DECATUR — Running backs and wide receivers dazzle with highlight plays; quarterbacks receive most of the credit.
When a team does well, it’s easy to look at the player in the end zone and attribute success to them, or to the player that’s pointing the most and hollering out plays at the line of scrimmage.
But when there’s a lineman who is able to lead their team off and on the field, it can bring a different dynamic. Newton coach Jason Fulton has seen it with his son Gabe, who was a captain his junior and now senior year, of how players respond to a captain that leads from the line.
“You’re always going to have your groups that look more to the stars of the team,” coach Fulton said, “but when you got someone like Gabe, who’s been in the trenches and done the work, you’re going to gain that respect in a good, positive way.”
It’s not the most glamorous job, being a lineman. Your entire job is to absorb hits meant for your teammates. But many times, if your name is brought up by fans or media, it’s because something went wrong.
But Tuscola coach Andy Romine sees a different atmosphere from inside the locker room, and especially the film room. While those cheering from the stands on Friday nights might not notice how a lineman opens up enough of a gap for a running back to burst through, that’s not the case for the rest of the week.
“You do get credit,” Romine said. “We had a film session for about 45 minutes in the weight room the other day and I’ll guarantee the majority of time is directed at offensive linemen.
“Whether it’s constructive criticism or trying to improve footwork or hand placement or this is a fantastic block and great footwork, they do get a ton of credit.”
The outside attention isn’t something Gabe Fulton gets too hung up on.
“To me, it doesn’t bother me one bit. Like last year with (running back Mitch) Bierman, he gave us tremendous amount of credit and our coaches do, too. I don’t ever feel left out in that sense. With our plays, we see the numbers on the board and we know what we did.”
It's an effective recipe for a leader, someone who sacrifices the glory for the points on the scoreboard. Of course, having a few extra pounds and likely seniority over most of the team can help your words carry some weight as well.
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“I think sometimes when you have this great, big lineman around, maybe they’re a little more scared of them,” Jason Fulton said. “Gabe’s a big kid, but he’s not intimidating looking, but I think he does demand that respect.”
If there’s one thing coaches love, especially coaches who are former linemen, it’s dedication in the weight room. It’s something where players can show how above and beyond they will go from the standard, and there’s a visible example set to the rest of the team.
And while Romine is proud of how much senior lineman and Oklahoma State commit Hunter Woodard has been able to accomplish personally, it’s the trickle-down effect from his work ethic, reception to coaching and one other area.
“He buys into that part, but when I look back onto Hunter Woodard’s career here, his greatest contribution is going to be the mentality he has brought to the weight room with our younger kids,” Romine said. “It is phenomenal.”
The weight room is not the only carryover effect linemen have on a program. Much of what a lineman does on the field transfers over to other groups on the team. Whether it’s showing running backs or receivers how to block or having a vision of where to run upfield, focusing film sessions on the linemen doesn’t just benefit them.
And Romine likes using that time to heap praise when it’s due.
“They just don’t get a ton of credit in the newspaper because it’s not glamorous and there’s no statistics,” Romine said. “Last year, there were a couple games Kaleb Williams rushed for close to 300 yards. Well, you can quantify that. There’s just not a huge way to quantify the success of an offensive lineman.”
And while it may help to speak with authority when you’re bigger than your teammates, linemen can also be looked as someone with the means to fix problems. After all, they’re whole job is to make sure those problematic linebackers and others don’t mess up the offense’s plans.
“I wanted to be the guy that people could look at when something goes wrong,” Gabe Fulton said. “That was definitely Bierman’s role last year and that definitely needed to be filled. And sometimes people don’t always like that guy.
“But when it comes down to it, it’s very needed. And I think that’s happened and I’m happy with that.”
Romine’s seen his quarterbacks and other skill position players give credit to the five big bodies on the front lines. And that’s what matters to him.
“Not many people know who Jeff Saturday is. He’s one of the best centers to play the game,” Romine said. “But they certainly know who Reggie Wayne is, they know who Peyton Manning is, but Peyton Manning will probably tell you he’s not the same Peyton Manning without Jeff Saturday.”