Hoosac Valley's linemen have cleared path straight to MIAA state championship game
From pushing the five-man blocking sled in the grueling summer heat at practice, to chasing down opposing quarterbacks play after play hoping to make that game-changing turnover. To the uninformed eye, the play of the men along the line of scrimmage can often go unnoticed. In fact, linemen are usually only highlighted when one of their miscues causes the quarterback to get clobbered or a holding penalty negates a potential touchdown.
At Hoosac Valley, the men in the trenches are celebrated and it's easy to understand why.
"Coming from this school, coming from Hoosac Valley, we kind of have a legacy of smashmouth football," Hoosac senior right tackle and vocal leader Adam Bush said. "A bunch of hard, gritty guys that are just going to go out on the field and get the job done. I just try to embrace that atmosphere and get all my guys pumped up, because I know when it comes down to it, they're all feeling the same way that I am. We all want to go out there and give our best game, so I just try and get that out of them."
The current group of Hoosac linemen are led by coach Dayne Poirot, a former Hoosac linemen in his own right under former head coach, now assistant coach Joe Alcaro. The combination of hard-nosed players and a coach that understands the duties of his linemen is a match made in power-football heaven.
It may seem like the towns of Adams, Cheshire and Savoy mass produce talented linemen in a factory somewhere, but there's no secret or linemen-churning assembly line.
Left tackle Dominic Acquista (5-foot-11, 280-pound), cracks a wry smile when reminiscing about his career as a lineman.
"I've always been big," he said with a smirk.
Acquista is one of four members of the offensive line that began their path to Saturday's Division VIII championship as members of the Adams/Cheshire Saints, along with Bush (6-foot, 230), center John Krol (6-foot, 190) and right guard Nolan Roberts (5-foot-10, 245). That team allowed one first down all season, largely on the strength of their dominant play up front.
Acquista, Bush and Roberts have been career linemen. Krol and left guard Joe Degere (5-foot-10, 180) took more winding routes to the line.
Defensively, Bush plays an outside linebacker, defensive linemen hybrid. Roberts and Acquista are interior linemen. Degere and Krol can also play linebacker and defensive end.
Krol spent time switching between tight end and running back early in his career. The junior began this season at fullback, but before the first game of the season he was tabbed as the team's new center. The center's main job is snapping the ball to the quarterback. In pass protection, a blown assignment gives the defender a direct path to the Vance Eugene. Krol said his experience as a ballcarrier helped him adapt to his new role.
"I feel like the running back experience definitely helped my understanding of the offense," he said. "Being a fullback you had to know which guards were pulling and where so that you could replace them. That helped me to understand the offense more."
Degere's switch to the line materialized the same way as most football players who dream of playing the more glamorous skill spots (quarterback, running back, wide receiver), but are ultimately called to the trenches. He played a little quarterback as a freshman, before moving to the line in the middle of his sophomore year. He started this year at tight end, but the coaching staff decided he was better suited for trap blocks and pulls than catching touchdown passes, permanently moving him to right guard. The junior took the move in stride.
"OK. I'll to my best and do what [the coaches] want me to do and see what I can do," he said.
Poirot added that the player's willingness to make a switch speaks to their team-first attitudes.
"I think its a ton to do with our team culture," he said. "Every kid can have a very important job. Everybody is here to work hard every day. There's very little separation from one position to the next. Everybody is there to help the team win."
While the offensive line — and tight end Sam Larabee, an extension of the line at times — might have been put together quickly, they've played as a cohesive unit since Day 1.
Their performance in the state semifinal against Nashoba Tech was the group's most dominant of the season. They controlled the line of scrimmage, opening gaping running lanes all day en route to a season-high 593 yards rushing. For the season, the Hurricanes are averaging 283 yards rushing per game. Their only game under 200 yards on the ground was a 47-16 win over Taconic, where they rushed for 160. Now, it will be the Millis defense attempting to stifle Hoosac's ground game.
Having size and strength makes a line's job easier, but there's more to playing the position than hitting your opponent as hard as you can. Hoosac's line isn't the most physically imposing, but they make up for it with technique and football IQ.
Poirot said he gives his linemen the freedom to decide how they're going to attack their opposition. He trusts them to make the right calls and after that, it's up to them to execute. Every move is calculated, from the way they move their feet, to where they place their hands on a defender.
"It's a very important part of the game that a lot of people don't realize," Poirot said. "A lot of it is actually a skilled thing, different blocks that these guys work on every day. It's a technical thing that they work on every day. Nobody realizes how important that is."
Hoosac's linemen almost always execute their blocks to perfection. Five men working as one well-oiled machine. Their play has caught the attention of opposing coaches as well.
"I really like the way their down guys get after it on the offensive and defensive side of the ball," Millis coach Dana Olson said. "If there was one thing I saw that was glaring when we saw them against Nashoba Tech is they're very, very well coached up front. ... They're very technique-driven and sound."
Keeping a clean pocket or opening up a big hole are things that make linemen smile during film sessions. The skill players may get the credit for the touchdown, but the linemen take pride in knowing they played a big part in the ballcarrier's success.
"It just makes us feel that all the hard work that we put in is paying off," Krol said. "We're up here [at practice], we're pushing the five-man [sled] everyday. Watching the running backs go into the end zone is a rewarding feeling. That definitely helps our cohesion as a group. Once those guys score, we're back together and we say — 'hey, we did that.'"
Unity is key for a productive linemen unit. The team bonds over pre-practice Taco Bell runs, helping produce a genuine friendship within the group. They're the only players on the field that are guaranteed to take or give contact on every play. Their tough job breeds a unique experience that only a few players on the football field can relate to, and their shared experiences bring them even closer together.
Their contributions may not show up in the box score, but Hoosac knows where the true heart of the team lies.
"It's just a bond that linemen have between each other," Bush said. "We're kind of like a faceless opponent. Nobody really knows our names, we're kind of just there doing our jobs. I think having that behind us, knowing that we don't really get the credit, but we all know how important we really are. I think that brings us closer together and makes things that we do easier."
Akeem Glaspie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.
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