Keith Jackson, the sage of college football, used to call them “the big uglies.” And he meant it only in the most affectionate way.
They’re the guys who do the dirty work, the guys who live in the muck and the grime and who wear mud- and blood-stained uniforms as a badge of honor. Because, goodness knows, they aren’t piling up touchdowns or quotes in the newspaper.
They’re the offensive lineman, and they are the linchpin to any successful football team.
You knew that, of course. You knew that because whenever some pretty boy running back gets quoted in the media, he gives credit to his offensive linemen.
But what about the big uglies themselves? What do they have to say about life in the trenches?
“It’s blood and sweat and dirt, to put it bluntly,” Skyview’s Zach Wallace said Friday, after the Storm had defeated Union 44-27 for the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League title. “You do what you do and kick butt.”
Skyview did a little of that Friday, clearing enough room for the Storm to rush for 187 yards and five touchdowns against a very good football team. With a front five averaging 286 pounds, Skyview managed to pave the way to a victory.
And as the helmets and the oversized bodies collided, play after play, clashing like locomotives only to line up and do it again with the next snap, you couldn’t help but wonder about the nature of somebody who would put themselves in that position.
If they weren’t right in the head prior to becoming an offensive lineman, surely the game has knocked them a little off-balance. Hasn’t it?
“Oh man, it’s brutal. It’s very violent,” Skyview’s Dylan Bratlie said. “You’re crackin’ heads every play. That’s your job.
“You have to be a little crazy but still keep a sound head. I’m a very nice guy, but when it comes to the field, I have to let loose.”
At its most basic, the line of scrimmage represents the primordial attraction of football. It’s an instinctual battle for physical supremacy, and yet it requires the most benevolent of players. It requires somebody who is willing to sacrifice, knowing that doing his job well will bring glory to somebody else.
“I think that humbles a lineman,” Skyview’s Jonah Koreski said.
“The reward we get is when Parker (Henry) or Kieran (McDonagh) or Spencer (Miles) is in the end zone,” Wallace said. “Those six points are our reward. I believe it takes a humble personality.”
That humility has helped Skyview to its fourth straight league title. But some of that championship attitude, coach Steve Kizer said, comes from Henry.
“I try to coach as hard as he plays,” Kizer said. “Our linemen are starting to block as hard as he runs.”
Wallace said: “I would have to agree with that. More and more this season, I see guys blocking all the way downfield.”
Yes, they throw themselves into a fellow behemoth from the other team, then lug their 280-pound body 20 yards down the field to do it again. It’s a mentality that few can fully appreciate.
“There is a mutual respect between the linemen, from team to team,” Koreski said. “We understand each other.”
Sort of like an exclusive club. The Benevolent Society of The Big Uglies.
Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. To “Like” him on Facebook, search for “Greg Jayne - The Columbian.”