Trojan Workhorses: Offensive linemen

The Trojan Workhorses series aims to showcase athletes who are not often recognized for their accomplishments, but are crucial to their team’s success. This installment focuses on the offensive line’s steady, silent efforts to ensure the offense runs smoothly.

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Trojan Workhorses: Offensive linemen

The offensive line sets up before a crucial third down play against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field.

The offensive line sets up before a crucial third down play against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field.

Alyssa Skala

The offensive line sets up before a crucial third down play against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field.

Alyssa Skala

Alyssa Skala

The offensive line sets up before a crucial third down play against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field.

They are five of the biggest guys on any given football field, yet most fans hardly even notice they are there.

Football fans eyes’ are almost always glued to the ball, meaning they focus on the quarterback and the rest of the skill position players. In spite of their cruciality to the offensive system, the West High offensive linemen inevitably become insignificant to the casual spectator, making them the perfect candidates for this second installment of the Trojan Workhorses series.

This year’s offensive line has been a revolving door of teammates, with eight different players starting at least one game for the Trojans up front. With all of the moving pieces, the pivotal center position, held by senior Matt Karwal, has remained constant.

“[Matt] is a guy we can really lean on to understand what’s going on out there,” said Travis Meade, who has been an offensive line coach at West for the past 10 seasons. “We can tell him to do something and then the next series we see him communicating that to the rest of the o-line. The young guys really look up to that.”

Owen Aanestad
Offensive line coach Sam McLeran corrals his line before the offense heads onto the field against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field. McLeran is one of two offensive line coaches for the Trojans.

With Karwal in the lead, the offensive linemen must communicate amongst each other and with quarterback Marcus Morgan ’21 to accurately relay defensive blitzes and last-second shifts. 

“We actually have quite a few different blocking schemes, especially on pass [protection]. We have to choose our guys that we’re going to be getting on the [defensive] line but then we have to pick out some linebackers,” said offensive guard Makhi Halvorsen ’20. “It’s a bigger job than what people think of just blocking someone in front of you.”

While brute strength is certainly important to offensive linemen, they aren’t just bashing heads with the guy across from them for four quarters. As with any other player, offensive linemen’s assignments require analysis of the defense and differ depending on the play call. 

On pass plays, their job is to sit back and keep defenders from getting to the quarterback. If the ball is being handed off, the offensive linemen strategically block the men ahead of them, creating space for a player to run in the gap they have created. The linemen also have to adjust to the defense after the ball is snapped if defenders shift from their previous alignments. 

Owen Aanestad
Senior offensive linemen Matt Karwal and Makhi Halvorsen shift to block a Wildcat rusher during the second quarter of the team’s game against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field.

Since the offensive line’s early-season struggles through the first three contests, the group has rebounded to improve the running game by over 100 yards per game over the last five games.

A big reason for the turnaround is the offensive linemen grades, a system implemented by Meade in 2016 that scores the offensive linemen on a 0-100 percent rating scale. After each game, coaches review the film and score each player based on their performance and adherence to their job responsibility. 

If the player does their job on the play, they get a plus one. If they fail to do their job, they get a zero. After each play has been scored Meade takes the number of points divided by the total number of plays which yields a percentage score. For example, if a player did their job on 60 out of the 80 plays, their lineman grade would be 75%.

“There’s a lot of variables that I look at when I grade it,” Meade said. “I’ve adjusted a little bit to make it more applicable to high school football.”

Owen Aanestad
The offensive line huddles around offensive line coach Sam McLeran after a touchdown drive against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field.

In its four years of implementation, the offensive linemen grades have usually been a reliable indicator for the team’s success.

If we’re grading out in the 80s and 90s, we’re winning football games no question,” Meade said. “When you get guys in the 80s and 70s you start to see some close matchups. When we’ve had grades in the 60s and 70s it’s either a tight game that we’ve lost or a tight game that we’ve won.”

The rest of team is well aware of the weight that the offensive line’s performance holds. Tyuss Bell ’21 became the starting running back in week six, and many of his 164 rushing yards in the three weeks since have come as a result of the work done up front by the offensive line.

“Our offensive line is very important. They don’t get as much glory as they deserve, but they are some dogs,” Bell said. “Without them our playmakers can’t make plays.”

Offensive guard Makhi Halvorsen ’20 and fullback Will Hoeft ’20 create room for Marchaun Hoover ’20 to run for a first down against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field.

While quarterbacks and skill position players garner praise and admiration from their peers and fans, the offensive linemen work thanklessly behind the scenes. For most offensive linemen, that’s how they prefer it.

“It’s a silent profession. We do our job and we get it done. No one thinks [I’m] a superstar,” said Nick Fairfield ’20, who starts at right tackle. 

“Our coaches constantly talk about how…we may not make the catch or make the run but we made the play happen.”

— Nick Fairfield '20

Even if fans and the media don’t always notice their hard work, the offensive line knows their teammates are grateful for their dedication and commitment that allows for the rest of the offense to find success.

“Every position is appreciated on the team,” Fairfield said. “Outside of the team we may not necessarily be [appreciated] but inside the team we’re all very close.”

Owen Aanestad
The offensive line celebrates with the rest of the team after a touchdown catch from Tate Crane ’20 in the third quarter of the team’s game against Davenport North on Oct. 11 at Trojan Field.

The team has certainly grown closer over the last half of the season, evidenced by wins in three of their last four games. Winning the final regular season game against City High in the Battle for the Boot would put a sweet ending to a very up-and-down season.

“It’s been a fun past four years. Keeping the boot, that’d be sweet,” Halvorsen said. 

The next time you seen an offensive lineman benching 250 pounds in the weight room or fueling up with two entrees during lunch, make sure to thank them for their hard work. It may be a thankless position, but everyone deserves a little appreciation now and again.

“Watch a little more of what we do and you’ll see the outcome of it,” Halvorsen said. “You can’t get stuff done without the guys up front.”

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