New generation of versatile, athletic linemen paves way for A-K Valley offenses
Saturday, August 21, 2021 | 6:01 AM
Brandon Lawhorn Moore doesn’t mind that his Kiski Area teammates and coaches call him “Beef.”
It is a nickname that has stuck since sixth grade.
“My history teacher had these beef jerky days every Friday, and I would be the only one who would bring in the beef jerky,” said Lawhorn Moore, a senior offensive tackle and Division I recruit who has garnered more than a dozen offers since this time last year.
“My teacher gave me that nickname, and it’s been with me ever since.”
In the years since sixth grade, Lawhorn has “beefed up” to 295 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame.
He is a leader of a pack of skilled offensive linemen of all sizes in the Alle-Kiski Valley who are ready to make an impact in a variety of offenses — up-tempo or methodical in nature — for the 2021 season.
It is often said that the offensive line is the lifeblood of a high school offense. “It all starts up front” is a phrase commonly uttered.
Coaches often build gameplans and schemes off of the particular talents in the trenches.
At the same time, linemen see opportunity in front of them with the desire to be well-rounded, whether that is opening holes up the middle in the run game, using speed to get on the edge on a play to the outside or creating a wall to protect the quarterback in the pass game.
That well-rounded package also can be a benefit in the hopes of taking their abilities to a college program.
“As I grew and got older, it was pretty sure I would be an offensive lineman,” said Lawhorn Moore, who will expand his efforts to include work on the defensive line. “I am never satisfied with where I am. I always know I can get better.
“I have talked to college coaches, and they have told me what they look for when they are scouting, like aggressiveness on the field, finish a block and never give up on a play. I take that to heart, and it helps me every day in my preparation.”
Lawhorn Moore said the advice he got from those college coaches is something every lineman can take with them as they look to improve.
Matt Morgan enters his ninth season as Plum coach. Since his playing days at Plum and through his time at Pitt and in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Rams, he said he’s seen every type of offense imaginable and also every blocking scheme up front.
“When I played in high school, we had the size and we played that smashmouth, run-it-down-your throat style of offense where we pushed you around and moved you from A to B,” said Morgan, who was 6-7 and 300 pounds his senior year.
“There are a few teams still like that, but with all these quick offenses and spread offenses, it’s not so much that kind of blocking now. I don’t want to say its positional blocking, but it’s a lot of that get in front of a guy quick to create a seam or get in front of a guy quick so the quarterback can get the ball off type of schemes.
“It definitely has changed the game, so to speak, for a lineman where they aren’t necessarily holding onto a block for four or five seconds any more. With having more up-tempo offensives, being well conditioned is so vital.”
Still, linemen like Lawhorn Moore get pumped when there is the opportunity to drive his feet and put a defender on his back or have him backpedalling 10 to 15 yards downfield.
“It’s a great feeling to pancake someone and then look to the sideline and see your teammates are going wild,” he said. “It really gets me hyped.”
And a number of coaches, no doubt, get giddy when there is a play call where linemen have the ability to deliver a straightforward challenge to a defense.
“We had a strong passing game the past couple of years, but the linemen liked when we were able to put our hand in the ground and just shoot forward in a short-yardage situation or something like that,” said Burrell junior tackle Ian Quinn, who earned Allegheny Seven all-star honors last year.
“We have some big, strong guys this year who are really going to move some guys out of the way and help us run the ball really well. I think every team wants to have the ability to be balanced between the run game and the pass game. I think we have the guys (up front) who can help with that.”
Freeport senior tight end Cole Charleton doesn’t mind being called a lineman in certain blocking schemes. He is one of several AK-Valley tight ends, Leechburg’s Eli Rich included, who have that jack-of-all-trades mix of pass-catching, run-blocking and pass-protecting abilities.
“I call myself a tweener,” Charleton said. “Some of my teammates call me a tweener. Sometimes I split out wide, and sometimes I am close to the line. I like being both. I just want to do whatever I can to help the team, whether that is blocking for Ben (Lane) or Garrett (King) or getting us downfield on a pass call.”
Charleton said Freeport’s offensive linemen are ready for the challenge.
“Our offensive line is looking strong this year,” Charleton said. “We have some new kids coming in, but it is strong with Elijah Freeman, Aiden Lindsey and Logan Jendrejewski. They were all on the starting line last year. What is good about them is the way they understand the way our offense works with so many diverse weapons.
“They are very fast and quick with what they do. You have to be when they are blocking for Benny or Garrett when they are changing directions or improvising with what they see. They have to make adjustments on the fly. If Benny is flipping a play to the other side of the field, they will get there. That just helps everyone’s confidence.
“You see our linemen putting up an unreal amount of weight in the weight room, and then they are hanging with the skill guys during conditioning. They have the necessary combination for a lineman of strength, size and quickness.”
Rolling with new schemes
Knoch coach Brandon Mowry and his coaching staff moved to the Wing-T in the offseason from the triple option, and one of the main reasons for that move was the ability of the linemen to work well within the framework of the schemes and workings of the offense.
“There are some similarities between the two offenses, but where they differ is that we have some quicker guards who will do some pulling and wrapping and that type of thing which we didn’t really do much of last year,” Mowry said.
“The Wing-T is really about down blocks and kick outs, where in the triple option, you are blocking a certain defender and you have a double team within the point of attack.
“You always want to play to the strengths of the kids, and they understood that. You don’t want to put a square peg in a round hole. We have the guys like Nevin Peart and Alex Cotton, our two guards; they are strong and quick guys.”
Experience is key
Apollo-Ridge coach John Skiba is excited to have a trio of starters back up front to support a number of new starters in the Vikings offense after the graduation of several top skill weapons.
“We have a good mix of size, speed and tenacity,” Skiba said of the line led by junior center Cooper Gourley and all-conference performers in senior tackles Greg Klingensmith (260 pounds) and Bradey Schrock (285).
“We probably will be leaning on them more than we ever have in the past. The line is also uniting with some guys who are going into their junior year who are going to get their opportunities. They have put on a lot of size and have gotten a lot better of the course of a year.”
Experience also will be a calling card at Springdale, where four multi-year starters are back, led by a Valley News Dispatch all-star in senior guard Gage Howard.
“We’ve all played so many snaps together already,” said Howard, who will line up this year with fellow returnees in senior Gio Savko, a four-year starter at center; senior Ethan Zahner, a three-year starter at guard; and junior Nathan Folmer with his experience at tackle.
“It helps to have that experience and the knowledge of how each guy plays. We understand the importance of working as one unit, whether we are run blocking or protecting on a pass play.”
Dynamos offensive line coach Chip Moyes sees in his group what it takes to be successful in Single-A football — or any level, for that matter.
“They will be busy this year,” Moyes said. “Our starting four on the defensive line will be starters on the offensive line. That’s the way it is in single-A football. But these guys are in shape to make it happen.
“The last couple of years, we’ve had smaller linemen, but they work hard and are tenacious. They keep coming at you. If you are a lineman on a smaller scale, that is what you have to have. You have to be relentless for 48 minutes. In the fourth quarter, against the bigger, stronger linemen from other teams we face — against the Jeannettes, Clairtons and Greensburg Central Catholics — we want to keep winning the battles and make them wonder how we keep coming at them. That’s the mentality we want to have, and that’s the mentality I know we have.”
Springdale’s linemen joined others from Valley, Apollo-Ridge, Highlands, Armstrong, Knoch and Slippery Rock in a lineman challenge at the Freeport 7-on-7 tournament in July.
It was a relaxed opportunity to test the strength, quickness and agility of each line group through bench press reps and other relay events.
Freeport coach John Gaillot said, as is the case on Friday nights, the competition was a collective effort among the linemen.
“It is very representative of the way the line is in a game, everyone working together and counting on each other,” Gaillot said.
“There’s always a sense of pride when you as an individual or a group as a whole can get the job done successfully. (The challenge) showed how hard each group had been working to get ready for the season.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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