If you think people don't appreciate offensive linemen, talk to coaches in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area - long a high school football hotbed.
They get it.
"The most underrated and under-appreciated players on the field are the offensive line," Richardson (Texas) Berkner coach Jim Ledford said. "They have to be intelligent, quick thinkers, have the ability to multitask, and have a thick skin. Of all the positions to coach, that's where your best kids are usually located, and they are definitely the most fun to coach."
Plano (Texas) High coach Jaydon McCullough agrees.
"The offensive line makes all the difference between winning and losing," he said. "They do their job without much glory."
It is true that linemen don't get a lot of publicity or fame. But they do get scholarship offers. Two Dallas-area lineman already have verbally committed: DeSoto (Texas) High's Marcus Hutchins (to Texas) and Plano (Texas) West's Travis Cross (to Oklahoma State). But there's plenty more talent out there.
A snapshot of varsity programs around North Texas, both public and private, reveals some of the area's best linemen:
Clayton Bennett, center, and Lee Skinner, left guard, Plano (Texas) High
Three-straight playoff appearances for the Plano Wildcats have been tempered with the fact that all three playoff runs ended in losses to Euless Trinity. Bennett and Skinner could be the keys to leading Plano High to the next level. Bennett stands 6-4 and has the quickness and athleticism to fend off pesky nose tackles. Skinner is a three-year starter and was an all-district selection last season. "They lead by example," McCullough said. "They work harder than anyone I've seen in 25 years of coaching."
Oscar Benton, tackle, Ft. Worth (Texas) Dunbar
Dunbar is a young team that needs to gain some experience this season, but coach Todd Lawson is excited about the potential on his line. Benton, who is returning to football after not playing last year, has shown plenty of promise. "He's a really good kid that works hard. He'll just have to make up for some lost time," Lawson said. At 6-5, 270, the senior certainly has the tools.
Colten Bowen, tackle, Josh Vasquez, left guard, and Harry Spivey, right guard, Grand Prairie (Texas) High
According to coach Gary Bartel, Grand Prairie has not one, but three key seniors on its offensive line. All three returning starters make up a "Great Wall of Gophers" that protects quarterback Tommy Alvarez.
Bowen (6-4, 250) is a strong, athletic player who can also deep snap. "He plays basketball, so he runs well and has great balance," Bartel said. He describes Vasquez as an "especially strong player," and says Spivey is "quick and strong at the point of attack." Having a strong interior line could give Grand Prairie a chance to keep pace with district rival Cedar Hill.
Marcus Bradley, center, Richardson (Texas) Berkner
Bradley (6-1, 255 pounds) started at both guard and center last season, and has the versatility coaches wish every player had. "He has great feet, he's easy to coach, wants to please, and is strong and athletic," Ledford said. "He takes pride in getting his job done. Plus, he's extremely unselfish."
Travis Cross, tackle, Plano (Texas) West
The 6-5 Cross (ranked No. 72 nationally at offensive tackle) plows the road for the Wolves with an explosive burst off of the line. That should help open holes for running back Kameron Haddock and give time in the pocket for Carson Smith, who takes over at quarterback. He will be a large factor in district games (8-5A) against their rivals at the other Plano schools. Cross has already verbally committed to Oklahoma State.
Gustavo Cuevas, tackle, Dallas (Texas) Sunset
Sunset may be in rebuilding mode, but that doesn't mean their offensive line is going to just roll over. At 6-3, 285 pounds, Cuevas has the size to move the offense forward. Because Sunset is not a perennial power, its players don't often get much attention from recruiters. Coach Dennis McAdams hopes that changes with Cuevas. "If he has a good senior year, he could be playing college ball somewhere next season," McAdams said. "He and his teammates worked harder this off-season than anyone I've ever seen work in all my years as a coach."
Marcus Hutchins, tackle, DeSoto (Texas) High
Rivals.com ranks Hutchins No. 56 among all high school offensive tackles nationwide. He is one of the reasons why DeSoto High is not only the favorite to win its district (11-5A), but a frontrunner to win the state. In 2009, DeSoto made it to the 5A state semifinals, and this past summer, the 7-on-7 team fell in the state championship to Lake Travis.
As the 6-3 senior, who is verbally committed to Texas, matures in his play and continues to protect quarterback Ryan Polite, that elusive state title may become a reality. DeSoto starts the year ranked No. 66 in the RivalsHigh Top 100 football rankings.
Will Juarez, tackle, Carrollton (Texas) Hebron
Hebron coach Brian Brazil is high on the 6-4 Juarez, because he has the tools and the work ethic. "He is very athletic and plays hard," Brazil said. "He played with four seniors on the line last year, and learned a lot from that." The 295-pound senior runs well and benches 320, which has earned the attention of several colleges, including Colorado State and Kansas.
Burke Morris, tackle, Frisco (Texas) Legacy Christian Academy
Morris, a 6-5 senior who weighs in at 275, is a four-year starter who uses his head as much as his body. "He's smart, he has good technique, and he knows the concepts of the position," coach Mike Hall said. "He understand his role on the team." Morris also plays nose tackle on defense. After two straight Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) state championship game appearances without a win, Legacy hopes Morris' play will result in a breakthrough.