It’s not easy being an offensive lineman.
You’re in the trenches, just pushing and and protecting after each snap. You have no stats to gloat about or flashy plays to put on the highlight reel, but the offensive line is oh so important.
Especially to an offense like Fulton has.
The Steamers are headed into the playoffs yet again, which is nothing new to a lot of the roster. They take on a ranked Aquin team Saturday afternoon.
But to even get there, they put in a lot of work.
Out of the Steamers’ five regular season wins, all five have been won when Fulton scores 25 or more points.
That’s because they rely heavily on a talented run offense. Every rushing yard that’s picked up is started with a hole created by the offensive line.
“If you don’t have a good line, there’s no way to run the ball,” lineman Nate Portz said. “You don’t even need to have a good running back or a good full back to get the ball running with a good lineup up front. I think we’re a solid piece of the team and if we don’t do something right, nothing good can happen.”
Four of the five starting offensive lineman are varsity returners – Trae Van Zuiden, Dylan Bridgeman, Nate Portz and Max Pannell. They brought experience to the game this year that’s showed in offensive generation.
We did struggle through some injuries and sicknesses through the beginning of the season but I think we progressed,” Pannell said. “We’ve been doing a lot of things that I think a lot of good offensive lines hve been doing.”
“It’s helped a lot,” Van Zuiden said. “Coming into it, we had a new quarterback but it helped him adjust to the speed of varsity football knowing that four of the five varsity lineman had experience last year.”
That brand new quarterback was in the form of junior Connor Barnett. With Barnett taking over the offense, he needed some time to get acclimated. His offensive line gave him that time he needed, and he’s since turned in multiple games with over 100 passing yards.
“I think it’s very valuable to give him enough time to be able to launch the ball to where it needs to be,” Portz said. “You can certainly tell when he felt pressure and did not want to get hit he would throw the ball away and we can’t have that. He knows how to be smart with it and keep it in there and he knows that we have his back anytime we need to get the ball in the air.”
They certainly haven’t been perfect. Starting out the season with a couple injuries (Dylan Bridgeman) they started off slow. They also faced some of the best defenses in the state, like a shutout loss to No. 4 Morrison and a 25-6 loss to Sterling Newman.
They’ve learned from those – mostly to communicate.
“We have to respect everyone else’s lineup too,” Portz said. “We have to [converse] before we get to the line as to where everyone needs to be and then when we’re on the line we still talk and make sure we get our job done.”
The line is very close, both from having meshing personalities and from having experience playing together. That helps with communication on the field, something they claim to excel at because of their bonds.
They just want to make it consistent.
“I learned that every play matters,” Van Zuiden said. “You need to be consistent every drive and every play, because we missed some opportunities when running our offense. More we can communicate and perform as a whole the better things go.”
In their Week 10 matchup, Aquin houses a lot of physically built athletes. Their impressive defensive roster has forced 12 interceptions and picked up 14 fumble recoveries through the first nine weeks of the regular season.
The o-line has a big task in front of them.
“Our biggest things we need to get done this game is do our assignments and communicate,” Pannell said. “Communication is key on an offensive line and we’ve really built on that and have done a lot better on that. We’ve won quite a few games just by communicating.”
“We know how important the line of scrimmage is,” Pannell said. “And if we can control that we can win the game.”
Fulton’s playoff game is at Aquin Catholic this Saturday at 1 p.m.