THANKSGIVING FOOTBALL: Yours and mine, these boys walk the line

THANKSGIVING FOOTBALL: Yours and mine, these boys walk the line

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MERIDEN — It’s one of our favorite football pictures of the season.

The night of October 26, Southington at East Hartford. Running back Tanner LaRosa has just scored a touchdown for the Blue Knights and one of his offensive linemen, Sam McCarty, has him hoisted head high.

It’s a great celebration shot from a night when Southington won a battle of unbeatens and pretty much secured its Class LL playoff berth.

It’s also a very descriptive shot of what quality offensive linemen mean to a football team. Theirs are the shoulders upon which winning teams stand.

Upon those shoulders, too, running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers ascend into the limelight. 

To make sure the area’s best blockers get their turn in that limelight, we wheeled out first “The Linemen” Thanksgiving feature last year. We’re happy to bring it back this year, starting off with …

Sam McCarty,Southington

Blue Knights quarterback Jacob Drena can take comfort in knowing who’s protecting his blind side. Sam McCarty is Southington’s left tackle, and he goes 6-foot-4, 275 pounds.

With McCarty anchoring the left side of the line, the Blue Knights averaged better than 38 points a game in building their 9-0 record.

Drena was among state leaders with 2,245 passing yards and 27 touchdowns heading into Wednesday night’s Apple Classic. The running game was pushing 1,300 yards, led by LaRosa (802 yards, 11 TDs).

McCarty is literally a big part of that, both as a lineman and senior captain.

“He really sets the tone as far as intensity for the team,“ Southington head coach Mike Drury said. “He’s a little undersized, but tough as nails. For a passing team, that left tackle position is hugely important and he’s done a great job.”

Will Bergin,Cheshire

At 6-foot-2 and 235 pounds, junior Will Bergin has been playing on Cheshire’s offensive line since his sophomore year. That experience earned him a captaincy this season along with fellow junior Jason Shumilla.

When Shumilla, the starting quarterback, went down with a broken foot in Week 4, the Rams took to the ground even more and Bergin, at left tackle, was instrumental in Cheshire winning two of its last three games behind its running attack. 

Heading into the Apple Classic, Cheshire was averaging 200 yards rushing a game. Wednesday night marked Bergin’s second start in the Apple Classic.

Cristian Calero,Platt

Panthers head coach Jason Bruenn keeps coming back to the same word when talking about junior right tackle Cristian Calero.

“He’s just tough. He goes out there and he battles with some of the biggest guys in the league week after week,” Bruenn said. “He doesn’t say anything. He’s so humble; he’s quiet. He just wants to go block people.

“He’s just tough.”

What makes Calero’s work at the right end of Platt’s offensive line so impressive is his size — or lack thereof, at least in relation to his position. There simply aren’t many 170-pound tackles in the business, even at the high school level.

But there’s Calero, mixing it up with heavier defensive linemen and playing a key role in an offense that was averaging 305 yards a game heading into Wednesday night’s Stoddard Bowl.

“It’s unbelievable the stuff he does on a week-to-week basis, how he can block those guys,” said Bruenn.

It could be argued Calero’s participation in another sport helps him immensely in the gridiron trenches. 

“He’s a wrestler, so he’s got some of that leverage stuff going on,” Bruenn pointed out. “He understands body positioning, so that helps him a lot.”

A pause. A closing argument. “The word you’ve got to pull out: He’s just tough.” 

Ryan Martel & D.J. Posey, Maloney

There is no doubt in the mind of Mike Falis, Maloney’s veteran offensive line coach. Maloney’s 2018 O-line is the best he’s ever coached.

It is the biggest. It is the smartest. It is tops in technique.

It was impossible for head coach Kevin Frederick to single out one guy from the crew of tackles D.J. Posey and Trevor Santiago, guards Max Ganter and Andy Cruz, center Ryan Martel and sixth man Toby Canales.

So we allowed him two, and Martel and Posey are the picks from a line that’s pushing opponents around to the tune of 41 points and 427 yards a game.

“Ryan Martel and D.J. Posey have been tremendous leaders, tremendous linemen for us,” Frederick said. “They’re tenacious football players who really have great football IQs. They take direction real well. Scheme-wise, they know what they’re doing every play. They just bring that toughness to the team.”

They also bring some serious size. Posey goes 6-foot-4, 285 pounds. Martel is 6-6, 335.

What gets lost in those numbers is the athleticism both bring to the line, particularly Martel.

“You think 335 pounds, you’re probably thinking of a guy who can’t move well,” Frederick said. “He moves well. He likes to chase down plays and make extra blocks down the field.”

Given his size, the Spartans toyed with moved Martel to tackle. He proved too valuable at center. There, he identifies the defensive fronts and linebacker alignments.

As for Posey, he sees time at guard and tackle. He’s also nose guard on defense.

Posey is very much a late-bloomer. In his early days at Maloney, he was uncertain he wanted to stick with football.

“The story behind him is just great, where he came from as a freshman to where he is now,” Frederick remarked. “He is the definition of ‘hard work pays off.’ He wasn’t the best lineman as a sophomore or even last year. How he improved, how he stuck with it is a tribute to his character and it’s a good message to send to some of these youngers linemen who, in my eyes, are similiar to what D.J. is.”

Robert “R.J.” Carroll,Wilcox Tech

Senior captain R.J. Carroll’s value to the Indians was best measured by his absence.

Carroll missed two games earlier this season due to injury. Without him, the Tribe’s offense broke down.

"When R.J. was out because he was hurt, we were a mess,” remarked Wilcox head coach Trevor Jones. “Nobody took charge."

When the 245-pound Carroll lines up at his customary spot at guard, there’s no question who’s in charge. He’s the one who makes all the blocking calls on the field.

"He's without question our best." Jones said. “He runs the whole show on the offensive line." 

Carroll, who also plays defensive tackle, was his team’s Offensive Lineman of the Year as a junior.

With a 4.18 GPA, he was also his team’s Record-Journal Scholar-Athlete this season.

There’s reason to believe the football road for R.J. did not end in the Route 66 Bowl on Wednesday night. Mass-Maritime and Plymouth State are among the schools interested in his services.

Qris Johnson,Lyman Hall

The guy with the unique name has been a unique fixture on the LH line. A three-year starter, Johnson is a senior captain and left tackle.

The 6-foot, 230-pounder has been part of the transformation that’s seen Lyman Hall re-establish itself as a solid program. This year, Johnson and the front line are laying down a beat that, showcasing 1,000-yard rusher Austin Ruiz, is piling up nearly 200 ground yards a game.

“He’s the guy; he’s the captain of our football team,” said coach Bill Weyrauch. “He’s a smart, strong athlete, just a great person. He’s a great player all around. He’s physical, aggressive, a player who gives you everything he has every single down.”

Luke Willette,Sheehan

There are only two players who have been two-year captains for Sheehan football during John Ferrazzi’s 14 seasons as head coach. The first was Sean Merrill, who went on to play at Sacred Heart University. The other is senior left tackle Luke Willette.

Now in his third year as a starter, Willette and his linemates are enjoying their best season yet. The Titans are averaging better than 417 yards and 46 points behind the 280-pound Willette, his fellow tackle Jason Klemm (250), center Willie Seay (290) and guards Tom Dipasquale (220) and Miguel Pinos (235).

“It makes things a little bit easier when you can be physical up front, when you can come off the football and move some people around,” Ferrazzi said. “We had a lot of years we didn’t have that size. We remember what that was. Having it now, we’re trying to do everything in our power to take advantage of it.”

Ron Buck contributed to this story






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