'They're the secret': Guard duo unlocks Peoria Notre Dame football's offensive potential

Adam Duvall
Journal Star
Peoria Notre Dame's James Hodskins (60) and Miko Flores (52) chase down a Richwoods running back during a game last season at Richwoods. The two-way players also anchor the line at guard for the Irish.

Notre Dame is pretty guard heavy this season.

Not on the basketball court — which is true, though, of the Irish’s hoops backcourt — but on the football field in offensive linemen James Hodskins and Miko Flores.

The pair of talented all-Big 12 Conference seniors play a big role in opening holes for the run-heavy Irish offense. ND (4-2, 4-1), which rolled up 384 rushing yards in last Friday’s 36-16 win at Danville, heads into Week 7’s 1 p.m. Saturday game at Richwoods Stadium against Big 12 visitor Bloomington (4-2, 4-2) looking to continue that momentum.

What we learned Week 6:Here are the top 6 takeaways from Week 6 of Peoria high school football

They also want to continue a nine-year playoff streak dating back to a 2011 Class 5A berth.

“I think we can go deep into the playoffs,” Flores said. “I have no double in our talent, and our work ethic, and we’ve been working together all summer, even this past spring. I’m confident in our ability to take this deep into the postseason.”

James Hodskins, left, and Miko Flores pose on the Notre Dame practice field. The pair of all-Big 12 Conference lineman are three-year starters for the Irish (4-2, 4-1).

Flores, checking in at 5-foot-9 and 205 pounds, and Hodskins, a 6-foot, 210-pounder, understand being on the line as three-year starters.

Despite that knowledge, Flores and Hodskins have found themselves at times in a distinct disadvantage. Opposing defensive linemen are 3 or 4 inches taller and hold more than 35-40 pounds on them.

“Since the day that we started, me and Miko have always been the smallest dude on the field at line,” Hodskins said. “I don't think we've played one dude on the line that's smaller than us. So, we really had to be the ones that like just man up and go for it and take on people bigger than us.”

Also, successful PND offensive linemen are nothing out of the ordinary. In the last six years, the Irish have three times featured three-year O-line starters.

PND QB1:Peoria Notre Dame's triple threat: Thrower, runner and tenacious defender

All three lineman — Marenis Kansfield (2015), John Epley (2016) and Jett Schmitt (2017) — were named all-state by the Illinois High School Football Coaches Association. A streak coach Pat Armstrong hopes to continue with Hodskins and Flores.

“I really would like to try to get them both to be all-state this year,” Armstrong said. “They’re the secret. It’s the same every year for us — the best lineman are typically always guards. … They fit the mold.

“When they do good and they do well and do their job in the game, we usually turn up with 300 yards rushing.”

In fact, PND has rushed for at least 300 yards in every game this season.

From spring to fall, both Hodskins and Flores underwent transitions in positions. Flores, who was a first-team all-Big 12 pick, went from tackle to guard, while Hodskins — the all-Big 12 second-team selection — moved from center to guard.

This hasn’t been must of a change for the experienced duo, who both credit PND line coach John Winkler for extensive help on technique and form.

“I don't think it was that much of a switch,” Flores said, “but I kind of understand what the tackles doing so it helps me understand what my role is and the entire offense.”

Added Hodskins, “For me, it was pretty easy because at center you have to be able to know where everybody else is going to help direct them. So, it was really easy to get, like, what to do on the play; it was just how to do it.”

What has changed is how Hodskins and Flores, who also play defense on the line and linebacker, respectively, approach their teammates. Both are team captains and have tremendous influence on the teammates.

Top Week 6 talent:The top performances from Week 6 high school football in the Peoria area

This leadership role for Flores began last season.

"I started understanding the offense a lot more," he said, "and what I need my teammates and everyone else on the line to do so that our offense can put some points on the board.

“Yeah, junior year I really started being able to understand everything and then directing with younger guys.”

Hodskins and Flores have played alongside each other for so long that they have a great feel for each’s strengths and weaknesses. Ask how each describes the other and the answers might be a bit of surprise, but are extremely complimentary.

“He's one of the fastest, quickest dudes that I know on the team,” Hodskins said of Flores, “so he really can catch you off (guard) with that first two steps and get into you quick but you even realize it.”

And how about Hodskins’ game, Flores?

“He plays really smart,” Flores said. “He uses his strength, and he can bench (press) a lot more than me, so, definitely using his muscles better than I can. He just wants to sit down and gets into you and then they'll drag you down until the plays over until you’re on the ground.”

Adam Duvall is a Journal Star sports reporter. Email him at aduvall@pjstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @AdamDuvall.