Mansfield Lake Ridge left tackle Blake Lodes has a saying that goes something like this: “Offensive linemen are like air conditioning. They’re not noticed until they don’t work.”
Perhaps the most unappreciated position in sports, an offensive lineman often gets recognition only when he does something wrong, as Lodes alluded. But this year’s success of the Lake Ridge offense has a lot to do with “the fatties,” even if they aren’t getting the credit they deserve.
You might assume being called “the fatties” would be an insult. Well, it depends on who’s saying it.
“You’re the big guys,” Lodes said. “The fatties is what we jokingly call each other. You just stick together. If a skinny person calls you fat, that’s insulting. But if a fat person calls you fat, then you laugh about it and hang out.”
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It’s easy for the linemen — in this case Lodes, Will Ready, Zach Muth, Miguel Molinar and Jon Paul Portillo — to laugh and hang out together, given their shared experience as anonymous pillars of a football team.
“It’s a very thankless job, and yet it’s the most necessary job on your football team,” Lake Ridge coach Kirk Thor said. “You’ve got to have a great offensive line if you want to have a chance to compete. They don’t have to be a certain size and weight, but they’ve got to be good in skills. If they’re bigger, that’s a bonus.”
But it takes more than size and skill to be an offensive lineman.
If a skinny person calls you fat, that’s insulting. But if a fat person calls you fat, then you laugh about it and hang out.
Lake Ridge left tackle Blake Lodes
“You have to be humble to play offensive line,” Lodes said. “You don’t get the spotlight. But for example, this past week when we scored 52 points against Midlothian, the offensive line scored 52 points. You just have to know within yourself that, no, you’re not in the newspaper, but while the quarterbacks and running backs are, you did it with them.”
“You kind of make a sacrifice playing the position,” Ready added. “It’s just a game where you have to go out there and do it for your team and for the other guys on the offensive line.”
As important as the chemistry between a quarterback and his receivers, the lineman must be in lockstep on protection schemes, or that quarterback will be on his backside.
“Those guys have to form a close bond,” Thor said. “They’ve got to kind of become a family within your family.”
“We all trust each other,” Ready added. “We pick each other up no matter what. Each one of us makes mistakes. The other guys are right there trying to help. We always keep the unit-over-me kind of deal, because it takes the other guys to make it all successful.”
Most students know when walking through the halls if they’ve just passed the quarterback or star running back. The right guard? Not so much.
“You can ask anyone, ‘What’s a quarterback,’ or ‘What’s a running back,’ and they know,” Lodes said. “But when you walk up to a random person and say, ‘What’s a left tackle?’ They might look at you like a deer in headlights.”
It’s a fact of life for linemen.
“It goes back to being humble,” Lodes added. “You’ve got to understand that people won’t know who you are. They just know you’re a big guy. You have to be okay with just being a big guy sometimes.”
“Our pride really doesn’t get in the way,” Ready added. “We just go out and do our best each and every night.”
That doesn’t keep them from dreaming a little bit, though. Dreaming about what life might be like in another position, if only for one down.
“One play, if I could just run a flat route and catch the ball,” Lodes said. “That would be awesome. But I love my position and that’s enough.”