Whenever a football team averages 48.6 points per game, as the Marshall Tigers did last season, it can be easy for someone to assume that said team has an abundance of athleticism at the skill positions. While that was certainly true for the 2011 Tigers, the 2012 edition is proving that the key to scoring nearly nine touchdowns a game has more to do with the young men creating the holes rather than those running through them.
Through six games, all wins, the sixth-ranked Tigers have relied on five veteran offensive linemen, four of them returning starters, to produce the fourth-most proficient offense in Class AAAA (45.5 ppg), despite graduating nearly all of their skill position players from a year ago.
"The backs might get the credit, but it's still a good feeling when you see them score a touchdown," Marshall guard Alex Werner said. "You know the only way they could have scored is because you did your job right".
Photo by Travis Andries
From left, Marshall linemen Austin Nath, Damon Brown, Seth Abel, Alex Werner and Tyus DeBoer pose for a photo following practice Wednesday at Marshall High School. The Tigers’ offensive line has blocked for two 600-plus-yard rushers through six games this season.
Returning to the O-line along with Werner are guard Damon Brown and tackles Austin Nath and Tyus DeBoer. Seth Abel, a senior, is starting at center for the first time this season. The five are 6-foot-2 on average and have a mean weight of 252 pounds.
Given the size and experience of the line, the Tigers' coaching staff knew that the strength of the team this season would reside up front.
"I think they've proved that all year in the way they played and the consistency every ballgame," Marshall head coach Terry Bahlmann said. "They've done an excellent job for us. And as they go, we're going to go. If the holes are open, we've got the backs to run through it. As long as they keep working hard and working on their technique, I think things are going to get better with them."
According to Bahlmann, the solid performance of the O-line marks a turning point in the process of developing "a tradition of good offensive lineman." Starting with Tyler Gimmestad, currently playing for Football Championship Subdivision defending national champion North Dakota State, the Tigers have been able to generate not just one standout offensive lineman per team, but many.
"We've been able to build a tradition of good offensive linemen over the years," Bahlmann said. "Gimmestad really sticks out, playing for NDSU. And these guys are right in that category. This summer, we knew what we were going to have there, and they keep getting better all the time."
Given their varied traits, Bahlmann expects each of the five current lineman to follow in Gimmestad's footsteps and play at the next level.
"I think they're going to get a chance to play some college football at different levels, all of them," Bahlmann said. "You have Werner with the height and athleticism at 6-foot-6. Nath bench presses 225 (pounds) 29 times. Tyus is big and strong, and Damon is a relentless blocker. He's a great drive blocker. And Seth is sort of the stability of it all. He's waited his turn and come in and done a nice job."
Nath's 29 reps at 225 would have placed him in a tie for seventh at the National Football League scouting combine in April among offensive tackles. His strength is astounding and vital to his development as a lineman since he made his first start as a freshman.
"I'd say my strength has helped me a lot," Nath said.
Each of the five has his own particular ability that adds value to the team, but despite their uniqueness, the effectiveness of Marshall's linemen truly derives from the bond the players share amongst themselves.
"They hang out together a lot and that just builds continuity," Bahlmann said. "They're all unique personalities and they blend together great. As offensive linemen, you can't have an ego and you have to take care of each other."
Brown agrees, "We're so close as a team, we just know each other and know how to get each other going."
When asked what separated this unit from other's on the team, Abel focused on trust.
"Everybody trusts each other to do their job," he said.
Werner attributed much of the line's success to the players' ability to communicate on the field.
"Every play, whether there is a question with an assignment or something, we're always talking," he said.
For DeBoer, there is little substitute for experience.
"Our age makes a difference," he said. "We've all been playing three years together."
On Friday, the Tigers (6-0 overall, 4-0 Southwest Conference) will face the Worthington Trojans (2-4, 1-3) in their last regular season home game of the year, and the offensive line will once more try to prove that might is right.