They’re in the middle of every play, but seldom are noticed.
Offensive linemen can open a hole for the running attack or protect the quarterback as he searches for receivers.
With no popular statistics to grade their performance, the offensive linemen can be as forgotten as a Maytag repairman.
But not at Borgia. The Knights have used positive play by the offensive line to win their first four games. That hasn’t escaped the notice of Borgia Head Coach Dale Gildehaus or other head coaches.
“After the game, their coach told me we beat them up front,” Gildehaus said. “For us to be successful, we have to control the line of scrimmage.”
Borgia was able to do that in a 49-10 win over St. Dominic on homecoming, but it wasn’t without adversity.
“We lost Jared Kriete early on,” Gildehaus said. “Alex Roellig is going to get better at that tackle. Zach Garbs, Justin Thacker and Mitchell Gildehaus stepped in a little bit. We’ve got to continue doing those things to try and get better.”
The heart of the line is up the middle, and that’s where Borgia was able to open big holes for the running game.
“That comes up front. We talked at halftime about knowing what we could do, but we wanted to attack up the middle,” Gildehaus said. “That’s a sign of Luke Grayson, Jared Mullen, Justin Thacker, Alex Roellig and Connor Breckenkamp.”
Gildehaus a former offensive lineman himself and a member of the Truman State University athletic hall of fame, knows a little bit about playing the line. Along with his assistants, he’s worked to pass that knowledge along to this year’s linemen.
Mullen, a senior guard and one of the veterans on the line, said it comes down to good teamwork and work ethic.
We worked all week on getting off the ball and not just taking people down the line, but moving them and getting them out of the way,” Mullen said. We’ve been working on that for the past two or three weeks. That really helped us out.”
Borgia’s linemen have started to gain a reputation along with some depth. Grayson is drawing recruiting attention as a long snapper, but has been solid as a regular center as well. Others have been able to rotate into the lineup.
“We’ve been working together a lot,” Mullen said. “We practice together a lot and we have a lot of energy.”
Mullen said when the ballcarriers are able to have success, it’s a reflection of the line play.
“The running backs saw the holes good,” Mullen said. “When we made them, they went through them.”
Running back Justin Heggemann said the team’s success comes from everyone working well together and it starts with the line.
“We just made the right reads,” Heggemann said. “The quarterback made the right read, the line made the right blocking assignments we had been working on all week. Practice makes perfect.”
Quarterback Jacob Unnerstall also appreciates his linemen, who have given him the time to throw for 757 yards and 10 touchdowns so far this season. He’s been able to find 10 different receivers.
“They keep getting better each week,” Unnerstall said. “It starts at practice. We do a lot of team offense. It’s great as a quarterback.”
Unnerstall has earned some praise himself so far.
“Jacob Unnerstall continues to get better,” Gildehaus said. “He runs the option well, he runs the zone read very well and he throws the ball well.”
Gildehaus said Unnerstall has worked very hard to come back from his season-ending injury in the final game of 2016.
“Jacob Unnerstall’s goal is to be the best quarterback in this area,” Gildehaus said. “Right now, there is no doubt in my mind that he is. He continues to impress.”
While Unnerstall has shown his throwing prowess, he also ran for a 62-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against St. Dominic.
“He’s got a tremendous arm,” Gildehaus said. “Then, he ran away from them. I think he surprised everyone with his speed.”
Unnerstall decided to keep the ball on that play.
“I pulled it, gave a little move and decided I wasn’t going to cut back,” Unnerstall said. “I was going for the end zone and I got in.”
Unnerstall knew he probably worried some of his coaches with that carry.
“They probably don’t want to see me running late in the game, but it was fun,” Unnerstall said..
Gildehaus knows there’s a lot more to come from Unnerstall.
“He only gets better,” Gildehaus said. “We run the veer and we run power. If we can do that type of thing, we’re going to be successful.”
Gildehaus is quick to point out that the wins are a team effort. That includes one of the smallest players on the team, 5-5 buzz saw Justin Heggemann.
The starting running back and a returning all-conference linebacker, Heggemann hasn’t met a challenge he’s not up to tackling. Farm-strong from throwing hay bales, Heggemann has brought another dimension to the program.
So far this season, he’s been able to shoot gaps and get into the opponent’s backfield on defense.
“We didn’t show it as much,” Heggemann said about the St. Dominic game. “We stemmed it a lot more and showed that we were going to other gaps. We ended up going to different gaps. They picked it up pretty well, but we got pressure on them.”
Heggemann knows the game isn’t over until that final whistle blows.
“We made adjustments and stepped up,” Heggemann said. “We knew it was going to be a long game and we had a lot of game left.”
Offensively, Heggemann scored three touchdowns, two on the ground in the second quarter and one through the air in the fourth quarter. He had another touchdown called back on a penalty.
“We make adjustments as the game goes on,” Heggemann said about the team’s success in the second quarter. “I guess by that time we get going. Maybe we get nervous in the first quarter, but we turn it on in the second quarter.”
While the players mentioned in this article are some of the team’s standouts, they’re not alone. Gildehaus feels there are many who have stepped into succeed when given the chance.
“Tonight was a complete team win again,” Gildehaus said. “Everyone got into the play.”
Besides getting contributions from everyone, knowing that there always is room for improvement is something else which drives the Knights.
“Still, there is room for improvement, but we will improve,” Gildehaus said.