Two days into summer workouts the sound of metal clanking in the weight room at Owen High School echoes through the air. Football season is still more than two months away, but the Warhorse linemen have already proven they're capable of doing the heavy lifting.
"This is our 1,000-pound club," head coach Nathan Padgett said, pointing to a plaque on the wall. "And here you can see our two newest members, Saevion Gibbs and Jaylin Davidson. There's no doubt that Eli (Brasher) will be joining them."
As Padgett and his coaching staff assess their roster and prepare for the Sept. 6 season opener against North Henderson, physical strength is among the Warhorses' strongest attributes.
The criteria for entering the 1,000-pound club is simple, according to Padgett.
"We test their max on the bench press, squat and clean and jerk at the beginning of each semester. We tested them in January and then in March," he said. "Then we tested them at the end of our May fitness program."
Gibbs, who is returning to the Warhorses for his upcoming senior season after two campaigns at Christ School, was ready.
"I was focused on pushing myself in the weight room and trying to get better everyday," said Gibbs, a 6-foot-3-inch, 330-pound guard and defensive tackle. "I've been working hard since the end of last season and eating right and it's paying off."
Gibbs, who bench pressed 335 pounds when he was tested and totaled 1,155 pounds between the three categories, is a key addition to the Warhorse roster this season.
"I'm excited to be back," said Gibbs, who recorded 34 solo tackles in 10 games for Owen as a freshman. "I think we're going to be a problem for a lot of teams this season."
Davidson is a rising senior who was among Owen's leading tacklers in 2018, when the team returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
"It's been a lot of hard work," said the offensive and defensive lineman, who is listed at 6-feet, 285 pounds. "But it's worth it to be ready for next season."
Gibbs and Davidson may have entered the exclusive club, but Brasher is knocking on the door right behind them.
"Eli's strong," Padgett said of the 6-foot-4-inch, 275-pound rising junior. "For a guy who isn't even a junior yet to come in and put up 975 pounds is impressive and when we test them again in August I feel confident he'll get his name on that plaque too."
The offensive and defensive lines may not be the most glamorous positions on the field, but the group, rounded out by C.J. and Sam Gray, Devon Jennings, Wilson Lewis, Nick Roberts, Josue Alvarado and Brett Gaynor, is the foundation of the team.
"We only lost one starter from last year's line," Padgett said. "This group, with the addition of Saevion and all of these other guys who have been working hard to improve, is definitely one of this team's strengths."
In an effort to improve chemistry between the players on the line, the team sent the group to a camp at Furman University.
"We wanted them to develop a strong brotherhood, and I think the camp definitely helped with that," Padgett said. "It also gave them a chance to go and compete and learn new techniques that they could bring back to us."
Local businesses, parents and other supporters of the team raised the money to send the eight linemen to the camp, at a cost of $280 per player.
"I consider this group of guys as our leaders," the coach said. "We're going to lean on them a lot over the course of the season, and this camp was just one of the ways we're helping prepare them for that."
The experience was valuable, according to Gibbs.
"It was a fun experience to be there with the guys," he said. "We learned a lot and really bonded as a group."
That theme has continued into summer workouts, Gibbs continued.
"That's what we're all focusing on right now," he said. "All of our guys are working on getting stronger and being ready for the season, but we're really trying to keep building that chemistry because that's important to have on the line."
Another coveted attribute for linemen is athleticism, which Gibbs said the Warhorse unit also possesses.
"You know we're strong, but this group brings a lot to the table," he said. "We're very smart as a unit; we're not some big dumb linemen. And we can move, so we can be pretty hard to stop."
That became clear during the camp at Furman, Davidson added.
"We were pancaking everyone out there," he said, referring to the term used to describe blocks in which a blocker flattens a defender. "You could tell we're going to be dangerous."
The group expects to figure prominently in Owen's efforts to improve on a 3-2 Western Highlands Conference mark in 2018 and a 4-7 overall record.
"This line can be a difference maker," Gibbs said. "We're ready."