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Growing Stronger Up Front : Offensive Linemen Stand Out This Year


Brett Samperi won't rest until he assumes his stance, peers through his battered face mask and sees only "dejection and fear," as he puts it, staring back.

The moment often arrives during the fourth quarter of San Clemente High School football games. Usually by then, Samperi, the Tritons' left tackle and captain, has hit, pushed, shoved and growled his way into his opponents' space--physical and mental.

Blank looks from his beleaguered counterparts provide the signal; Samperi's job is complete.

"You feel so powerful when they just give up," Samperi said. "You might have already been in (many) plays, but you can still go out there and knock (a defensive lineman) around because all the tiredness goes away.

"If you're on top of a guy and beating on him mentally, that's what every offensive lineman dreams of."

Some high school football talent evaluators rate Samperi as the top player at his position in the state.

Samperi, Kris Farris of Santa Margarita and Matt Motherway of Mater Dei are three of the county's many talented seniors along the offensive line who are piquing college recruiters' interest, a stark departure from the days when county quarterbacks were the coveted recruits.

This season's elite linemen know they won't move to the next level with the fanfare the "skill position" standouts of the past experienced, but they believe their contributions are the most significant to team success.

"The game is won up front," Motherway said. "If you can win the battle at the line, you can win the game--easily."

Said Samperi: "Protecting the quarterback or blowing a hole open makes me feel like I've done something really good. I know that helps us."

Mark McElroy is a believer.

McElroy, San Clemente's football coach, relies on Samperi to lead the way.

"He's the best offensive lineman I've seen around (Orange County) in a long time," McElroy said. "He's taken on a strong leadership role this year and we count on him. He's the whole package."

A less-partial observer offers similar praise.

"When you talk about Samperi, you're talking about great size," said Allen Wallace, editor of SuperPrep magazine. "He's poised and ready to enter the class of the national elite. He's got a chance, which is more than a lot of prospects can say."

A two-year varsity starter, Samperi, 17, is 6 feet 5 and 275 pounds.

His style is straightforward, swift and, if successful, painful to defensive linemen. If his opponents seem exuberant at the start of the final quarter, Samperi said he's doing something wrong.

"I like hitting guys," Samperi said. "I like to knock them down and drive them over. It's great when you wear them down and coaches have to rotate other guys in against you."

Like Samperi, Farris and Motherway, also among the county's major Division I prospects, play left tackle. They know each other casually from meeting at scouting combines and by their reputations.

Their position has rapidly increased in prestige at all levels of football because left tackles are charged with protecting the blind side of right-handed quarterbacks. Faster, stronger pass rushers and sophisticated defenses threaten quarterbacks' safety and, consequently, the success of offenses.

"It's real tough playing left tackle," Motherway said. "You're all alone and it's one-on-one every play. Teams put their fastest guys on that side, too."

Don't let that shaky talk fool you. Motherway, 18, is a rock for Mater Dei.

The anchor of a talented Monarch line, Motherway (6-4, 255) is a two-year starter. He was selected first-team All-South Coast League as a junior.

Motherway's three older brothers were offensive linemen at Mater Dei. His brother, Ryan, was highly recruited and received a scholarship to UCLA.

Farris (6-8, 275) became a starter as a junior. He is the largest of the three and possibly the best at pass protection. Santa Margarita coaches have measured Farris' arm span at 80 inches, which enables him to keep defenders away from his body and the quarterback.

"Kris is a little bit faster than Brett," SuperPrep's Wallace said. "But basically, they're in the same type of situation. They might wind up calling all their own shots (on where they attend college)."

The trio's lists of suitors are long and distinguished. Samperi, Farris and Motherway said they are being recruited by almost every team in the Pacific 10 Conference as well as other perennial national powers.

That doesn't surprise Mark Tennis. Tennis, executive editor of Cal-Hi Sports, said the entire crop of Orange County senior offensive linemen is strong.

"There are a lot of good kids," Tennis said. "There are a lot of big kids who tested well (at combines) and who are having good seasons. I'd say this one area is the best in Orange County this season."

Not that this group is the first with skill.

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