Fun is a three-letter word that Brainerd Warriors offensive linemen know nothing about four out of the five school days in a week.
Fun doesn't happen while pushing a sled. It doesn't happen when running through metal chutes on a hot day.
It's no fun having a former college lineman scream in your ear about blocking techniques, quick feet, getting off the ball and not being lazy.
It can be downright boring, repeating the same down-block or kick-out block over and over and over.
Warriors offensive line coach Chet Stevenson instructed his linemen after a series in Thursday's Class 5A semifinals at the Metrodome. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
So why would any teenager want to be a Warrior lineman?
"It feels so good on game nights to open up that hole and watch that back run down the field," said starting guard Tom Lyscio.
The senior used to know fun. He used to play linebacker. Now he opens holes for running backs so they can get all the recognition.
He admitted to being "bummed" when Brainerd's coaching staff suggested the move to offense. Who wouldn't be? While other groups are huddled up talking about football at practice, linemen are grinding away on technique and blocking schemes.
All so they can open up the Sunday Dispatch and see a photo of wide receiver Bronson Shepherd getting a big bear hug from wide out Turner Johnson.
But that's just part of being a lineman.
"That's the thing about the front guys, they are the lunch-bucket group," said Warrior offensive line coach Chet Stevenson. "They're the blue-collar workers on our football team. They're not a real talkative bunch, at least not around me."
Brainerd Warriors senior quarterback Nate Schaefbauer rushed for 55 yards in Thursday's Class 5A semifinals at the Metrodome. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
Stevenson admits he's on his linemen all the time. He does not coddle his players because he knows the formula for a state football team ends with a product of five: One center plus two guards plus two tackles.
In Brainerd, however, the answer is six.
Junior tackles David Titus and Jared Erickson, senior guards Lyscio and Matt Ashburn and center Clint Dwire along with Tyler Blong, who can play tackle and guard, are the equation for success.
This is a line that has protected possibly the first 2,000-yard passer in school history. Brainerd has rushed for 2,293 yards and thrown for 1,822 thanks to the offensive line.
This unit has given up just three sacks all season.
They aren't worried about statistics, photos in the paper or interviews with my esteemed colleague, though.
"Their focus is to play as hard as they can every play," said Stevenson. "I've told them plenty of times that I can handle going to the wrong place or not being technically right. I can't take laziness. They're not going to play for me if they take a play off. I'll find someone else. They play every play and give me their best effort. That's the Warrior linemen mentality."
With seniors in waiting, like Tyler Brown, Luther Wallin and Jacob Stumpf, that isn't a threat. It's a promise.
Ashburn was the only returning starter from last year's team. But a commitment to the armed forces meant the senior missed preseason camp and the entire two-a-day practice schedule.
Brainerd Warriors junior wide receiver Mike Gervenak struggled for an extra yard in Thursday's Class 5A semifinals at the Metrodome. Brainerd Dispatch/Clint Wood » Purchase reprints of this photo.
That forced Dwire into the center position.
"He never played center before," said Stevenson. "As we left our summer camp I told him, 'You are our center.' Against Tech he took his first snap as a center and his first snap as a varsity player. He's our most improved player. He's also our long snapper on punts and extra-point kicks. He has become a fine snapper."
Just don't tell Dwire that - yet.
"Our junior tackles have not missed a snap," Stevenson said. "Those are two kids I got into the weight room last winter and I just pounded them. I knew we were going to be young and I know the value of strength and they both improved their strength probably double from what they had last fall at this time. They don't say boo. They just work."
The sixth man in the offensive line is Blong.
"He's a real bright guy," Stevenson said. "He's about 6-foot-4 so he has the size to play tackle, but he has the athletic ability to play guard. He is a real essential ingredient to this team. If our center goes down, we'll move Ashburn there and Blong in for Ashburn. So right now we rotate those two guys and keep them both in the mix."
Before you start thinking this group is the next coming of the Hogs from the Washington Redskins, heed the words Stevenson harps on his men almost every day.
"I always tell them contentment is our worst enemy," said Stevenson. "The minute they start thinking they're pretty good that's when it stops getting better. These guys aren't the best athletes. We have to work our tails off. We are not wide receivers. We're linemen. We earn everything we get."
What is earned is respect.
"You don't do anything offensively without the guys up front," said offensive coordinator Jeff Ramey. "The run game or the pass game, it all starts with those guys. With their growth, you see our success and improvement as a team over the course of the season. These kids haven't backed down from any challenge."
jeremy millsop, sports writer, may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5856.
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