High school football preview: Linemen ready to rock the block
Offensive linemen used to be pictured as big, dumb guys who like to push and knock people around.
That stereotype has changed.
Valor Christian coach Rod Sherman has an all-senior starting offensive line this season that could physically match up with many college lines.
Left tackle Alec Ruth is 6-foot-6, 300 pounds, and right tackle Isaiah Holland is 6-5, 310 pounds. They sandwich guards Ryan Cummings (6-5, 295) and Sam Kozan (6-2, 265) and center Cody Bratten (6-3, 280).
Valor's line averages 290 pounds, but Sherman claims it takes both brawn and brains to be a good offensive lineman.
“First, it takes intelligence to be able to diagnose different defensive schemes and be able to adjust on the fly,” said Sherman. “I know sometimes in the world there is a stereotype of football players not being intelligent, but that is so not true. Our left tackle is being recruited hard by Ivy League schools and our center scored 35 on his ACT and is looking at schools like MIT.”
It takes more than just hitting a blocking sled hard to become a good offensive lineman. A potential All-League offensive lineman these days needs to be versatile, quick, explosive off the ball and a technique master to learn various kinds of blocks.
“Second, you need kids that want to work hard and aren't worried about getting the glory,” added Sherman. It's not a glorious position being an offensive lineman, you have to work and be patient.
“Bigger kids, when the ball gets rolled out their freshman year, are not able to play at the level they want because their bodies might be bigger and it might take them a little more time to improve their coordination,” he said. “Some of those kids when they get to their junior and senior years, their hard work starts to pay off.
“We are blessed. There are not a ton of teams that can say that both their offensive tackles are being recruited by Pac 12 and Big 12 schools.”
Cherry Creek's offensive line doesn't measure up to Valor's in size, as the Bruins put a premium on agility.
“It obviously starts up front on both sides of the ball,” said coach Dave Logan. “If you are not good up front on offense or defense, you are going to have a hard time winning.
“This year our biggest offensive linemen will be about 235 to 240 pounds. We ask them to do a lot of different things. So being mobile is as important to us as being really, really big. We ask them to zone block, we'll run different concepts to the running game, power, counter, toss, and we ask them to pass block.”
Development takes time.
“There are a lot of things we are asking that take time for guys to feel comfortable with, and sometimes time is a full year,” emphasized Logan. “We throw a lot at these kids and we ask a lot of them. Back in the old days of just lining up in a three-point stance, getting off the ball and blocking for a running game, those days have been long gone for a lot of people.”
Sherman isn't shy about reminding his offensive linemen about basics.
“They can't get tired of doing the fundamentals,” he said. “They have to continue to prefect their craft from pass protection to run blocking. I believe the attention to detail is important in every position, but it is just magnified at the line of scrimmage.
“Oftentimes if you hear a lineman's name called, it is because of something they did not do well. It takes a certain type of kid to have that character and we're blessed to have a group of those kids.”
Other area teams also have good high school offensive linemen that have been doing well.
Jamin Smith, Nick Viola and Adam Tate will help provide running lanes for Trey Smith at Douglas County. Brandon Reidemann, Brandon Leahy, Jacob Hunt and Austin Skinner will form part of a solid Chaparral offensive line, while highly recruited Sam Jones, Blake Jacobs and Brendan Chase return at ThunderRidge.
“The offensive line is perhaps the most important group on the field,” said Chaparral coach John Vogt. “Typically linemen are hard workers and tough guys. They must run block and pass protect and they are involved in collisions on every play. They must be strong, tough and have athletic ability.”
A few of the other top area linemen include Joe Hunsaker and Tyler Trehal at Castle View, Ponderosa's Zach Smith and Cody Wilson, Sean Malloy at Littleton, Anthony Hudak at Legend, Rock Canyon's Jimmy Wanless and Justin Hunter, Connor Cain and Kris Medina of Heritage. Creek's Pete Nielsen, Alex Keys of Highlands Ranch and Lutheran's Alex McClure and Chance Morelock are also among offensive linemen to watch.
“We have three of the five starters back and they bring a lot of continuity and knowledge,” said ThunderRidge coach Joe Johnson. “It's the difference of having to think about it, responding and doing it, just trained body acting in a trained way.”