Not just a line for those up front

Linemen are the heart and soul of Trumbull team

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Former Warren G. Harding quarterback Lynn Bowden, center, awaits the snap from LaBrae’s Alec Jerina, left, as Niles’ Joey Kendall, right, guards Bowden. McDonald coach Dan Williams, who is mentoring the Trumbull team in tonight’s Jack Arvin Classic, looks on during a recent practice in McDonald.

McDONALD — Football coaches have said it for years, with most fans rolling their eyes at another so-called cliche.

The old adage that teams “win or lose games up front” doesn’t exactly cause people to start training their children to become offensive or defensive linemen.

Not only is the saying boring, but some find the meaning behind it dull as well. Coaches don’t care. They believe it to be one of the few truths about football.

“It all starts there,” said Dan Williams, the McDonald High School football coach who is leading Trumbull County in tonight’s Jack Arvin All-Star Classic football game. “If you ask any coach across the country, they’ll say the same thing. You need movement up front to create holes and alleys for our skill kids to run through.”

Williams and about seven or eight linemen are trying to make sure they’re on the right side of that saying at 7 p.m., tonight when Trumbull takes on Mahoning/Columbiana counties in the 33rd annual Arvin Classic at Hubbard Memorial Stadium.

Tribune Chronicle / Joe Simon Linemen from the Trumbull County team run through a drill during a recent practice for tonight’s Jack Arvin Classic in Hubbard as they face the Mahoning County team.

Piecing together an offensive line in a matter of weeks isn’t all that easy. Communicating calls and changes on the fly as well as understanding the offensive and defensive schemes are vital for a successful front five, and mastering such skills can be a lengthy process, but teams only have three weeks of practices (three days per week) to prepare for the Arvin. That means players and coaches have to speed up a development that usually takes months of practicing for an average line.

While learning the plays and schemes was challenging for Trumbull County, coming together as a group was a cinch.

“When you’re on the line, guys bond instantly,” said Ryan Jones, a recent Howland High School graduate playing for Trumbull County. “If you put your hand in the dirt and the person next to you puts their hand in the dirt, it’s like you automatically bond off of that.”

As far as the scheme goes, the learning curve didn’t last long.

Several of the players on the line played for teams that ran a version of the spread offense, which is what Williams is using to accentuate the strengths of a bevy of talented skill players. Furthermore, the linemen are not only talented — five will be playing football in college this fall — they’re smart as well. Jones, for instance, held a GPA better than 4.0 while at Howland and intends to major in pre-med at Case Western Reserve.

Alec Jerina, a former LaBrae standout going to Ohio Northern in a few months, said the linemen worked together to create their own signals and calls up front.

“There are some calls that McDonald gave us for plays, and we’ve changed them just … so we’re all communicating very well,” Jerina said. “Some of our schemes have double teaming and leading off to ‘backers. That’s going very well. Plus, we’ve played against each other — a couple teams — so it’s not like we’re just complete strangers. We know each other. It’s starting to get a lot better.”

Jerina added that he studied a few highlight films he found online of some Mahoning County defensive linemen to help better prepare himself. It’s just one of the ways he and his teammates are trying to gain an edge.

Niles’ Justin Beatty hasn’t needed to make many changes, partly because Niles ran a version of the spread offense during his career with the Red Dragons, and also because he is playing next to teammate Joey Kendall, another lineman from Niles.

“I have the pleasure of playing with a kid I played with all season, so me and him already had a great connection, but the o-line up front, we’re doing pretty good,” said Beatty, a 6-3, 265-pound lineman going to Notre Dame College in the fall. “We’ve got some great kids, and we’ve been really connecting.

“We have the potential to be really good,” he added. “We won’t find out until the game, but I think we can really show out and do something good with this team.”

Facing a group of all-stars could be daunting, considering most of the line hasn’t seen this level of talent across the board — until recently that is.

The Trumbull defense also features several college-bound players, and the two groups have made sure they push each other so they’re both ready for a talented Mahoning/Columbiana team.

“It’s competition,” said Jones as he explained the intense level of practices. “There are no fights that break out, but everyone wants to be the best out there, so we we’re all competing against each other.”

Finally getting a chance to compete against someone else in a real football game — the last of their high school careers — is going to bring that intensity up a few notches.

One more battle in the trenches has Jerina — and all of the line — fired up.

“Oh yeah,” said Jerina of whether he anticipates the game being physical. “That’s what I’m expecting. That’s what I’m looking forward to.”