Mogadore running back Gary Strain has all the accolades. He was first-team All-Ohio in Division VI as a junior. This season, he’s putting up video game numbers and has rushed for more than 200 yards in all three of the Wildcats’ playoff wins.
Everybody knows him. Not many know the players blocking for him.
“It’s an active line,” Mogadore coach Matt Adorni said. “They’re trim for their size and they move well together. An offensive line is like a hand or a fist. You need all five to be firing. You can’t be too weak at one point or the good teams will figure it out.”
In 2012, nobody’s been able to find the weak link in the Wildcats’ line. The coaching staff makes sure of it.
Adorni is a former offensive guard who played on the line for 10 years. In all, seven of Mogadore’s coaches are former offensive lineman, including line coach Larry “Cat” Murphy, the guy a couple of current players call fiery when on the field but a big teddy bear off of it.
The 2012 unit all starts with senior Joey Callihan, the left tackle, a three-year starter and the captain.
“Joey is the quarterback up there,” Adorni said. “He takes control. He makes sure guys are in the right spot and has a lot of experience.”
Callihan has been there for just about every one of Strain’s runs. And he’s led his unit to the point where only a single glance is needed to communicate before the snap.
“We can tell by looking at each other to know who’s getting who or who we need to get,” Callihan said. “We’ve all gotten real close. We’d go out to eat together and all lift together and committed to knowing what each other is going to do.”
Next is left guard Kenny Vechik, a two-year starting junior, who Adorni says might be the strongest member of the bunch and a great worker in the weight room. Then comes the new guy — senior center Sam Graska, who moved to Mogadore last November from Claymont. Graska is new to the “Mogadore way,” but it didn’t take very long to find a seamless transition.
“I had grown up with a similar family aspect of football and in the weight room, and they took me right in,” Graska said. “We started lifting right away and our connection started real quick. I kinda came in scared but they took me right in.”
“He’s done a really nice job of picking up the offense on the fly,” Callihan said. “He just fit right into the mix, as if we had grown up together since we were 4 or 5 years old.”
Many times, Graska will take on nose tackles 1-on-1, freeing up the right guard spot. That’s rotated by senior Shane Brown and sophomore Dan Sentelik.
“Shane and Danny do a nice job interchanging,” Adorni said. “They’ve been very unselfish about it and they complement very well.”
Then comes two-year starter Jared Berkman, a junior, at right tackle. Berkman played through a broken thumb last year, lost about 20 pounds in the offseason and is called the most improved member of the unit by Adorni. Finally, tight ends Hunter Van Camp (senior) and Jonathan Miller (junior) come in to help out.
And for all of them, blocking is a passion.
“They take it very serious when teams are stuffing us up a little bit,” Adorni said. “They take it personal. And they know they won’t get much publicity.”
That’s the understood living of an offensive lineman, an anonymous step for others to excel upon. They don’t need the hype — pride comes in other ways.
“Every time we see Bubba [Strain] on the front of the newspaper breaking a long touchdown run and we watch the film and see he got touched by one guy who was getting pancaked, that’s good satisfaction for us,” Graska said, before jokingly adding, “He better be in those holes or we’d beat the crap out of him.”
Thanks to them, Strain hasn’t missed very many holes. And if he finds enough holes against Newark Catholic (11-2) tonight in New Philadelphia, Mogadore (13-0) will find itself in another state-title game.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at email@example.com. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.