Being a member of the offensive line is easily the least sexy position on the football team.
If a running back goes for 80 and a touchdown, it’s a great run.
If a quarterback has a couple days to throw a pass, he’s poised in the pocket.
But, miss one block …
“If you make a mistake and miss a block, the offensive line coach and head coach know about it and your mom and dad know about it,” North Hardin coach Brent Thompson said. “We look for guys who work well together. In pass protection they have to work well together. On running plays they have to work well together.”
But, if that missed block leads to the quarterback being crushed from the blind side, more than four people see it.
The offensive line has to protect the quarterback on the team that throws it 40 times a game, while another offensive line has a quarterback who throws it 40 times a season.
Former Cleveland Browns All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas called it “a mushroom society, because everyone wants to put us in a dark room and throw (stuff) every day and then they expect us to bloom into something that’s delicious. ... When things go great, the quarterback’s the first guy that gets a pat on the back and the receiver gets the hug. The defensive end that made the game-winning sack gets lifted up and carried off the field, And, nobody remembers the O-line, until you’re the one that’s giving up the sack that loses the game and then you’re the goat. And you’re the reason that we lost and we need to get you outta here.”
It is a rare occasion when the entire line returns for the next season.
LaRue County returns 80 percent of its front five.
“With us having more experience, learning from last year, we can go out and execute better this year,” senior center Chase Baker said. “Nothing different, just more downhill running this year compared to last year. Just more right at them.”
Coaches are shuffling players from guard to center, center to tackle and tackle to guard. In the case of Meade County senior Kobe Nikolao, Coach Larry Mofield moved him off the line and to fullback.
“Going into the summer we thought we had more depth maybe than we actually do on the offensive line,” Mofield said. “We’re trying to keep Kobe at the fullback spot as long as we can. I guess if we had to, we could move him back, but we would like to keep him there. It helps our team better by keeping him at fullback.
“Last year he was probably my best offensive lineman. His effort’s always been there. If you were to grade it out, he was probably the highest grade, week in and week out. He gets after people. Even if he makes a mistake, he’s always getting after people.”
That means two fullbacks totaling close to 500 pounds in the backfield, but Nikolao understands there is a possibility of returning to the trenches, but he was all-in when Mofield gave him the news.
“It was in winter conditioning, we were lifting and he said, ‘I’m gonna put you at fullback.’ I said, ‘Sweet.’ I used to run the ball, my eighth-grade and freshman year, then they moved me to the line to help out,” Nikolao said. “I want to break an 80-yard touchdown. I might be a little gassed at the end, though.”
The move means the most experienced lineman is no longer a lineman and Nikolao knows he is still there to teach, even from the backfield.
“I have to help them sometimes on where to go and who to block,” he said. “Since they’re younger, you have to remind them sometimes to show up and work. I have faith in all of them. It’s not easy to be in there.
“It (blocking) is not always fun. Coach has told us that we’re a running team – that’s what we do, and we’ve done it forever – and we’re all expected to block. We work on blocking a lot in practice. A lot. It makes us know that we have to get after people and be physical. We know we’re up against some tough teams. If we do make mistakes, we have to get up and get after it on the next play.”
“A defensive lineman who gets one sack per game goes to the Hall of Fame. An offensive lineman who gives up one sack per game is out of a job.”
Central Hardin senior Zach Jones, who was moved from guard to tackle, is the leader of the line. They are also working in new linemen, but also have returning players in Mason Troutt and Chase Conner who saw a lot of snaps last season.
“We try to motivate throughout the practice,” said Jones, who is looking to play at the next level. “Sometimes the young ones mess up on a play, but we pat them on the butt and say, ‘It’s all right man, just fix it.’ Sometimes they get a little wired up because they get yelled at in practice and we say, ‘It’s all right. Sometimes you get yelled at. It’s coach.’
“Sometimes that will happen in games and you have to shake it off, go back out and do your job. I’ve missed a couple blocks and it stinks and the coaches will get on you, but you have to keep your head up. It’s your job. You messed up and you just fix it the next time.”
The one thing Central Hardin has this year that Coach Tim Mattingly likes and appreciates is depth at the line.
“I feel like we’re a little ahead of the game than we were last year as far as an offensive line,” he said. “We still have some improving to do. I feel better about our depth right now that I did last year.”
Jones likes that new development as well.
“It’s gonna be nice to have some depth and let some young guys experience Friday nights so they can be prosperous next year,” he said. “To have some younger bucks in there will be great for our team.”
For all teams, the blocking doesn’t end with the line.
“Everyone on this team is expected to block, it’s not just the O-line,” Mattingly said. “The fullbacks are expected to block. The wings are expected to block. The receivers are expected to block. Blocking is a main this in this offense and everyone has to do their part. We also have to be able to block downfield, not just at the line of scrimmage. When we pass, we have to protect our quarterback.”
Central Hardin ran the ball 81 percent of the time last year, a little behind LaRue County and Meade County.
That is a mentality, a mindset, and it starts when you walk into the program.
Every program is different and every program asks a little different of each position, including the linemen.
North Hardin ran the ball 48 percent of the time, John Hardin 60 percent and Elizabethtown 68 percent last year.
Teams and personnel change and offensive philosophies may undergo a tweak or two.
When that happens, teams need leaders to help focus the group for the task at hand.
There are many types of leaders, but, basically, it comes down to vocal leaders and those who lead by example.
“I love it because we lead by actions and, to me, actions speak louder than words,” Jones said. “People can say tons of things and someone can say, ‘Let’s pick it up guys,’ but if you’re not displaying it, if you’re not doing it first … you can say, ‘Pick up the pads,’ but if we’re not picking up the pads, if we’re not cleaning up, how are we expecting them to do it? We have to lead by example, so all the actions we display, they’ll be able to follow us.”