Work in Progress

Offensive linemen (l-r) Baraka Beckett, Syr Riley, TJ Michel, Ari Sallus and Cole Aragon will open up plenty of holes for Palisades High running backs this season.
Photo: Steve Galluzzo

Palisades High’s Offensive Line Will Be the Key to the Dolphins’ Success on the Gridiron

By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor

How far will the Palisades High football team go this season? Well, for offensive line coach Larry Palmer, the answer is simple: however far the five up front take it.

The Dolphins boasted one of the best offensive lines in the City Section last fall–a group that allowed tailback Innocent Okoh to gain a school-record 1,965 yards.

The scary thing is Palisades might be even better this year behind the likes of Syr Riley (6-foot-4, 310 pounds), Baraka Beckett (6-4, 285), TJ Michel (6-1, 260), Cole Aragon (6-3, 270) and Ari Sallus (6-4, 285), who will give opposing defensive coordinators nightmares.

“If you were a defensive lineman, would you want to come to the line of scrimmage seeing those guys?” Palmer asked. “I doubt it.”    

Offensive line coach Larry Palmer believes this is the best group he’s worked with in his six seasons at Pali High.
Photo: Steve Galluzzo

Once a prep lineman himself, Palmer knows how intimidating size can be. Combine that with speed and agility and you have a formula for success.

“I’m very optimistic,” Palmer added. “This is the best group I’ve had in my six years here. Don’t get me wrong, we have tons of work to do, but if these guys get on the same page… look out.”

Although two of their best linemen from last year graduated (Brandon Castro and Nathan Campos), back is Riley, the Western League Lineman of the Year, and added to the mix is Beckett, a junior transfer from Windward. Both have received scholarship offers from numerous Division I schools. Riley, who made the All-City second team as a junior in 2016, impressed at the Rivals 3-Stripe Camp at Citrus College in April, being bumped from unrated to three stars after taking reps at guard and tackle.

Michel has looked good at the  center spot in camp and Jack Estabrook and guards Frank Viramontes and Jonathan Molina will also get snaps under head coach Tim Hyde’s “next man in” mentality.      

Palisades amassed more than 3,400 rushing yards in 12 games and reached the City Section Division I quarterfinals last season. The Dolphins have loftier goals this year: the outright league title and a berth in the City’s inaugural Open Division playoffs.      

Palmer understands that games are won and lost in the trenches and success is predicated on protecting your quarterback. In That was his primary job in 1978 when he was the starting left tackle at Granada Hills High, where he blocked for a gunslinging signal-caller named John Elway.

“I was a 6-foot-1, 185-pound senior when John was a junior,” Palmer said. “I protected his blind side.”

This year, Palisades’ front line will be assigned with protecting and providing ample time to throw for senior returner Jared Dodson and junior Daniel Hayes, a transfer from Loyola.

“It’s all about us getting better each and every practice,” said Sallus, a first-team All-League selection last year. “If there’s one thing I learned from last season it’s to stay humble and don’t brag. I think we’re better than last year at this time, but we’re not satisfied.”

Sallus is comfortable at right tackle, right guard or left guard and will also start at noseguard.

“I like to hit and in football you get to hit on every play,” he said.

“The biggest guy on my high school team was Blanchard Montgomery, who played in the NFL,” Palmer said. “He was 6-3 and about 235 pounds, so that shows you how much things have changed. We couldn’t use our hands as much so there was less we could do.”

Aragon likes left guard but will play wherever the team needs him. Although he sees unlimited potential in his unit, he isn’t about to fall prey to complacency.

“I’d say that last year we were more experienced, but Baraka is a great addition and he’s learning the plays,” said Aragon, who will also back up Beckett at defensive tackle. “Consistency is the key. We just need to find our rhythm, whether it be running up to the line , our cadence or putting our hands down faster. Coach Palmer told us the offensive line picks you, you don’t pick thje offensive line. I played baseball my freshman year, then I wanted to be a tight end, but I like being where I’m at. I’m a machine.”

Aragon said offensive coordinator Rocky Montz has challenged his team to rush for 4,000 yards this season and the O-line must play a big part.

“I truly believe any of our running back should be successful if we open the holes,” Aragon said. “If we do our job, we’ll be fine.”