Every football player grows up with delusions of grandeur.
Being that quarterback who makes the game-winning throws.
Leaving a defender grasping at air after a juke as a running back.
Pulling down a Hail Mary as a receiver in the final seconds.
One thing kids don’t dream about? Pancaking a defender as an offensive linemen.
For some programs, it is becoming harder and harder to have “the conversation” with a player. At a point, some kids get too big or too slow or too good at pushing people around to stay at a skill position.
The problem? More and more players do not want to be linemen.
“You get a lot of kids that are the right size to be offensive linemen, but it is easier to go play defensive line because you can make a play every once in awhile, you get to be a star,” said Columbia City coach Brett Fox. “There is no recognition for the offensive linemen, the kids don’t see it as important.”
The problem is magnified at programs that do not have a plethora of kids walking around with the size of an O-lineman. Some are just plain lazy and quit when they reach a point where carrying the football is no longer an option. Others commit purely to defense, dodging the position that rarely is in the spotlight.
“You are usually pulling teeth when trying to get kids to play up front,” said Bishop Luers coach Kyle Lindsay. “We have some guys who are truly committed to the position. But you also have some where the last thing they want to do is play O-line. They all think they can do something special with the ball.”
The issue may be bigger than just kids not wanting to play offensive line. Summer skills showcases and 7v7 tournaments gravitate towards the offensive studs and defensive ball hawks. Linemen are cut completely out of the equation. For some, it is easier to give up playing football instead of honing their craft like quarterbacks do.
“Honestly, it is a societal thing,” Fox said. “Trying to reach these 14 to 18 year olds to sacrifice and be proud of being an O-lineman is tough. I wish more of them would watch (former Notre Dame and current Indianapolis Colts guard) Quenton Nelson a whole lot more.”
Some programs aren’t hurting for offensive linemen, but it has been a process to reach that point. Bishop Dwenger has a long history of physicality and tenacity among its front line. Being an offensive lineman for the Saints holds just as much prestige as being the starting quarterback.
“Some of it is culture, but it is also that “we over me” mentality,” said Saints coach Jason Garrett. “It is having that personal relationship with the player where you can have that conversation about being part of something and how the team needs you (at O-line).”
It also doesn’t hurt being able to point to the recent history of Dwenger linemen who have gone on to play FBS football, including Tony Springmann (Notre Dame), Joe Tippmann (Wisconsin) and soon, Luke Wiginton (Indiana).
Some teams use awards and accolades for their offensive linemen to make them feel just as important as those who are scoring the touchdowns. While media and highlights center on the running back who rushed for 250 yards and four touchdowns, his offensive line is getting praised and rewarded in the locker room.
Funny thing is, once a coaching staff gets a kid to commit to playing offensive line, he usually enjoys it.
Landin Markins is a 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior at Columbia City who for years was apprehensive about playing O-line.
“He thinks it is fun now,” Fox said. “He’s like, ‘Man, I get to hit someone on every play.’
“It’s frustrating trying to find kids to stay with it and be sacrificial in that way.”
Occasionally, you have a player who will commit to playing the position no matter what, even if they are undersized. Unfortunately, these cases seem to be happening less and less often in some programs.
“We had a 180-pound sophomore in preseason camp volunteer to play O-line because we have been so thin there,” Lindsay said. “This is a kid who has played linebacker and receiver for us. All of us (coaches) were shocked.
“We told him that the move may not be permanent, and he said, ‘Coach, I would rather be blocking for someone who is better than me at carrying the ball.'”
“The conversation” is often a tough one with both players and their parents, who sometimes also have visions of their son dominating the Friday night highlight shows.
When asked, “Do you want to be a 6th string running back or a 2nd string offensive lineman?” some players see their folly, while others walk away from the sport permanently.
Some programs have been lucky when it comes to that conversation, while others have not been. Other teams are barely scrounging up enough passionate lineman to make out a starting lineup.
It’s an ongoing battle, one that seems to be getting bigger with each passing year.