COLUMBIA, S.C. — If a junior offensive lineman is taken to a state championship news conference, that alone reveals how important he is to a football team’s success.
Welcome to Columbia, Avery Hewitt, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound left guard for the Dillon Wildcats, who face Chapman at 3 p.m. Saturday for the Class 3A state title at Williams-Brice Stadium.
For the Wildcats to have racked up 4,585 yards total offense, playmakers like quarterback Jay Lester need someone to clear the way.
Again, welcome Hewitt, who started the season at left tackle but now is at left guard to compensate for a teammate’s injury.
No matter where Hewitt is on that left side, he’s valuable. Just ask Lester.
“He’s been good, protecting for me since my sophomore year, and I trust him,” Lester said. “I trust him when I have my back turned to not let anybody get me from my blind side. With the running game, he gets people out of the way so we can run the ball. And when it comes to pass protection, he’s just outstanding because he gives me time to throw the football.”
Wildcats coach Jackie Hayes would agree.
“You can look at him. He’s a big boy,” Hayes said. “He’s been a leader on our offensive line. He gets those guys and keeps them in check. He makes a lot of calls up front and has been a big help for us.”
While Hewitt receives accolades from teammates, he’s content with how hard he has worked for it.
“Last year, I was just ground and pound. When I saw something, I’d hit it,” said Hewitt, a full-time starter since last season when he was at right tackle. “But this year, I’ve learned the game of football more. I’ve been able to read the defenses better and be able to check calls for my quarterback and find the weak spots in the defensive line so I can expose it.”
Hewitt talked about the work he had to go through while improving.
“I’ve gotten better with my technique and gotten better in the weight room,” Hewitt said. “We were in the weight room pretty much every day this summer, and we were grinding, trying to do the best we could to get where we were, especially with the young team we have.”
The lone two starters on Dillon’s offense are Lester and right guard Tony Coleman.
“With our whole offensive line, as a group, we had a bunch of adversity,” Hewitt said.
Slowly but surely, that adversity was overcome as the Wildcats have shown quite a balance on offense: 2,296 yards rushing and 2,289 passing.
Hewitt, a role player during the Wildcats’ most recent state championship season in 2017 — a win against none other than Chapman — has enjoyed his position changes this year.
“It’s a big change, but not as big a change as you’d think it would be,” Hewitt said. “I’m still able to make the calls, I just have to look at more spaces instead of just looking at one space.”
While the play-calling duties in the trenches belong to Hewitt, junior center Knox Jackson and Coleman, a three-year starter.
But after the play is called and the ball is snapped, it’s pure adrenaline.
“It’s a big deal. A lot goes on, and you get to see who’s bigger and stronger,” Hewitt said. “Speed is important, but it’s mainly about who can push someone who doesn’t want to be pushed the most and the farthest.”