The cliché returned again and again after high school football spring practices this past spring. Forsyth County’s coaches were of a consensus that one of the biggest, if not the most crucial, components of having a successful 2013 season would be the development of their offensive line.
Some had several starters to replace (Lambert, Pinecrest Academy, South Forsyth).
Some had just a few (North Forsyth, West Forsyth).
Some had new coaches, which meant lots of homework for the big guys (Forsyth Central, North).
Each head coach made it apparent that they were putting just as critical an eye toward those five guys in their three-point stance as any competition among skill positions.
Separately, they each picked up their football encyclopedia and turned to FAKE PUNT—FUNDAMENTALS.
"It starts up front," North coach Jason Galt said. "Football is won in the trenches. There’s no doubt about it."
"I feel that’s the most important position," Central coach Shane Williamson said.
"That’s a truism," West coach Frank Hepler said. "It all starts up front."
We had to investigate, so we’ve devoted our 2013 Pigskin Preview special section that comes out this Sunday to profiling the offensive lines of Forsyth.
This is a county of high school teams who still predominantly run the ball, after all, and whose most high-profile recruits this season are a center (West’s Andrew Marshall) and a blocking tight end (Lambert’s Chris Laye).
"Give me a bunch of offensive linemen any day," Galt said. "I can find somebody to run through a hole."
Professional football said as much last season. Nine of the 32 picks in the 2013 NFL draft were offensive linemen, including the top two picks in Central Michigan tackle Eric Fisher to Kansas City and Texas A&M tackle Luke Joeckel to Jacksonville, respectively. The dominoes kept falling thereafter: tackle Lane Johnson to Philadelphia at No. 4, guard Jonathan Cooper to Arizona at No. 7, guard Chance Warmack to Tennessee at No. 10. On and on it seemed to go.
Meanwhile, just one quarterback (E.J. Manuel) and zero running backs were picked in the first round.
Certainly, one draft year does not make for a trend. So look deeper. Look at the last decade in five-year increments.
2003-07: 17 offensive linemen were selected in the first round.
2008-13: 33 offensive linemen were selected in the first round.
The number doubles just a few years after journalist Michael Lewis publishes the book The Blind Side in 2006. The book became a movie because of the compelling story of Michael Oher rising from an impoverished youth to become the starting left tackle for Ole Miss. Oher was a right tackle on the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens last season.
But the book became a football geek’s dream because of Lewis’ examination into how the left tackle position on the offensive line had evolved into one of the most critical in the eyes of NFL front offices over the past few decades.
All of which doesn’t diminish the emphasis teams at all levels have put on the big guys since the game began. Regardless of offense, regardless of size, a team’s success hinges on the effectiveness of its offensive line.
Central’s new spread offense will only be as good as David Allen, Tyler Dalberg, Kyle Gamble, Dee Kelly and Hunter Lamm can block.
A Lambert offense that returns just three starters needs Sean Bailey, Jake Chickowski and company to give quarterback Hayden McLeod and the Longhorns backfield protection and running lanes to avoid last season’s late collapse.
Pinecrest needs its "Pitbulls" – Luke del Balzo, Nick Grimaldi, Logan Stafford, Gatlin Winter and Matt Walters – to be relentless as the Paladins replace its quarterback, leading rusher and leading receiver.
North hopes Clay Barton, Michael Carter, Elijah Francis, Blake Hodges, Derek Roughton and a deep group of linemen can make a swift transition to the Raiders’ new Double Wing offense and end a two-year playoff drought.
Maybe a veteran group of seniors Joseph Henggler, Kyle Watford and Davis Winkie and juniors Griffin Landrum and Caleb Lummus can lead an experienced South team back to the playoffs.
Marshall, Jayce Ratliff, John Salo, Mitch Toure and Will Wages don’t want to be the group to end West’s three-year playoff run.
This season, in Forsyth, it’s all on the line.
Brian Paglia is sports editor of the Forsyth County News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 770-205-8982 or on Twitter @BrianPaglia.