In the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, only 52 of the 267 inductees are offensive linemen. Yet, without a strong O-line, a football team’s offense cannot function efficiently.
Unfortunately, offensive linemen receive very little credit. It’s a thankless job but one that six young men from Bishop Ford H.S., Park Slope, have openly embraced.
Led by Varsity Head Coach Jim Esposito, the Falcons’ O-line considers itself a family within the larger family of the entire team. This mentality has allowed Ford to battle to a 4-4 record and be one of the leading rushing teams in the CHSFL by averaging nearly 173 yards per game.
“To play offensive line, you have to be inherently unselfish,” said Esposito, who has coached at Ford for 12 years and played left tackle at the State University of Albany, from 1979 to 1980. “It’s known that you’re not going to get much recognition unless probably you make a mistake.”
Esposito said that the offensive linemen need to be the smartest players on the field besides the quarterback since they are always working together as a unit.
“It’s really hard unless someone is knowledgeable about football to know what’s going on up front,” he said. “It’s really a paradox because that’s where the game’s won or lost.”
While running back Dante Aiken, quarterback Xaviah Mattocks and wide receiver Rodney Gonzales are making big plays, the Falcons’ O-line quietly goes about its business, not seeking any of the credit.
“I always tell him (Aiken) that if you run hard for me, I’ll block hard for you,” said Walter Ferdinand, a senior left tackle from Canarsie who attends Holy Family parish. “I feel like when he gets a touchdown, I’ve helped him. It doesn’t matter what the stats say, but I know I’ve helped my running back.”
Though the offensive linemen may never appear in the highlights, they’ve accepted their role and have performed well together in the trenches.
“The offensive line is a close unit,” said Devonte Linton, a senior center from Flatbush who attends Holy Cross parish. “We communicate so that we can open up the holes for our backs and make sure our quarterback is safe.”
Keep Their Teammates Safe
The members of Bishop Ford’s O-line take pride in that fact that they put themselves on the line every day in practice and in every game to keep their teammates safe from opposing defenses.
“The offensive linemen are like the big brothers of the team,” said George Clement, a senior right tackle from Crown Heights. “We look out for the backs and receivers who are like our little brothers. We’re the big bodies, so we’re there to protect them.”
In addition to working together on the field, the linemen remain close friends off the field and do everything together. This mentality has strengthened their play on the gridiron.
“We believe that if we come together as a unit, it starts with the O-line because we’re the heart of the offense,” said Antonio Clark, a senior tight end from Clinton Hill. “If we’re not pushing, the skill guys can’t do what they do. That drives us to be better.”
Learning from a former lineman in Coach Esposito has certainly benefited the Ford unit. The footwork and protection schemes can get complicated, but the student-athletes know that they can turn to their coach at any time for assistance.
“He’s (Esposito) not just a coach; he’s a teacher,” said Esaie St-Vil, a senior right guard from Crown Heights who attends St. Vincent Ferrer parish, East Flatbush. “He not only teaches us about football, but he also helps us become better men for the future too.”
Esposito said he’s proud that his linemen have great character and don’t complain about their roles.
“I really like coaching them because they’re a bunch of nice kids,” he said. “They’re good team guys and a good part of the community. They’re kids that represent Bishop Ford on and off the field in the right way.”
In 1991, Paul Shanklin, a football coach at Voorhees H.S., Glen Gardner, N.J., wrote a poem called the Lineman’s Prayer. He describes the gritty roles offensive linemen play throughout the course of a game, and yet they are rarely recognized for their hard work. The Falcons’ linemen can relate to the poem.
“I think it’s all true,” said Jacob Jones, a sophomore left guard from Bushwick. “We emerge with bloody hands and are the ones that help the skill players through anything.”
After the final whistle in a game, the Bishop Ford linemen do not care who scored touchdowns or how many points the team scored. All they care about is if the team won the game.
And as they walk off the field in jerseys covered in mud, sweat and the color of the other team’s uniform, they know that they stuck together, just like a family.