Offensive linemen traditionally are overlooked. Defensive linemen have moments of glory when they sack a quarterback, but about the only time the spotlight finds an offensive lineman is when he's been caught holding.
This season, however, it will be hard to ignore the role of offensive linemen in the Alpha League race.
Montclair Prep, Maranatha, Marshall Fundamental and Village Christian can be expected to contend for the league title largely because of who is up front.
Seniors Josh Berger (6-0, 215) and Gabe Alonzo (5-10, 215) will anchor Montclair Prep's offensive line. They'll protect a young but talented backfield that includes running back Michael Jones and quarterback Ennis Howard, who played strong safety last season.
"Our line has to do the job," Montclair Prep Coach Pat Blackburn said. "Especially in passing situations. Ennis lacks varsity experience so he'll need time to throw."
All five of Maranatha's starting offensive linemen return, including senior Aaron Hinojosa (5-9, 235), a three-year starter and all-league selection last season. Junior Tendaji Lathan (5-10, 205) should also be a solid blocker.
Behind the protection, all-league quarterback John Kitterman hopes to surpass his 1986 passing totals that included a 60.1 completion percentage, 1,523 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Marshall Fundamental, which ran the ball 80% of the time last season, is anchored by an offensive line that includes guard Peter Pacheco (6-0, 225) and tackle Prescilido Delatorre (5-11, 250). Those two return to lead a backfield that returns three starters.
Village Christian Coach Mike Plaisance, who played at Grambling with Marshall Fundamental Coach Lew Underwood, expects the Crusaders to challenge for the league title.
The Crusaders finished fifth in the league last year, but their entire offensive line returns. All-league tackle Brian Bovee (6-3, 215), a three-year starter, leads a group that includes four seniors. Joining him are Gregg Spahr (5-10, 175), Rusty Young (6-2, 210) and three-year starter Ken Bolin (6-0, 205).
"The offensive line will be the key to our team," Plaisance said. "We should be able to control the line of scrimmage this year. We should be able to pass and run equally well."
L.A. Baptist has an explosive running back in Cliff Robinson but few experienced linemen to open holes. And that concerns Coach Mike Boshers because of L.A. Baptist's 25-man roster. One or two injuries to key players and the Knights are in deep trouble.
For first-year Coach David Woods of Western Christian the problem isn't so much a lack of depth but a lack of talent.
The Fighting Lancers tied Maranatha for the league title last season but were hit hard by graduation. What remains is a team that lacks size, speed and game-breakers.
"We're going to have to be fundamentally sound," said Woods, who coached Perris Temple Christian to the Southern Section Small Schools title last season.