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Stellar line plays big factor in helping Indians reach Super Bowl

Ask any high school football coach — heck, ask any football coach anywhere — where a game is won and lost and they will likely tell you two words:

Up front.

It’s true that in football, some of the most important players on the team are also the most underappreciated.

Don’t believe it? Quick, take a moment and list off the top two running threats in the Turners Falls High School backfield this season. If you just said Ryan Wilder and John Ollari you nailed it, (and if you mentioned Alex Osowski then you’ve really been paying attention to your Indian football).

Now try and name three starting offensive linemen on Turners Falls.

Couldn’t do it? Well, shame on you.

Truth be told, many football fans from NFL fans, to college fans to high school fans have trouble identifying linemen. Those hulking bodies get lost in the sea of scrums and dust that form as they try to open up holes for the backs to run through, or protect the quarterback as he drops back to pass. In actuality, if you do hear the name of a lineman, it’s probably not a good thing. The name of an offensive lineman generally only comes up if there is a penalty on the player, or if he misses a block.

“The first thing I told these guys when they signed up was that nobody signs up to play offensive line,” Turners Falls line coach Jay Wonsey said on Thursday as the team prepared for Saturday’s Western Mass. Division IV Super Bowl, where the second-seeded Indians will take on top-seeded Pathfinder Vocational High School at Westfield State University at 10 a.m.

Being an offensive lineman is perhaps the most important job in sports that goes without fanfare. It’s like being a defender on a soccer team, or the fifth best runner on a cross country team; each is vital to a team’s success, but generally not players that garner the headlines.

You don’t need to tell that to the five starting Indian offensive linemen. Seniors Kory Ryan, Brendan LeDoyt, Tyler Glazier, Kramer Patenaude and junior Tyler Charboneau are the five starters, and while they don’t get the same type of recognition as the skill players do, they each take pride in the fact that their team has been able to accomplish all that it has this season.

“We take great pride in the team’s success,” Ryan said as he walked into a film session. “The numbers that Ryan (Wilder) has put up shows that we’ve been working hard.”

It’s not something that happened immediately. When Chris Lapointe and company took over the team three years ago, the Indians were struggling to win games. The coaching staff did inherit a group of underclassmen, however, that had been playing together for a while and were going to breath life into a program that desperately needed it. Lapointe took over as coach in 2010, marking 11 years since he had quarterbacked the Indians as a senior. In those 11 years, the team had just one winning season, and Lapointe’s first year was not much better as the team finished 1-9, scoring just 42 points in the league while allowing 234.

The team has grown as the line has grown, however, improving to 6-5 last year and finishing in the middle of the pack in both scoring and defense, and now sitting at 10-2 entering this game with the top-ranked offense in the IL this season and the second-best defense.

“It’s been three years in the making,” Wonsey said. “It didn’t happen overnight. Slowly but surely they came together as a unit.”

And now they have a running back in Wilder that broke the area’s single-season rushing record after he passed former Greenfield High School quarterback Peter Bergeron’s 1,851-yard output from 1995. Wilder sits at 1,905 yards on the season and has a chance to become a 2,000-yard rusher. And the running back knows how hard his line has worked this season. The first thing he did was acknowledge the guys up front on the night when he broke the school’s all-time rushing record three weeks ago.

“I couldn’t ask for better blockers,” Wilder said at the time. “Everybody does a great job blocking.”

The offensive line was back at it on Tuesday night against Ware High School in the semifinals, as it helped the offense put up nearly 300 yards of total offense and kept Ware’s pass rush off of quarterback Malcolm Smith, who completed 4-of-6 passes for 77 yards didn’t get sacked once. On the night, Turners ran just two plays that went for negative yardage, a credit to the guys up front who were doing their jobs. And the team is not blessed with any hulking bodies. Most of the players on the line weigh around 200 pounds, but three of them are that heavy due to standing 6-foot-1 or taller.

“It’s not always the size of the dog in the fight,” Lapointe added. “They do the little things they need to in order to be successful. They pull, they use the right techniques.”

And now they are one victory away from helping win the school’s first Super Bowl. And if you make the trip to Westfield State on Saturday for the Super Bowl and you happen to find yourself looking at a sweat-soaked, dirt-covered player that is not being interviewed by any reporters, you may just be staring at an offensive lineman.

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