By Ian C. Beck ’12
The trenches are the dirtiest and most brutal of all places on the football field.
Football trenches are located along the line of scrimmage, in between the offensive and defensive linemen as they settle down in the three point stance.
The trenches are where the game is fought at the most basic level. Players unceremoniously slam into each other every play, each trying to best the other in an upright wrestling match.
The trenches are where people get beaten and broken while locked in a battle of inches play after play.
The trenches are also where the offensive linemen thrive.
In 2004, former Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Bob Brown said in his Hall of Fame induction speech there is no glamour in the job, but people know when it’s done well.
“Maybe there’s no tougher job than being a lineman in the NFL, I don’t know,” Brown said. “But there aren’t any tougher players on the field than the linemen.”
Offensive linemen are typically the biggest and strongest men on the field at any given time. They combine their size with quickness and nimble feet that enable them to hold off surging pass rushers.
Brophy offensive lineman Kyle Veldman ’11 said in an e-mail to The Roundup that offensive line was different from most other football positions.
“Offensive line is a unique position,” Veldman said. “We supply the brute force behind the offense, we don’t have our own stats and are rarely credited for doing things well, but we accept our role.”
Brophy offensive line coach Mr. Grindey described the attributes of a good offensive lineman in a recent e-mail.
He wrote that intelligence, quick feet, great mental toughness and a “willingness to play with pain” are all important factors for offensive linemen.
Though they receive little fanfare, the offensive line is key to the success of their team.
“(Offensive linemen) do not worry about being in the limelight,” Mr. Grindey wrote. “Their role is vital to the team’s success—yet, they do their role knowing full well that they may never get their names in the paper—it’s a pride that only an (offensive lineman) can understand.”
Brophy offensive lineman Ryan Hickey ’11 said in an e-mail that while the job may be a hard one, it is also satisfactory.
“It takes a lot of dedication, we work really hard, but there is nothing like going up against someone for four quarters and knowing at the end that you won the battle,” Hickey said.
According to a USAToday.com database, the average base salary for the top five NFL offensive linemen in 2009 was higher than the average for every other position but two: quarterback and defensive end.
Ironically so considering the offensive lineman’s job is to protect the quarterback from the defensive linemen who is trying to sack him.
But playing a position on the offensive line is not about being a star. The true meaning of the offensive line is to be unseen, getting their jobs done without being noticed.
“The role they play on the team?” Mr. Grindey wrote. “Well, to quote an (offensive line) coach I used to work with many years ago in Nebraska, ‘How the o-line goes, so goes the team.’”
Veldman said that while the offensive line does not often get credit when they do their jobs correctly, they bear the brunt of the blame when things go wrong.
Linemen open up holes for an effective running game and they buy time for a quarterback to make the right throws, often at the price of their own health.
Down in the trenches, fingers get bent and broken, bruises are delivered by heavy hitting defensive players and scrapes are inflicted by metal cleats, facemasks and fingernails.
“We stop 300-pound defensive lineman with our own bodies and we suffer,” Veldman wrote. “Hands are stepped on, fingers are smashed, knees strained, etc. The list goes on and on. But, that is our role. We will continue despite the physical toll and carry the offense forward.”
“Physically it’s very demanding— day-in-day-out, they work very hard,” Mr. Grindey wrote. “Every offensive play is a violent battle in the trenches.”
Hickey said offensive lineman have to keep going despite the physical pressures they endure.
“It’s really tough, we hit someone on every single play and that takes a toll on our bodies,” Hickey wrote. “Everyone on the (offensive line) is hurt somehow but you have to understand the team needs you and you need to fight through the pain.”
For Brophy, the offensive line is more than just a group of players who share the same position.
As Mr. Grindey describes, the Brophy offensive line is a brotherhood and “a team within a team.”
Brophy’s starting offensive line is made up of Hickey, Will Perrott ’11, Veldman, Jarrett Bailey ’11 and Charlie Renfree ’13.
“The (offensive line) is as tightly knit as a fist,” Veldman said. “In most cases, all five of the lineman have to be in sync in order for us to succeed. If there is a weak link in the line, it gets exploited so we have to push and help each other so that doesn’t happen. The offensive line is part of the team at large, but we also have to function as a smaller unit.”
Other players have to rely on the offensive line as well.
In the first game of the 2010 regular season, quarterback Tyler Bruggman ’13 threw for the third most single game passing yards in Brophy history.
In a postgame interview, Bruggman was quick to thank and acknowledge his offensive line.
“The offensive line, they played a great game, I couldn’t ask for much more than that,” Bruggman said.
Through the first three games of the season, Bruggman had attempted 102 passes, an average of 34 passes per game. In those 102 drop backs, the Brophy line did not allow a sack.
That stat may not end up in a headline, but it’s all in a day’s work for the offensive line.