Where it starts... Bluefield center Justin Shrader snaps the ball to Beavers’ quarterback Will Cole before practice on Wednesday. Bluefield will host Scott in a Class AA state semifinal game on Friday at Mitchell Stadium.

BLUEFIELD — No wonder the Bluefield offense is so potent. A ‘Tank’ leads the attack.

Justin Shrader, nicknamed ‘Tank’ since the eighth grade, is a 5-foot-10, 295-pound senior. He’s also the center for the Beavers’ football team.

Before Bluefield quarterback Will Cole can do anything with the ball, he has to get the ball. That responsibility is up to Shrader, in his first season as a starter for the Beavers.

“It’s a good experience. At first I was nervous because this was the first time I had ever centered in my whole life,” Shrader said. “Once you learn the position it is OK. It takes a lot of concentration, and I’m the one who starts the play.”

Shrader and the Beavers (11-0) will continue to play this Friday when Bluefield hosts Scott (9-3) and its sensational tailback Jordan Roberts in the Class AA semifinals at Mitchell Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.

“The team that we’re playing is really good,” Shrader said. “Roberts, he’s no joke. We’ve got to come out ready to play and we can’t slack, the defense has to be ready to play...We’re ready.”

A longtime fan of the Beavers, Shrader had always yearned for his opportunity to help add to the Bluefield football legacy. His chance has arrived.

“I remember when I was a little boy watching the Beavers play and I always wanted to be there,” Shrader said. “The Beaver-Graham game was my biggest thing, you had so many people.

“Then when you get up here, you learn it’s not all about how good you are. As long as you try hard and practice hard, you can get there and achieve your goals.”

The primary goal is to reach Wheeling and play for the school’s ninth state title. That would happen the following Friday against either Wayne or James Monroe.

“That’s just my wish, maybe God will bless us, hopefully he will,” Shrader said. “We’ve practiced hard. July 30 was our first practice, and ever since then I knew we were going to have a pretty good team.”

Shrader, who missed his junior season for academic reasons, has been a really big reason why.

“He’s gotten better each week. Justin has been very steady for us,” Bluefield head coach Fred Simon said. “I thought he would do OK, but he has done better than I thought and that’s what you would like.

“He does a real nice job of snapping out of the shotgun. Snapping and having to block at the same time is not easy and I think he has done a very adequate job and hopefully it will continue.”

If Shrader has anything to say about it, it will.

“I think I did pretty good with this being my first year as a starter and snapping the ball,” Shrader said. “I had a few downfalls at first, highs and lows, now I’m getting it down pretty good after I practice.

“It’s just practice. Just practice, practice, practice, just practicing snapping is definitely the hardest part for me.”

Life as a center can be a tough existence. Shrader has to make a clean snap of the ball, and also concentrate on keeping the opposing defense from getting past him to make a play.

“They can hit you on offense, but if I’m doing long-snapping or for the extra point, they ain’t allowed to hit you unless your head comes up,” Shrader said “The team we’re playing this week, they don’t play head up so I don’t have to worry about that too much unless the linebackers are blitzing.

“That’s when I’ve got to worry about it.”

While the prolific Bluefield offense is averaging 31.2 points a contest this season, including 93 points in playoff wins over Roane County (52-20) and Chapmanville (41-18), Shrader is quick to point that without the offensive line, none of that would have been possible.

“Without the line, you couldn’t have a play,” Shrader said.

Shrader is flanked on the line by the guard and cousin-tandem of Chris Harris and Brandon Harris, with Michael Miller and Joe Stone at the tackle position. They’re a big reason why that group is having so much fun.

“I really have had fun this year,” Shrader said. “At first our offense struggled a little bit, but now we’re starting to come together as more of a team and improving and we’re doing a whole lot better.

“We had a lot of downfalls at first offensive-wise, but we’ve got them under control.”

The Beavers haven’t been tested in their first two playoff games, having combined to outscore their opposition 86-0 in the first half. They’ve been helped by nine turnovers in the opening two quarters.

“God has really blessed us the last two weeks,” Shrader said. “The past two teams we’ve had a lot of turnovers that went our way, which has really helped us out a lot.

“It’s a great feeling going into halftime knowing that you really don’t have to worry about too much more, but you can’t give up. You’ve got to play until the end.”

While Bluefield defeated Scott 35-25 earlier this season, the Skyhawks’ Roberts ran for 267 yards and two touchdowns against the Beavers.

“I’ve been excited since we found out we’re going to play Scott,” Shrader said. “They’re a good team, they’re very respectful on the field too, not too much fighting on the field, they don’t have a lot of mouth.

“They come out, they play, they have a lot of respect. They help you up, they don’t talk a lot of trash, they just play.”

Especially Roberts. All he’s done is accumulate an astounding 3,643 yards and 47 touchdowns for the ‘Hawks.

“Our defense is going to have to come out prepared and be ready to stop the run,” said Shrader, who played defense on junior varsity as a sophomore, but isn’t on that side of the ball this season. “They love to run a lot.

“As long as our defensive line stays loaded and makes the holes for our linebackers, we’ll be fine...We’ve got to go out and be ready to play, but as long as we contain Roberts I think we’ll be fine.”

Shrader, like the rest of the Beavers, will practice this morning and then spend the remainder of the day doing what everyone else does on Thanksgiving.

A few hours away from family and food is the sacrifice that Shrader knows much be made.

“It’s OK, we’ve got to practice,” Shrader said. “We can’t have one day off, definitely as this point in the semifinals, it’s almost here.”

As for Thanksgiving itself, Shrader is looking forward to what lies ahead.

“This will be my first year without my grandmother, she passed away last year, and we usually have it at her house,” Shrader said. “This year everybody is going to come to my house.

“My aunt coming in from Florida and my aunt coming in from North Carolina, and it will be really good. I’m looking forward to the food, and I will watch a little bit of football.”

As for Friday, Shrader’s ready to hit the football field. He’s hoping another visit to Wheeling is a...snap.

“This would be my first year playing there and I can’t wait,” said Shrader, who dressed but didn’t play in the Beavers’ state title game loss to Weir in 2005. “It’s that Wheeling feeling, I’m ready to go.”

—Contact Brian Woodson


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