TALES FROM THE TRENCHES: Unheralded offensive linemen across several eras relive memorable moments from the heat of battle
QUINCY (WGEM) - Live in the shadow.
Those four words pretty much sum up the life of the unheralded offensive lineman.
Without them, there are no 3,000-yard passers, 1,500-yard receivers or 1,000-yard rushers. There are no state championships, NCAA national titles or Super Bowl rings.
Want proof, just ask a quarterback.
“The line is the most important part of the offense,” said Quincy High sophomore quarterback Bradyn Little, who shattered the Blue Devils single game and single season passing records during an 8-3 campaign. “Their ability to set the tone and flip the switch between a dominant run blocker and an athletic big man and provide protection in a pass set is vital to the offense’s success.
“A quarterback can be confident in knowing the offensive line will provide protection. When I drop back to pass, the line can eliminate the pass rush and allow me to focus on my reads and deliver the ball on time.
“Ours (QHS offensive line) was unbelievable this year. They also have to be selfless and know and understand that they may not get the ‘glitz and glamor’ but they are the most important part of our offense.”
With that, five former and current offensive linemen with local ties, ranging from careers in NFL to the college ranks, were asked about their “signature moment” and what it takes to be an offensive linemen.
Brent Fischer, Jack Cornell, Dylan Powell, Jonathan Bottorff and Andrew Rupcich tell their stories of “Tales From the Trenches.”
High School: Quincy Notre Dame (1981-85), three-year starter on offensive and defensive lines, all-conference and Herald-Whig All-Area team.
College: Eastern Illinois University (1985-89), backed up both guards and tackles as a sophomore, eventually started the last game of his sophomore year at tackle and started his junior and senior year. Named All-Gateway Conference first team senior year.
Current: Married to wife Julie for 22 years, one daughter Lindsey, a freshman softball player at Quincy University. Employed at Dot Foods as a physical security specialist.
POPPING PAUP: “One of the best players I have ever gone against was a guy named Bryce Paup (Northern Iowa and NFL career with Packers, Bills, Jaguars and Vikings). When he was with the Bills in 1995 he was NFL Defensive Player of the Year and he also received numerous Pro Bowl nominations. Anyway, he was 6-foot-6 and probably weighed at least 255 pounds. He was an unbelievable athlete and played a wide D-end technique. He had his ears pinned back all game and kicked my butt my junior year. At the other end was a defensive end named James Jones, who went on to have a successful career in the NFL as well. I could block him but not Paup. So going into my senior year I heard a rumor they moved Paup to inside linebacker, which was GREAT news for me. You would think that would be difficult but we could contain him in there. Well, I heard right, he was moved to ILB and we went up to the UNI Dome and it was a heckuva game and was in there. We were down inside the 7-yard line and needed a score. We were throwing a back shoulder type fade pass in the end zone and we knew they were probably bringing the house. I was at right tackle and Paup blitzed the inside gap. I stepped down and stood him up on contact! The best part is my Dad (God rest his soul) got a picture of it. I will tell you when you look at the picture Paup’s feet are not touching the ground! That is my one claim to fame and it is documented on paper. Thanks to my Dad.”
WHAT IT TAKES: “I would say discipline and tenacity. The discipline part covers a number of areas. First, you are not good if you don’t start with a good stance. Be disciplined in your stance. Second, know the snap count and where the point of attack is, and who you are working to. The more positions you know up front the better and more valuable you are going to be. You must be a student of the game. Third, be patient with your blocks and don’t give up on them. Finally, discipline is your technique. You can’t get lazy in your technique, or you will get your rear kicked. Repetition will make all this come naturally. The tenacity part is just mental and physical toughness. You have to have it. It is critical that no matter what the situation is you keep getting up and go back to work with the attitude no one is going to beat you or that you cannot get the job done.”
High School: Quincy Notre Dame (2003-07), right tackle, 2005-06 Associated Press All-State first team, 2006 High School All-American, 2006 All-MidState Conference first team, three-time all-conference heavyweight wrestler 2004-2005, 2005-2006, 2006-2007.
College: University of Illinois (2008-11), two-year starter at right guard and left guard, played in 2007 Rose Bowl, 2010 Texas Bowl, 2011 Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl, starter on program’s first-ever back-to-back bowl game victories, 2011 captain, 2011 Red Grange Award recipient for uncommon dedication to the team.
Professional: 2012 signed as an undrafted free agent with the Baltimore Ravens, signed to Baltimore Ravens practice squad in September 2012, member of Super Bowl 47 World Champion Baltimore Ravens, 2013 signed to Oakland Raiders practice squad and active roster, 2013 active roster for Oakland Raiders vs. San Diego Chargers, Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Giants, 2014 was released by Oakland and returned home to begin coaching career.
Current: Just finished his fifth season as QND head football coach, just started his eighth season as QND assistant wrestling coach, 2015-2016 Quincy University assistant offensive line coach, 2017 Culver-Stockton College offensive line coach, and strength and conditioning coordinator.
SCHOLARSHIP PLAY: “My junior season (2005) at QND we are playing in Peoria against Peoria Manual. Coach calls a play, ‘I Left 29 Lightning X,’ which has me run out to the flat and block a corner who is covering our receiver who is about to catch a quick pass. The corner did not see me coming and I smoked him, then jumped on top of him for good measure. I called that play my “scholarship play” as it was the first clip on my junior highlight tape, and was the first thing college coaches saw when they put on my tape. Shortly after sending that highlight tape out, I had multiple Big 10, SEC and Big 12 offers.”
WHAT IT TAKES: “I could answer this question for hours, but I can try to sum it up in a few words. All offensive linemen must possess the following qualities: Tough, disciplined, smart, athletic, physical and nasty. There is no position in all of sports like the offensive linemen. I have long said, fathers would be lucky for their daughters to marry an offensive linemen. Just ask my father-in-law!”
High School: Hannibal (2012-2016), three-time Missouri All-State, four-time All-North Central Missouri Conference and All-District.
College: Stanford (2016-2019), Indiana (2020-2022). Started more than 20 games at center and guard.
Current: Lives in St. Louis, working in IT sales.
THE DRIVE: “My favorite memory as an o-linemen isn’t really a specific play. It was a four-minute, game-ending drive that we had against Michigan. It was the 2020 season when we beat them for the first time in a couple decades and helped us stay undefeated and move up into the top 20 of the Associated Press college football rankings. There is no better feeling as an o-linemen than ending the game on the field by running the ball every single play when the defense knows you are running, and they must get a stop. This game also helped us continue one of the best seasons in Indiana football history.”
WHAT IT TAKES: “There are a lot of qualities to make a great offensive lineman. I’d say the greatest quality that any great offensive lineman must have to be successful is toughness. You have to be tough enough and mentally strong enough to line up every snap and move another man against his will. It doesn’t matter what play is called, what the weather is like, or who you are playing. The goal remains the same every single play and that is to compete longer and harder than the defensive line.
High School: Quincy Notre Dame (2015-19) Right tackle and center, three-year starter, three-time All-West Central Conference and two-time Illinois All-State.
College: Missouri Western State University (2020-22). Center and guard, played in 22 games in two seasons.
Current: Junior at Missouri Western with two years of college eligibility.
KEY BLOCK: “The signature play of my career came during the 2017 Quincy Notre Dame vs. Quincy High football game. We were down by one after scoring a touchdown, we made the decision to go for two instead of kicking the extra point for a tie. We called ‘Wildcat 29,’ which was a sweep to the left side. I normally played right tackle but told the other tackle to switch with me. I lined up at left tackle and took out the defensive end and we scored to take the lead by one point with around 40 seconds left in the game.”
WHAT IT TAKES: “There are two traits for anyone who wants to be a great offensive linemen. The first is aggression. It is the most physical position in all of sports, your sole duty is to throw your body in front of the defenders in order for others to gain yards and score and the attitude just needs to be a relentless passion to move the man in front of you against his will over and over again. The second is attention to detail. Your feet, hands and body placement to make blocks has to be at a high level in order to be a great offensive linemen. Missing with your first step just a few inches can cause you to get beat. The offensive line craft is very repetitive and methodical but the discipline to be correct time and time again can set you ahead of the rest. There is no other job in sports like being an offensive linemen. We have no stats, we are not noticed by a majority of the fans. Selflessness and consistency are the pillars to what it truly means to play this position.”
High School: McHenry West High School, four-year starter right and left tackle, All-Area, All-Conference.
College: Culver-Stockton College, left tackle, five-year starter (with COVID year), All-HAAC honorable mention and four-time All-HAAC first team, three-time AFCA All-America first team, two-time Associated Press All-American
Professional: Tennessee Titans, guard/tackle, rookie season.
Current: Lives in Nashville, Tenn.
PIESMAN WINNER: “I don’t think there is a specific play that can define an offensive lineman’s career. For me, it was my goal to have somebody on the ground on every play (especially if it was a run to our sideline). When I would get a pancake block close to our sideline it gave our sideline a ton of juice. I would hear “RUPPPPEEE” or “BABYYY” chants and the momentum would swing. Outside of line play, I did have a play that we ran a sprint-out protection where I leaked out the backside and the quarterback threw me the ball. From there, I turned and looked downfield and delivered a perfect spiral to my suitemate Brody Hassel. The play ended up winning me the ‘Piesman Trophy.’ I beat out individuals from all levels of college football to win the trophy.”
WHAT IT TAKES: “To be at the top of your game the most important thing is not any physical aspect but is the mental part of the game. Being able to know not only your job but the entire scheme of a play allows you to play at your best. If you know what you’re doing mentally it allows you to play free and fast. Physically to be an offensive lineman you have to be physical, with grit and have high effort. If you have the four aspects of physical, grit, effort, and knowing what to do you can be a successful lineman.”
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