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For love of the line

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The business of blocking

By Ryan Naus

Offensive linemen are often overlooked.

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When the ball is snapped, they are at the line of scrimmage, blocking for running backs and protecting their quarterback.

When a running back sprints through the middle of the line without being touched, he gets the glory of scoring a touchdown.

When a quarterback has time to see down the field and find an open receiver, the duo connects for a score.

But it all starts with the offensive line and while they might not get the glory, they’re alright with that.

For the Grant County High School football team, the offensive line is led by senior left tackle Brandon Epperson. He is joined by sophomore guard Josh Brewer, sophomore center Ethan Magee, junior guard Josh Mason and junior tackle Brian Mullins. Senior Ben Mansfield is the line’s utility player, coming in when needed, while also playing on the defensive line.

“We want our players to have some determination to move people, because that’s what we do,” GCHS offensive line coach Corbin Brown said.

The offensive line takes different approaches every snap, depending on whether or not the play called is a run or a pass.

“With run blocking, we want to be aggressive. We want to get engaged with good pad level. We want our facemask in the opponent’s gut, hands on the ribs and drive with our feet,” Brown said. “With pass blocking, my philosophy is to be passive-aggressive. We want to allow the defensive guy to make his move and then be aggressive with what we want to do.”

But which do the players enjoy the most?

“I think they get a little more excited about run blocking. It’s kind of a pride thing when you push somebody and get the best of them,” Brown said.

The offensive line is also aided by running backs, tight ends and wide receivers, depending on the play call.

“We started last year making sure the tight ends came with the offensive line,” Brown said. “We work them just like the regular offensive line with a big emphasis on the technique that we do. We utilize combo blocks whenever we can.”

This year, Brown has seen his offensive line learn on the job, as Epperson is the lone returning starter.

“I’ve got a good group of guys that are young, but they come to work every day,” Brown said. “The cohesiveness of this group is great. We try to be six men working as one. They’ve gotten to where they can understand what the others are doing. We’ve had some mistakes, but we knew we would have that with four new starters coming in.”

The offensive line has to deal with the fact that when they do their job, the team’s skill players get the glory, but when something goes wrong, they get the blame.

“I let them know that’s the way it is,” Brown said. “We get no credit, but that’s life and we have to deal with it. I tell them that if we don’t get it done first, then the offense isn’t going to run properly.”

On the flip side, defensive line coach Ken Little has to teach his players how to get through the offensive line.

“I teach them to get separation and fight,” Little said. “The most important thing is to be physical and quick. We would like to average three sacks a night and control most of the tackles to free up the linebackers.”

Offense vs. defense:

“Blocking is important because you can have great skill guys, but without blocking, it’s useless to have great athletes,” Epperson said. “But it’s satisfying when one of our teammates scores a touchdown because you know that you contributed. It takes five guys or more to block. The hardest part is knowing that guys on the other side of the ball want to knock you out. We’ve got to keep going as hard as we can go on every play. People don’t think about the technique that we use and the desire we have to block.”

“I try to read which way the offensive lineman is stepping and where his head is turning,” Mansfield said. “The hardest part is getting pressure on the quarterback because we have run-responsibility first. The secondary goal is to get the sack. It’s one of the most underrated positions because we’re in the dirt and we have the first chance at making the play and stopping the offense.”