coach Lou Sorrentino said. “Usually a high school kid over 300 pounds can look sloppy or overly fatigued or uncoordinated when you look at enough film, but I haven’t seen that at all from [Kissee]. He’s well regarded and it’s easy to see why.”

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