by Andrew Garda

garda@montclairlocal.news

As Coach Eugene Kline enters his sixth season as offensive line coach for the Montclair High School football team, he faces a few challenges. First, he had to replace multiple starters along the line due to graduating seniors. He also is having to deal with an injury to Bo Bigelow, his starting left guard.

Still, Kline strikes an optimistic tone about his group.

“This year I have a great group of kids,” he said. “I think because they are a good group of kids, they kind of root for each other, back each other, and support each other.”

That support for each other, according to their coach, makes the unit even stronger because they know they can count on the people around them. It also carries over to the sense of pride in what they do and how they go about their business.

What they do, Kline explained, is something the so-called ‘skill players’ can’t. In fact, Kline says he tells his offensive line players that they’re the real ‘skill players.’

“Anybody can run down the field and if I’m throwing the ball they can catch it. Some faster than others,” Kline admited. “I can’t put Bo Bigelow against Danny Webb. But they can do the same thing. [Webb] just does it a little more gracefully. The difference is, I can’t tell [Webb] or Josh [Crawford] or Tarrin [Earle[] to come down and block a one technique for me. Or set a three or wide-five or skip pull and lead up on a backer.”

According to Kline, that’s because the skills you use to suceed at offensive line aren’t normal. It’s not normal or instinctive to stand in front of an oncoming frieght train of a linebacker. Instinct says you should get out of the way.

Offensive linemen plant themselves directly in the path of violent intent and say ‘Let’s go.’

“We take pride in that,” Kline said.

Both the offense and defensive line—which Kline helps coach along with Vincent Pelli and Dan Roberts—also take pride in being the hardest working group on the field.

“Guys know, when we go to individual [drills] we’re working our tail off,” Kline said. “I steal time, so there’s never any time off, never any downtime when you’re on the sideline playing around. If I see I have an extra minute, I’m scooping up guys and we’re gonna go work at something.”

Kline credits that pride and attitude with why the Mounties aren’t lacking for players willing to play on the offensive line, in particular. The coaches spend a lot of time instilling the knowledge that, if the line doesn’t do its job, nothing else is going to work right.

That’s a lot of responsibility to put on the shoulders of high schoolers, but the unit revels in it.

Having bodies doesn’t mean anything other than being able to put a willing person in front of the quarterback. The guys who take on that job still need to be taught. It’s not a quick or, at times, easy process.

“Coaching offensive line is a nurturing process,” Kline said. “It’s not just like ‘Oh we’re going to do X, Y, Z and here we go.’ Can’t do it that way. We have to make sure we’re focused on developing young guys, and nurturing them.”

One of the advantages of the Mounties offensive system—which combines a lot of runs with a quick three-step drop by the quarterback on pass plays—is the line doesn’t have to hold for a tremendous amount of time. While the line has to run and pass block effectively to let guys like Earle, Webb, Crawford and the other offensive weapons do their thing, they don’t have to focus for a long play.

The flipside is, if the Mounties are running their no huddle offense, the tempo will be quick and rest won’t come often.

Kline thinks this group is up to the task, though, and will be a big key to a successful Mounties season.