There's very little glory involved with being an offensive lineman. His play is usually recognized only when a mistake is made.But astute football minds often argue that few things affect a team's success more than a cohesive and strong unit up front.
Concord coach Brian Hamilton watched record-setting quarterback Ricky Lloyd lead the Minutemen to the North Coast Section Division II title last year with an offense that averaged more than 500 yards and 50 points per game. The team might've had an even more explosive offense the year before but suffered because of the offensive line play.
"We were terrible up front in 2009, and we lost in the first round (of the NCS playoffs) because we could not protect Ricky," Hamilton said.
While uber-recruits such as Salesian's 6-foot-8, 310-pound Freddie Tagaloa are a joy for any coach to possess, they are rare.
"When you're a guy like Freddie, and you're 6-8, you can take a bad first step and still be dominant," Hamilton said. "We're not there. De La Salle's not there. When you count on 200-pound guys, first step has to be perfect, second step has to be perfect, third step has to be perfect. Freddie's very gifted, and he's very good, but those guys are pretty rare."
"We all want that 6-5, 290-pound guy that can run like the wind, but those come once in a lifetime," added St. Mary's coach Keith Minor, a former college offensive lineman.
De La Salle, the two-time defending California Interscholastic Federation Open Division state champion and 19-time defending NCS champion, has made an art form out of dominating the trenches with more skill than brawn. The average size of a starting offensive lineman for the Spartans last year was just over 6 feet and 218 pounds, and that's been pretty typical over the years.
The Spartans' veer offense requires such precise execution that the smaller, quicker -- but often equally strong -- linemen are key to the team's success.
"Especially at De La Salle, the offensive line is our offense," said Spartans quarterback Bart Houston, a Wisconsin commit. "Without them running the triple option or the veer, it's impossible."
While players such as Houston and other playmaking stars may get the glory, the offensive line's work is often appreciated by their teammates.
"I try to give them everything I can give them," Houston said. "They don't handle the ball, so they don't get their name in the paper."
For Tagaloa, the situation is a little different. He's been lauded as a potential NFL prospect and has found his way into headlines. But he still takes pride in the role of enhancing the play of his teammates.
"It's like a prize seeing my running back's name in the paper," Tagaloa said. "If his name is in the paper, that means the offensive line is doing something really good."
A player such as Tagaloa doesn't alone make for a successful line. It still requires the work of all five linemen working together and trusting in the person next to them.
"It's all about trust. We trust each other immensely," said Salesian senior Tim Curry, who anchors the other side of the Pride's line at right tackle. "We know the others will get the job done, and if he can't get the job done, we know he'll go 100 percent next time."
The skill set of a good offensive lineman -- that combination of size and ability -- is one of the most coveted assets college coaches seek.
"Every time a recruiter comes in, the first thing they ask about is linemen," Minor said. "The first thing they ask is A, 'Do you have any?' and B, 'Do you know any?' "
While there are skill players who manage to succeed without a dominant line, it's the combination of talent at the skill positions and on the line that can be the difference maker.
"There are great backs all over the Bay that don't get the chance to be great and show how great they are because they're not running behind good offensive lines. We have a lot of great throwers that don't get the ball off because they can't be protected," Hamilton said. "Your offensive line allows special players to be special."